A few years ago, readers may remember my reaction to windows vista. 'A complete pile of poo' sort of summed it up. It was a rushed-to-market, bug ridden, driver free, unreliable piece of crap which did everything in its power to annoy the user as much as possible. In fact, Vista was so bad, I turned my back on Windows for two years, choosing instead to run Macs as my prime laptop. And beleive me, that was an easy, good, pleasurable and pain-free decision.
Last week, I downloaded (from Technet) my copy of Windows 7. I downloaded it on a £130 ($150usd) 4 year old Dell Precision 470 dual-Xenon dual core machine with 1gb of Ram. To that I added a 500mb hard drive I had kicking around. I stuck in the windows 7 CD-ROM and waited. And since I'm a long-suffering^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H Experienced windows installer, I expected pain and suffering and delay and more pain. I didnt expect to have a working machine within a few hours, and I expected I'd have to grub around the Dell site (itself a close contender behind the IBM Partnerworld/Passport download site in the 'Belzebub Design' award category) for all the relevant drivers.
I do love to be pleasantly surprised. The O/S got to the stage where it booted with a VGA adaptor. I told it to update its drivers, and within another 10 minutes - it had correctly downloaded, installed and set resolution on a five year old video card, and a brand new 1920x1200 TFT screen (that I couldnt get working well on any other OS).
I think I would go as far to say that Windows 7 - itself a mere tweak away from Vista - is the Vista that should have been delivered four years ago. If it had been, I suspect the Mac would have been far less popular than it is.
Okay. Does this make the Mac obselete ? In my opinon ?
No. Its had a lot of work to make it pretty, and make it nice. But you dont have to scratch under the surface to find windows 2000 dialog boxes (Control Panel, System, Computer Name). It runs Windows Xp in a compatibilty mode, and apparently there's a limit to how many of those you can have. Yes, it has a 'time-machine' like backup solution, but its not quite as good. Yes, the Start Button still has a messy, cramped, Vista like eperience.
I think we've got to now accept that there will be no clear winner in the OS war. If you want 'very nice, well designed, premium', then you have Apple. If you want 'Utilitarian, Blue collar, 'nice enough'' then there's windows. And if you want 'hair-shirt', you have Linux. And long may we always have the choice.
And back to the title. The winner is the consumer. Microsoft, I think, got a helluva big scare - big enough for it to stop waging war with itself and actually deliver a product that the consumer might actually want to use. Hurrah for competitive pressure!