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With Windows 7, is Microsoft echoing its Longhorn mistakes?

September 16, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Why make the same mistakes all over again, when there are so many new mistakes to make?

That thought came to mind a few weeks ago when Microsoft spent some time talking about Windows 7 (the current name for whatever comes after Vista) at a technology conference. From what I saw, it would seem that the company learned little from the Longhorn/Vista launch and is setting out down the same road.

Some 20 months after Microsoft launched Vista, it's still struggling to win the hearts and minds of business and consumer users. The folks in Redmond are happy to tell you how many licenses have shipped, but go elsewhere and you can hear plenty of large enterprise customers — including iconic Microsoft partner Intel — publicly discussing how they plan on skipping Vista and sticking with Windows XP.

Given the lukewarm reception that Vista has received, you had to expect Microsoft to try to change the topic. But trotting out the next big operating system so early was not the wisest way to do that. The message this seems to send: "OK, we know you hate Vista, but just hold on because something better will be coming along." The takeaway for corporate IT around the world: There's no need to upgrade to Vista since we can just sit tight with XP and wait for what comes after it.

And Microsoft has put itself in a position where that's the best scenario. Given what was shown of Windows 7, quite a few observers might conclude that now's the time to cut the cord and move to an alternative like Mac OS or Linux. This couldn't have been Microsoft's intention, but you have to wonder what its executives are thinking.

Why, for example, show off features of Windows 7 so early and totally out of context with the rest of the experience that the operating system is going to deliver? Microsoft did the same thing with Longhorn, and I've already discussed how well that turned out. It was a mistake then, and it's a mistake now. This premature display is just a bad idea, since its representatives had to go to great lengths to tell everyone that these aren't final features and might not even make it into the final product. Don't they remember how they ended up cutting many Vista features they had publicly touted, such as the object-based file system promised since the Cairo release?

Of course, making a big deal over Windows 7's Multi-Touch capabilities is a whole new mistake. The first problem is that touch is now closely identified with another well-known operating system, so it makes it appear that Microsoft is once again chasing Apple. (It's not in this case, but that's not the point. I saw Microsoft's Multi-Touch efforts long before Apple showed its Touch technology in public.) Multi-Touch is a technology Microsoft can be proud of, but not many people are going to see that when it's introduced in this way. Save it for the Surface interface and phones, devices that are optimized for the Multi-Touch experience. On a laptop, as shown at this event, it's clunky. Apple, realizing this, has limited its Touch capability to the track pads on laptops. For now, for a platform still designed for a mouse and keyboard, that's a better approach.

If Microsoft keeps this up, the reception that Vista has received will end up as only the first chapter in a once-mighty company's fall.

Michael Gartenberg is vice president of Mobile Strategy at Jupitermedia. His weblog and RSS feed are at mobiledevicestoday.com. Contact him at mgartenberg@optonline.net.

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