Windows 7: Where Consumers Lead, Will Businesses Follow?

Windows marketing VP Tami Reller looked like she could finally exhale at the Windows 7 launch in New York City last week.

"Congratulations on the launch. I'm sure it's been a long road," I said.

"You're telling me," she replied, grinning but understandably weary from the busy day.

"There's just more and more demand to use the same tools at home and work. That's really what's different about the world now." Tami Reller, Corporate VP and CFO, Windows Business Group

Reller then sat down with CIO.com's Shane O'Neill to share her thoughts on bringing Windows 7 to market, the link between when Windows 7 will be adopted by consumers and businesses and how Microsoft will help XP users move on.

Regarding the Windows 7 launch, how has the world changed since sinced Vista's launch three years ago and how is Windows 7 a better operating system for the world we live in today?

The process by which we brought Windows 7 to market over the past three years has been dramatically different than in the past. I think what gets us to a better place today is how we engaged with partners and customers throughout the cycle.

[ For complete coverage on Microsoft's new Windows 7 operating system -- including hands-on reviews, video tutorials and advice on enterprise rollouts -- see CIO.com's Windows 7 Bible. ]

Early in the process we set out to understand how consumers, small businesses and enteprises were using the software and how they wanted to use the software. We communicated with customers in a much more systematic way where we could take their feedback and put it to use.

On the partner side, there was a dramatic change too. We sat down with OEM partners in the very beginning to discuss technology and business goals, meeting on our campus and their campus. And the results are out there in that showroom [referring to the display of new Windows 7 PCs at the launch event].

How did you adjust your Windows 7 planning when netbooks came out of nowhere about a year ago and became popular?

We had a process that was very well-documented, but also allowed us to be agile around things like netbooks. All the Windows 7 versions run brilliantly on netbooks today because we were able to say, 'Ok, how do we adjust? These netbooks are real, this is happening.'

Windows XP is still the X factor in the enterprise. How do you convince businesses that won't budge from XP for whatever reason - the economy, comfort with XP, lack of trust in Windows 7 - to upgrade?

We think there are three elements of that conversation that are important.

One is, customers who did not move from XP to Vista didn't get the benefit of the IT cost savings per PC that you could get with Vista, whether it is from better PC management or improved security. Like Vista, Windows 7 is also is also less expensive to operate than XP. To an IT professional, that's the important value: how much more can I save per PC.

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Next is compatibility in the ecosystem. That's a big part of our conversation with enterprises: what blockers can we help remove to get deployment to happen. There are ISV (independent software provider) packages from big, global ISVs and we have to make sure there is perfect compatibility. We also work with them on their custom applications to do an assessment. Is there going to be compatibility out of the gate? Do we need to do some intermediation together? Will virtualization work - is it long-term, short-term, mid-term?

There are macro things we can do for compatibility, and then it's going to be specific for each customer, and we are set up to do that. We have the Windows Compatibility Center and Windows 7 is very compatible upfront. But there's work we need to do on a company's custom applications.

The last piece is user enthusiasm. There's just more and more demand to use the same tools at home and work. That's really what's different about the world. There's an expectation now that you can flow from home to work and everywhere in between and have your data transfer.

Along those lines, can you talk more about the connection between consumer adoption and corporate adoption of an OS. It didn't really happen with Vista. How much of enterprise adoption of Windows 7 depends on consumer enthusiasm?

I think there's a significant connection. Early signs are telling us there will be a groundswell of Windows 7 adoption in the consumer space. And the timing is good: we are coming out right before the holidays, and there are some signs of life in the economy, particularly in the consumer space. If we get this groundswell of consumer adoption, it will inspire corporate adoptions at a faster pace than might happen ordinarily.

Mind you, corporate adoptions take time. They take planning, they take budgeting, they take testing, they take remediation. But part of what can motivate an IT department and a CIO is user satisfaction. They ask: Can I save money and will my users be happy? And if they get to go check and check, then adoption starts to move faster.

Shane O'Neill is a senior writer at CIO.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/smoneill. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter at twitter.com/CIOonline.

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