Why Microsoft owes users an apology over Windows 7

Should Microsoft include an “in-place” Windows XP upgrade mechanism with Windows 7 so that users keep their settings and apps?

That’s the question burning its way through the blogosphere this week.

Some have argued that such a feature is unnecessary: Most IT shops will start with a fresh image of the Windows 7 bits, while consumers will receive the product via new PC purchases. Only a handful of enthusiasts will bother trying to upgrade their aging XP boxes. And in any case, some say that users shouldn’t upgrade XP to Windows 7 but instead do a clean install to avoid carrying over the old OS’s potential performance and security baggage.

Skipping the XP upgrade option would seem like an obvious choice, a way to free up resources that could be better spent elsewhere in Windows 7. But just as a certain former U.S. president learned the hard way during the early months of an unpopular foreign conflict, forward-looking decisions, based on what should be true in a particular context, are rarely a slam dunk.

The fact of the matter is that Microsoft needs to provide an in-place XP upgrade mechanism in Windows 7, if for no other reason than to demonstrate contrition for its myriad Vista sins.

And what might those sins be?

  • The disingenuousness of denying that Vista was too bloated for many “Vista-capable” PCs.
  • The arrogance of ignoring IT’s pleas for less consumer focus and more attention to enterprise wants and needs.
  • The smugness of delivering yet another glitzy, frilly release — Windows 7 — while tying what little IT red meat it contains to the company’s next-generation server OS, Windows Server 2008 R2.

To be sure, the company is paying the price for its misbehavior: Revenues are down, in no small part because Vista has failed to make inroads with the enterprise (roughly 10 percent penetration at last count).

But instead of courting IT with a list of new, enterprise-focused selling points, Microsoft is slathering on even more glitz while warning us against resisting the Windows 7 wave. “You’ll face a backlash from your users,” says Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, because these users are already using Vista at home today and, thus, expect to see a similar environment at their workplace.

Basically, Microsoft’s actions reek of disrespect for IT. Not only is the company furious at us for bypassing Vista, it thinks us fools for fawning over what are essentially the same OS bits warmed over. To the Remondians, Windows 7 is the ultimate sight gag, sort of a second-generation “Windows Mojave” experiment, but on a global scale.

No wonder those Windows Core Team guys, like Dave Probert and Mark Russinovich, are always smiling in their Channel9.com videos. They can’t believe we’re actually buying into the whole “new Windows OS” spiel. I can almost see them straining against their polo shirts as they try not to blurt out, “But it’s really just Vista! We merely polished it up a bit, gave it a new name, and suddenly everyone loves us! We really can’t lose with this one! It’s like selling sand to the Saudis!”

All of which brings me back to my original point: That Microsoft really needs to provide a compelling migration story for the millions of XP holdouts. And while not offering the direct upgrade option may have minimal impact from a technical standpoint, the underlying symbolism speaks volumes about the company’s attitude toward IT.

Simply put, the Microsofties think we were wrong to bypass Vista, and they’ll be damned if they’re going to make it any easier for us now that the Windows 7 bandwagon has left the stadium.

So there you have it. The world’s largest software company, reduced to a seething, spiteful shadow of its former self. And to think, all we really wanted was a simple apology: A mea culpa. Maybe a bone or two thrown our way to tell us they’ve learned their lesson. Changed course. Turned over a new leaf.

Is it really so hard to say, “We’re sorry”?

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