What Canadian IT managers think of Windows 7

Microsoft’s servers were overwhelmed last Friday as thousands upon thousands streamed in to download the newly announced public beta of the upcoming operating system, Microsoft Windows 7.

The company lifted today the initial cap of 2.5 million downloads, through to January 24.

According to Microsoft, it really taps into the zeitgeist of how users want their technology: now and fast. Elliot Katz, senior Windows product manager for Microsoft Canada, said, “The shift from a world of client applications to connected applications and Internet services has driven higher expectations about the pace of innovation in the software industry.”

As for now, said Katz, “We are keeping a close eye on the beta servers and will take necessary steps to ensure the best possible experience as the demand continues to increase.”

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The company’s also continuing to push Vista SP1 as the best option, even as the Windows 7 beta is being downloaded in droves. “The public distribution here is unique, as it’s so readily accessible,” said Kevin Restivo, research analyst with IDC Canada. “From an enterprise perspective, for IT managers, it may be more of a preview rather than knowing exactly what they’d get if they really rolled it out.”

All the IT managers that ComputerWorld Canada spoke to agreed that the Windows 7 beta is far too raw to put into any kind of serious production for now.

The beta period itself might be a mixed blessing.

On the one hand, it could offer IT managers an up-close-and-personal look at the first post-Vista operating system. “It builds that anticipation and demand,” Restivo said.

Vancouver-based database consultant and member of the Vancouver Technology User Group (VANTUG) Scott Stauffer said, “They put it out significantly earlier, and it doesn’t have that insiders-only feel. Now that dollars are tighter, they have to really show people that they are listening.”

The bad economy could work to Microsoft’s advantage, according to another VANTUG member, Dan Morris, a systems engineer with A & A Contract Customs Brokers Ltd. out of Vancouver.

“We are under a tight IT budget right now, and purchasing has been halted due to the economic situation, so that gives us a little more time to play with beta programs,” he said. “I think read that the Windows 7 beta was fully featured, and that no new features will be added, so, unlike previous betas where features kept being added, I believe Microsoft is focusing solely on fixing the bugs in Windows 7 before release, in which case I would suggest more people play with it, so more bugs can be found and resolved before it goes RTM.”

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On the other hand, it could also get shuffled to the back of the pile, said Restivo. “A real issue with IT managers is time. There’s the early adopters, but it’s not easy to secure that amount of time to preview such a program, so getting feedback from busy IT managers might be hard.”

Stauffer, for one, has enoyed the new beta so far, as reception of Vista among his clients and colleagues was decidedly mixed. “No-one is going out of their way to get Vista. A lot of IT managers just didn’t see the ROI. ‘Why?’ they asked,” he said.

Windows 7 already has a leg-up on its predecessor, whose drivers were much maligned—Stauffer found that the Windows 7 beta easily ran on an older piece of hardware, while another VANTUG member, Michael Liu, found compatibility to be good. “I installed Zune, Windows Live Messenger, Photo, and Writer without any issue, and fast,” Liu said. “

Said Mike Chan, a technical lead with the Vancouver-based Metafore Solutions and VANTUG member: “I installed it in my Netbook machine and was amazed on how fast the system was running compared to Vista. The UAC nagging has been toned down a lot, and there some minor improvements like MS Paint and Wordpad and the taskbar. Otherwise, you can say that Windows 7 is what Vista was supposed to be.”

And, in this economy, ease of use is critical for an operating system. “User productivity is important. You don’t want to have to send people to a half-day training session on how to use the new system,” said Stauffer.

Liu said, “The UI has less glitches than Vista, and is more smooth. The UI is the most important part that the customer cares about. During the recession, the budget could be tight, but it can really boost worker’s productivity with less training fees involved.”

Stauffer found Windows 7 to be more responsive than Vista, and is also enjoying the search function. He said, “It was a real inconvenience before. Now that you can have a terabyte of data on your desktop, there’s a lot of garbage to sift through. I found that with Vista, it was a little more tricky than it was with XP. It wasn’t as intuitive, but with Windows 7, it’s like, ‘Wow, finally.’”

If Windows 7 gains enough fans, said Info-Tech Research Group research lead Darin Stahl, a lot of users are simply going to skip Vista altogether in the same way that Windows 98 was dismissed by many IT managers. “Right now, we have a lot of clients that have Vista licenses that just downgrade back to Windows XP,” he said. “These users could be using Windows XP well into 2011 (and when necessary just migrate to Windows 7).”

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