Canadian professionals greet Windows 7 with cautious optimism

At the Windows 7 launch event in Toronto this morning Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer acknowledged the availability of Windows 7 is significant, at least in part because Vista was not warmly received.

Ballmer used choice words to describe the market’s lukewarm reception of Vista two and a half years ago.

“There was some more noise in the system with Vista,” Ballmer told the Toronto audience of IT executives. “I’m going to put it that way.”

End users and consumers will help dictate whether the new OS is a success or not, Ballmer said. Reactions will start pouring in after tomorrow’s retail launch. But Microsoft has already done millions of hours of beta testing and customer evaluation of Windows 7, he said.

“This is the most customer testing on a single product that we’ve ever done,” Ballmer said. “We’ve had literally millions and millions of users giving feedback to help make this product what it is.” Workers that have Windows 7 rolled out at their work places will no doubt respond in some way to IT departments, he added. That feedback will be important to Microsoft as it continues to build out support for its newest OS.

A member of the audience asked Ballmer about Windows XP support and when businesses would be “forced” to migrate to Vista. “That’s what it feels like,” he said.

“Forced? Forced is such a harsh word,” Ballmer responded. “Eventually you’ll just feel so excited about the possibilities of Windows 7, you’ll want to move.”

Despite the set date for Windows XP support expiry, a customized support option could be available for customers, Ballmer says. The CEO is still dealing with Windows NT custom support agreements, an OS that pre-dated XP.

Meanwhile small Canadian businesses and knowledge workers are gingerly embracing Microsoft Corp.’s new operating system.

The overall negative reaction to Microsoft’s previous operating system — Windows Vista — makes the launch of Windows 7 even more significant.

Windows Vista was panned by a broad range of reviewers and users alike who found several problems with the operating system — relating to privacy, security, performance, and product activation,

Apple Inc, Microsoft’s major competitor, frequently made Vista a target of its “Get a Mac” advertising campaign.

With today’s launch of Windows 7 many are ready to finally move on.

Windows XP has done its job on many business PCs for longer than expected. Many installed Service Pack 3 and planned to hang on until the bitter end, when Microsoft finally cuts support April 8, 2014.

Early reviews and user experiences are promising. It may finally be the time to upgrade. Ballmer is in Toronto to motivate Canadians to do so, says Russ Conwath, senior analyst with London, Ont.-based Info-Tech Research Group.

“He’s in charge of the company, but he’s also the chief sales officer,” he says. “Microsoft sees Canada in general and Toronto specifically as important to its customer base. We’re not to be dismissed. Compared to other countries in the world, we’ve got a high component of knowledge workers here.”

Businesses and end-users seem to be anticipating the Windows 7 launch, but with some trepidation. Many wonder whether the new OS will deliver on promises of more speed, better security and less annoyances than Vista.

Michael O’Connor Clarke, senior communications strategist at Thornley Fallis Communications used his blog post to ask his readers: “What question would you ask Steve Ballmer about Windows 7?” He received a range of responses, which he passed on to

“There’s anticipation, as you would expect,” he says. “It’s not necessarily positive. People are almost waiting to see if this is going to be as unusual or as challenging as the Vista launch was.”

The overall tone of the “questions for Ballmer” from Clarke’s readers was skeptical. The questions specifically compare Windows 7 to its much maligned predecessor, Vista and to Mac OS X.

Users noted that the transition from XP to Vista had required too steep a learning curve. That learning curve worry may be partly to blame in holding back Vista’s adoption. XP still accounts for eight in 10 of all commercial PCs on the market two-and-a-half years after Vista’s launch, according to a report from Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research.

But Windows 7 is expected to change that.

“Factors are converging that will provide IT managers with a compelling reason to shake the status quo, finally ending Windows XP’s corporate reign,” writes lead author Benjamin Gray, a senior analyst with Forrester.

A survey of 655 PC decision makers from enterprises and small businesses in North America and Europe show that two-thirds of firms expect to migrate to Windows 7. Many migrations will occur through the purchase of new PC that come pre-installed with Windows 7.

Knowledge workers and small businesses will also need a compelling reason to move to the new OS.

Workers at the City of London, Ont. have found that after becoming early adopters.

Windows 7 is visually appealing and has some good user interface improvements, says Shirley Glover, Ontario Works department manager with the city.

“It’s easier to switch between the applications that we use,” she says. “I like the task bar at the bottom, I like being able to toggle over and see little window shots of some of the applications I have open.”

In a video case study produced by Microsoft, Glover’s colleague, Chris Mascarenas, an Ontario Works case worker says Windows 7 chimes in: “Some applications I use require a lot of memory. [Windows 7] is just more efficient and faster.”

Vista gained a notorious reputation as a memory hog, as it required at least 2 GB of RAM to run well on a system.

And that’s an issue common to many Microsoft products, notes Linda Manning, director of director of the Leveraging Immigrant Talent to Strengthen Canadian Business project.

“Windows and other Microsoft products are memory hogs that are extremely inefficient,” she says. “I need a minimum of 4 GB of RAM  on my laptop to have any hope of working halfway through a day.”

Manning also recalls malicious attacks on her system due to Microsoft-related vulnerabilities and suffering software glitches that led to lost work — a story familiar story to many Windows users.

Windows 7 will likely make amends with some of Microsoft’s critics, Conwath from Info-Tech Research says. He has personally installed the OS and is impressed with it, even getting it to run on an old Pentium IV laptop that wouldn’t have supported Vista.

“It is in fact faster to load and does perform much more quickly than Vista did,” he says. “I have seen noticeable improvement.”

Security-oriented notifications are better ingrained in the new OS and not as annoying as in Vista, he adds.

Smaller businesses, he said, may be the first to adopt Windows 7, as it’s easier to upgrade 100 PCs than 10,000.

Businesses will likely upgrade to take advantage of Windows 7 enhancements, Conwath adds. The looming cut-off date for XP support is also a factor.

Strange marketing ploy

Microsoft has been encouraging customers to host Windows 7 launch parties in their homes and offices. Using the Twitter account MSWindows, the company suggested party ideas, such as themed cupcakes.

The marketing choice may be “bizarre,” says Clarke. But at least it’s not the same as the hype leading up to the Vista launch.

“Vista was massively hyped,” he says. “There were years of speculation around Longhorn (Windows Server 2008) and months of speculation around Vista.”

Questions for Steve Ballmer

As mentioned earlier, at’s request Clarke “crowdsourced” some  questions from his readers for Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. Here are a few voted as the best ones to pose.

  • Which features in Win7 will best combat the Mac OS and which features go way beyond your competition?
  • Many felt the Vista launch was not your finest marketing moment. Have you made a conscious effort to market Win7 differently?
  • What is the primary goal for Win7 – where does this OS fit in Microsoft’s overall strategy?
  • The transition from XP to Vista was a very steep learning curve for the average user. Will the shift to Win7 be as big?

What would you have asked Ballmer, if you had a chance? Leave your question in our comments section below this story.

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