There’s been plenty written over the last week or so about Microsoft’s plans for users upgrading to Windows 7 and, in short, customers will be able to purchase an upgrade license, but there will be no in-place upgrade path from Windows XP (direct in-place upgrades from Vista will be supported but are not recommended).
After all the anti-Vista press, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see that much of what’s been written about Windows 7 has been relatively positive (I even wondered if they should market the product as Windows Mojave!) but now the critics have found something to complain about.
“What! No direct upgrade path from my 8-year old (n-minus-2) OS?”
Yes. Exactly. And that is A Good Thing.
I’ve often wondered why Windows gets such a hard time with stories of system crashes and general unreliability but that’s just not been my experience. I thought that maybe it was because I’ve been running NT-based systems (including Windows 2000, XP, 2003, 2008, Vista, 7) for the last thirteen years – after all, I certainly experienced that sort of chaos at one company where I worked but when we migrated the 4000 European employees from something approximating 4000 customised installations (mostly Windows 95/98, with users rebooting several times a day) to a standard Windows XP image, reliability improved significantly.
Ironically, it was buying a Mac that helped me to realise why people think that Windows is buggy and unstable. My Windows systems are my workhorses. I install standard software and I use them. I might install the odd application here and there, but it’s generally well-written software and it’s not a succession of installations and uninstallations. I also tend to dump the OEM installation and to perform a clean installation of Windows with each new operating system (although I have also used upgraded machines). On the Mac I’m much more of a novice: I have to learn how to do things; I download things that look interesting, then take them off again – and then I have reliability issues. Not a huge problem – but probably the cause of more forced restarts than I experience on my Windows PCs.
So what exactly is my point? Well, firstly this is not a Mac vs. PC discussion. The point I’m making is that, on any platform, the key to stability is only making configuration changes where necessary (i.e. incessent tweaking is generally not a good thing). The other point is that starting from a known baseline (i.e. a clean OS installation) is highly recommended.
When Apple shipped the last major update of its operating system (Mac OS X 10.5 “Leopard”) the general advice was to perform an “archive and install” installation. Basically, that’s what Microsoft is offering for XP users moving to Windows 7 but, unlike Apple, who have the benefit of a closed system with only a few devices (at least at a hardware and operating system level), Microsoft has to support almost infinite permutations of hardware and software for its operating system. And, from a brief conversation yesterday with one of my colleagues, it seems the situation is no different on Linux – if I want to move from an old distribution of Ubuntu to the latest version then I should expect to have to reinstall.
There was one comment on the article that Randall C Kennedy’s wrote for his enterprise desktop column at InfoWorld which just about summed this up for me:
“[…] I’ll bet if Microsoft did allow for an upgrade his next article would be bitching about all the upgrade problems Windows 7 caused from XP systems.
Next blog we’ll probably see how puppies (really cute ones too) are slaughtered in the process of making Windows 7. Desperate stories call for desperate measures.”
Opinion aside, for most corporates, clean, imaged, installations will be the preferred deployment option for Windows 7. Meanwhile, the majority of consumers will run an OEM-installed copy of Windows that came with their PC. Only a relatively small number of consumers, small business users and hobbiests will want to upgrade directly from Windows XP or Vista to Windows 7 (and the Vista users will be able to do this in-place, if they so desire) and, from Microsoft’s perspective, limiting the options to reduce the likelihood of users experiencing upgrade issues makes sound business sense.