Windows 7 Arrives: The Time Is Finally Ripe

Future proofing: Tuned for multicoreWhen 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.

This latter point is perhaps best observed in how Windows 7 handles multicore systems. Our testing shows that the revamped Windows 7 kernel scales better across multiple CPUs than XP, thanks in large part to the extra tuning Microsoft did to improve thread-locking performance in multi-CPU environments. It's a tangible advantage, one that will become more relevant as CPU core counts continue to rise over the coming 24 to 36 months. If you're on the fence about Windows 7, consider the future proofing argument. It may be the push you need to help you finally kick the XP habit.

Bottom line: Windows XP was born into a world of single-CPU systems with memory capacities measured in the megabytes. Windows 7 arrives at a time when dual and even quad-core systems are the norm, and 2GB to 3GB of RAM is considered a good starting point. Simply put, Windows 7 is better positioned to leverage new hardware technologies and to support future application and workload growth over the long haul.

There's no going backWindows 7 is faster than Windows Vista, but not by much -- and it's still slower than XP. It's less secure than Vista in its default configuration, but it's also light-years ahead of both of its older siblings when it comes to usability. Reliability is up, as is compatibility, but these trends have more to do with an industry that is finally catching up with the Vista security and driver models than with any new Windows 7 capability in particular.

In fact, outside of the reworked Taskbar (which is a killer feature), there's very little truly new about Windows 7. Rather, it's the culmination of an all-out, no-holds-barred, failure-is-not-an-option attempt by Microsoft to salvage the nearly five years it invested in designing and implementing the Windows Vista architecture. In this regard, Windows 7 is really more like Vista R2 -- Microsoft's attempt to take a second pass at the product and finally get it right.

If I were to score this comparison like a boxing match, I'd have to call it a draw, with the final nod going to Windows 7 if for no other reason than it drives the existing technology base forward, while opening the platform to new and more powerful hardware. IT shops that choose to adopt Windows 7 will likely not be disappointed. It's a solid-all-around product that matches up well with today's PC landscape. Windows 7 is still very much Vista at its core, and no amount of tweaking or UI paint will change that fact. But Microsoft finally did get it right.

Hats off to Windows XP -- it had a great run. But change is in the air, and it smells like Windows 7.

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