'Microsoft hyped Vista - now it's the users hyping Windows 7'

20th Oct 2009 | 12:08

'Microsoft hyped Vista - now it's the users hyping Windows 7'

Analysts predict early success for new OS

Will Windows 7 live up to the pre-release hype?

Microsoft hopes that Windows 7 will banish our surprisingly sour memories of Windows Vista. So far, the reception has been overwhelmingly positive. But can the honeymoon continue? After all, before the Windows Vista launch we were also talking about an OS that would have a big impact. But it didn't.

So are we in danger of being sucked in by the hype machine again? And how will Windows 7 actually sell? As it's Windows 7 Week on TechRadar and the OS is unleashed on Thursday, we asked those in the know to tell us what they think.

Dale Vile, Research Director at analyst Freeform Dynamics says things are dissimilar this time around. "There are two big differences which make the kind of backlash we saw with Vista much less likely.

"Firstly, Microsoft is not directly hyping Windows 7 in the same way as it did with Vista; most of the positive buzz is coming from 'the community'. No 'The wow starts now' baloney this time thankfully.

"Secondly, all indications are that Windows 7 is actually ready for mainstream use, which, in hindsight, was not true of Vista when it was released," adds Vile. "Microsoft has very much learned its lesson from the Vista experience so I do not anticipate anywhere near the same level of pure subjective hype, at least from Microsoft directly."

But, of course, we will see it from other interested parties. Vile adds, "I am sure we will see some aggressive marketing from OEMs and retailers, though, especially in the run up to the holiday period, as Microsoft partners see this as an opportunity to start making up the shortfall in consumer business everyone has suffered from in the downturn."

So will Windows 7 give the PC market the lift it needs in the run up to Christmas? Jeremy Fennell, Category Director for PC World, somewhat predictably believes Windows 7 will "have a positive effect on the demand for software and hardware over the coming weeks [based on] the feedback we have received from customers."

The retailer quotes statistics that 19 per cent of customers are thinking of buying a new laptop or desktop and a further 15 per cent say they will buy the Windows 7 upgrade box.

However, many analysts don't share such a rosy view. Annette Jump, Research Director in Gartner's WW Client Computing Team, doesn't expect a huge boost on worldwide PC sales in the lead up to Christmas. "Sales should be in line with what we have seen during Windows Vista introduction in the market in early 2007."

"It is true that we might see slightly weaker sales in early October, followed by slightly stronger sales in November, but for the fourth quarter overall we believe that the net impact on WW PC sales will be very minimal."

However, as Jump points out, an early October lull should have been avoided by Microsoft's Windows 7 upgrade program – available on new PCs sold after 26 June this year.

Runs fine on older systems

In terms of upgrade versions, Vile agrees with PC World that a good opportunity is there because of the improved reception for Windows 7 – this feel good factor will have a knock-on impact in terms of sales. "Windows 7 will run acceptably on many more older machines, provided you install a relatively cheap memory upgrade to go with it," he explains.

"Our own experience is that the CPU requirements for Windows 7 are similar to XP, it's just that it needs more RAM. What I am picking up, in contrast to Vista, is quite a lot of genuine confidence (relief in some cases) based on dealers' own experimentation."

"There is an important factor that I have heard repeatedly from dealers. Vista struggled on low spec machines, almost guaranteeing unhappy customers, so many dealers stopped pushing boxed upgrades because they didn't want the fallout."

Indeed, in TechRadar's experiments with different versions of Windows 7, we've found the OS to run extremely well on even very low-spec'd machines – the performance on low-powered netbooks has been especially surprising.

Will Windows 7 have strong sales?

But improved PC sales won't all be down to Windows 7 itself warns Vile: "It will be difficult to unravel the Windows 7 effect from the effect of the economic recovery (or at least consumer confidence), but my feeling is that the two together will conspire to drive an uplift in sales compared to last year."

PC World points to the hugely successful Summer pre-sale of Windows 7 boxed copies as an indication of how sales will go from Thursday on. Here's Jeremy Fennell, Category Director again: "The demand for pre-order copies made Windows 7 the fastest selling operating system in PC World's history, so we're expecting Thursday to be a busy day."

However, the Windows 7 pre-order sales were at a reduced price point, and Gartner's Jump warns that upgrades in European nations could be undermined by higher prices. Furthermore the upgrade prices in Europe are significantly higher than those in the US, meaning that fewer European consumers may buy the upgrade to Windows 7.

But will organisations adopt the OS? After all, the true test of the success of a version of Windows is if it is adopted by business – the true driving force behind the Microsoft balance sheet. With intriguing results, Sunbelt Software questioned 1,500 businesses and found that nearly 60 per cent are planning to deploy Windows 7, with 30 per cent within the first six months and a further 11 per cent waiting for the first Service Pack.

Straight from XP to Windows 7

Vile believes there are "significantly more businesses" talking about deploying Windows 7 during the first year of release than with any other previous version of Windows. "There seems to be far less of a hang-up with waiting for SP1 with Windows 7 - I think because so many people have had direct positive experiences over quite a few months now."

"Because XP works, and Vista is quite demanding, take up of Vista has been slow and many organisations have delayed migration," explains Simon Jewell, CTO at consultant Avanade. Gartner believes all organisations should plan to be off Windows XP by the end of 2012 at the latest.

Vile believes that quick Windows 7 upgrading isn't because of a lot of new investment, but rather that delayed upgrading and modernisation cycles will take place. "I anticipate Windows 7 uptake in the business sector to progress at a similar rate to XP a few years ago - much better than Vista, but still relatively steady."

Charles Smulders, Managing Vice President at Gartner, agrees. "An overdue PC hardware upgrade cycle and the economic environment, will be as equally important as Windows 7 in determining final demand in 2010."

Paul Davis, IT Administrator at computer games developer Media Molecule, says that he found productivity gains using the new OS of up to 50 per cent "when loading data". Jobs that had been taking between eight to 10 minutes are now taking three to four minutes, he says. "After we've ironed out a couple of technical issues, we are planning to roll Windows 7 out across the company when it officially launches."

One thing is unprecedented – the pre-release reception to a new version of Windows has never been this positive and informed through the Beta process.

"The customer feedback has been very positive," says ITIC Analyst Laura DiDio. "The general consensus [is] that Microsoft has successfully addressed the backwards compatibility issues with legacy hardware, drivers and applications. Windows 7 looks like a winner."

Gartner Vice President Michael Silver agrees. "It's important for Microsoft to get off to a good start with Windows 7 to build momentum and put the problems of Vista behind it."

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