Windows Vista lacked the right stuff to unseat Windows XP. Does Windows 7 really have what it takes?
Developer tools support: The pause that refreshes
When Windows Vista shipped, Microsoft hoped it would usher in a new era of managed code, and the company updated its developer tools accordingly. For example, it shipped Visual Studio 2008 with a host of tools and templates for enabling cross-OS development of .Net applications, secure in the belief that the client landscape would soon be populated by managed-code capable systems running the .Net Framework.
Of course, things didn't work out quite the way Microsoft planned. And while the company's developer tools remain as popular as ever, most professionals are using them to write ASP.Net applications or legacy code in the aging Visual C++ language. After all, who wants to maintain a Windows Presentation Foundation application that requires the deployment of 250MB of supporting framework code before it can draw its first window? Just ask the Paint.Net folks -- it's not a pretty picture.
So Microsoft's utopian dream of moving away from the Win32 API once and for all died with Vista. But of course .Net remains very much the ultimate goal. Like Vista before it, Windows 7 ships with the latest incarnation of the Framework -- specifically, Version 3.5 with Service Pack 1 (Vista shipped with Version 3.0). However, unlike with Vista, Microsoft is actively downplaying the whole "next generation" storyline in favor of emphasizing Windows 7's improved legacy compatibility. Given Vista's woes, you can't really blame Redmond for trying to shore up the base.
If there's a silver lining to all of this, it may be lurking inside two of Windows 7's accessories. The Paint and WordPad programs both sport Microsoft's Ribbon UI, which is now accessible to developers as a component they can reuse in their own applications. Thus, depending on how successful Windows 7 is in displacing XP, you may see a surge in .Net development activity as ISVs scramble to remake their products with the new Windows look and feel.
Bottom line: Windows 7 is no better and no worse than Vista in terms of developer tools support. However, given the popularity of the beta version, Windows 7's ultimate success in driving the post-XP migration may allow it to achieve what Vista couldn't: making .Net the new development standard for Windows applications.
Future proofing: Tuned for multicore
When I last looked at the issue of future proofing, I came down in favor of Windows XP for several reasons. First, there was the tepid response to Vista. Hardware and software vendors would never abandon XP until a clear majority of systems had moved off of the OS. Then there was the fact that Microsoft was (wisely) porting much of its new .Net framework technologies back to the older Windows, essentially negating any real advantage of deploying Vista for .Net development. Finally, I pointed to the coming release of Windows 7 and how customers could safely skip Vista and wait until Microsoft delivered something better.
Two years later, and I'm typing this on a netbook running one of the RTM escrow builds of Windows 7. I certainly could have installed Windows XP on this machine instead of its newer sibling. However, the hassle of patching, tuning, and hunting down drivers just to get XP to boot on this newfangled hardware would have made the effort difficult to justify. By contrast, Windows 7 simply worked from the get-go. With few exceptions, its default configuration was entirely functional.
I have a feeling this same scene is playing out across the IT landscape. Shops weary of patching and tweaking XP to get it working reliably on modern hardware are looking at Windows 7 and thinking it might just be the version that finally lures them away from their legacy environment. After all, there's something to be said for convenience. And when it comes to seamlessly embracing new hardware technologies, Windows 7 is far better positioned than creaky old XP.
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