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Windows 7 and the Linux lesson

Just wait for the RC. And keep waiting...

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You may love Linux or hate it, but when a distribution is complete, there's very little hesitation by commercial operators when it comes to getting the completed operating system out there.

The Ubuntu 9.04 release candidate was posted on April 16 with final code promised for seven days later on April 23. The final Ubuntu 9.04 code was turned around as promised.

The same cannot be said of Microsoft and Windows. And that's causing some frustration among those who want to get on with Windows 7.

The Windows 7 Release Candidate - build 7100 - has reportedly been leaked to the web. And unlike previous Windows 7 builds that showed up on one torrent here or there, the release candidate's on four. The word is that Windows 7 Release Candidate will be available to MSDN and TechNet members at the end of next week with general availability on May 5.

OK, Ubuntu is no Windows and Microsoft will say Windows is far more complicated. It has millions more lines of code. It is far more integrated with other products and has a larger ecosystem of hardware and software that it must ensure that it works with. Hence, slower release cycles.

However, Windows 7 was finished ages ago. Yes, we had the first code in in October and a beta in January - during which time very little in the build appears to have changed. We've had performance improvements and bug fixes, but Microsoft's been on the triage fast track, to the alarm of some early testers.

The only significant difference between last October's beta and the release candidate will be the inclusion of an anti-trust button. This will let users turn off Internet Explorer 8, along with other Microsoft applications, and has been included to satisfy European regulators who feel that Microsoft is hurting competitors by shipping its applications with Windows.

And yet, for all its completeness, Microsoft can't let Windows 7 go. It won't even, apparently, acknowledge that there's a release candidate yet.

Yet the evidence speaks for itself. Plus, Windows is so baked that Microsoft partners are already using Windows 7 on their PCs instead of Windows Vista. The message is clear: there's nothing left to do on Windows 7. Just let go and stop trying to make more of it.

The problem for Microsoft, though, is the organization and the ecosystem - not the operating system. Windows 7 might be done, but now Microsoft's got to hand the code to hardware and software partners for testing - to avoid the disaster that was compatibility in Windows Vista. That takes time. Plus, it's got to make sure the Windows 7 integrations work with the wave of new products - like Office 2010 - plus existing software.

Then, Microsoft's got to let marketing teams construct fancy SKU pricing and packaging options while holding endless meetings about meetings. And finally, as is Microsoft's style, it'll arrange a huge artifice of a global launch replete with glowing customer and partner endorsements and paid-for whitepapers from IDC all pointing to how this version of Windows is the best yet, and will make you more productive that the last version.

All that takes time.

Which is remarkable when you consider how Windows has become a commodity, and how Windows 7 offers very little different from Windows Vista or how little it's changed during the build process. A company other than Microsoft might have open-sourced this beast years ago, in order to free itself from the cost and delay of having to keep re-inventing the wheel. That's why IBM created Eclipse for development tools and others jumped on board.

Windows 7 might be done, but now we're in the classic waiting phase during which the organization must catch up and get behind the official launch. Microsoft could learn from the commercial backers of Linux distros that put the technology and users first. ®

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