Windows 7: Giving credit where credit is due

Microsoft's ad campaign is a lie. Let's set the record straight about who really shaped the Windows 7 development process

Windows 7 was made by you. Windows 7 was made by me. Windows 7 was made by Wally down in accounting. By Beverly in sales. By Joe in building maintenance. Windows 7 was made by all of us millions of beta testers who eagerly shared our feedback and helped shape Microsoft's new OS into the marvel it is today!

At least that's what the company wants everyone to believe. However, those of us who actively participated in the beta process -- either officially, as part of the formal beta program, or unofficially by grabbing and testing every wayward build leak -- know the real story.

[ Get InfoWorld's 21-page hands-on look at the new version of Windows, from InfoWorld’s editors and contributors. | Find out what's new, what's wrong, and what's good about Windows 7 in InfoWorld's "Windows 7: The essential guide." ]

For example, we know that, despite Microsoft's feel-good message about customer input, the truth is that Windows 7 was created largely through a hermetically sealed development process driven by Stephen Sinofsky and a select group of his closest advisers.

We also know that major design decisions -- like the new task bar -- were finalized months, if not years, before the first milestone builds leaked. And we know that, despite a massive public beta program, virtually nothing in the OS changed from the time it was first made available in January until the final bits were frozen in July.

The truth is that Microsoft's entire marketing campaign for Windows 7 is predicated on a lie. The company spin machine claims an unprecedented level of customer involvement, while our own truth detectors tell us that the exact opposite is true: Microsoft ignored the Windows community like never before with Windows 7. Even its "private" beta testers -- the exclusive group Microsoft invited to test the OS and then very publicly ignored -- are on the record as complaining about the lack of access.

Now to be fair, Microsoft probably didn't need a lot of input to figure out what it had to accomplish with Windows 7. Vista was and is a spectacular flop, and its many warts -- sluggishness, instability, an overbearing security model -- are still visible for all to see. As product lifecycles go, Vista's was dead on arrival; Microsoft executives have admitted as much in interview after interview.

However, two wrongs don't make a right. Lying about the genesis of Windows 7 -- by spreading the myth that customers somehow shaped its development -- is sort of like the world's leaders ignoring all the data and public outcry over climate change and then, as their poll numbers slip, suddenly announcing reform legislation based on "feedback from their constituents."

Windows 7 is Microsoft's response to the global outcry over Vista. But like "cap and trade" and similar legislative half-measures, it merely addresses the symptoms (Vista's warts) of the crisis while ignoring the core problem (Windows' creaking legacy runtime model). History will record whether these overtures were sufficient to avoid a complete meltdown of the Windows ecosystem.

In the meantime, those of us in the know will continue to give credit where credit is due: to the savvy readers and unflappable editors of InfoWorld who dared to hold the global entity that is Microsoft to account. It was our vocal opposition to Vista and our demand that Microsoft save XP that ultimately prompted the company to shelve its more ambitious, long-term plans (Midori), and to focus on creating a more acceptable version of Windows Vista.

And that is exactly what Windows 7 is: Vista done better. A product born not of some feel-good, groupie feedback loop, but rather the result of many secret Microsoft meetings in dark, windowless rooms, with a whiteboard, a marker, and a copy of the InfoWorld home page plastered prominently on a big screen display.

We shaped Windows 7. End of story.

This story, "Windows 7: Giving credit where credit is due," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in Windows 7 and Windows at InfoWorld.com.

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