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Dear Windows 7 Programmers, I Have a Few Ideas...

Sadly, very few.

The Wall Street Journal’s Lee Gomes says more about his lack of knowledge about Windows than he does about what Microsoft could do better in the next version of Windows. OK, fine, he’s "normal press" so I'll give him a bit of a pass. But as it turns out, I don't agree with any of his suggestions. Still, it’s a worthwhile discussion:

1. One SKU, please.

Given the fact that I originally revealed Microsoft's multi-SKU strategy for Vista (and in the process almost completely destroyed my relationship with the company), I can in this case at least accurately claim that I have been the most vocal opponent to this strategy for longer than anyone. That said, one SKU will not work, sorry. And before anyone points to Apple for the wrong reasons, let me point out that Apple technically sells three Leopard SKUs if you count the server: Leopard, Leopard Family Pack, and Leopard Server. Put another way, Apple’s SKU strategy is correct, but not for the reason you think it's correct. It's correct because it correctly senses the dynamic of the consumer market to which it sells: Individuals, Individuals with multiple computers (and servers, which is separate).

All that said, Windows serves too complex a series of markets to have one SKU for individuals. I believe, very strongly, that Microsoft should irrevocably split the desktop versions of Windows in half. There should be a core Windows team that supplies the foundation for all Windows versions (and, as it turns out, there already is such a team). Then, there should be three separate Windows product groups: Consumers, Businesses, and Server. All will build off of Windows Core/Foundation. All will have separate products with unique features.

Microsoft can and should still sell an Ultimate SKU that combines all of the features from Consumer Windows and Business Windows. But the Consumer product should be completely different from Business. Not just with the applications (Media Center, Photo Gallery). It should have a completely different UI, a beautiful, fun UI, an extensible, crazy, let you do with it what you will UI. The Business version… not so much.

This change is so obvious and so overdue I can’t understand what’s taking so long.

2. Smart, scalable graphics.

Vista addresses the needs of today’s displays nicely and you can already see the further vectorization of Windows 7 in the first builds. More important, this just isn’t a huge issue. As the Windows user base has noted loud and clearly, moving from the bitmapped XP interface to the GPU-enhanced Vista interface just wasn’t a big enough step to make people excited. This won’t be either. Even less so, in fact, given the graphical fidelity now seen in Vista. Next.

3. OS snapshots and an undo feature.

Sigh. Windows Vista has these features. Apple copied them from Microsoft and put a pretty face on them. Let’s just agree that Windows needs a better interface for Previous Versions and move on. And please explain to me where Apple’s CompletePC Backup feature can be found. Oh, right.

4. Open it up.

Ludicrous and pandering toss-out to the open source crowd. How, exactly, will “opening up” Windows really help in the real world? It won’t. And my god, this line:

Why can't Windows be proprietary, for-profit and copy-protected -- while at the same time be open for user control and inspection?

Because those two things--“proprietary, for-profit and copy-protected” and “open”—are mutually exclusive. Next.

5. Make sure Windows 7 actually works.

OK, a cheap shot.

Yeah, that’s exactly what it is. Cheap. And not helpful, because “make it work” is as vague and pointless as “open it up,” only this time you’re pandering to the anti-Vista/iCabal crowd. Given that Windows 7 is an evolution of Windows Vista, I think we can assume it will work better and “be better” as a result. This suggestion isn’t a suggestion, it’s an excuse to pad the word count.

When you break this list down, he’s only really offering one actual suggestion—the one SKU thing—and even that, while well-meaning, doesn’t speak to the complexities of the Windows market and is thus unrealistic. As noted above, however, this conversation about Windows 7 suggestions is still valid. If only Microsoft were interested in having it. And they’re not, from what I can tell: Note the absence of any kind of “What Would You Like to See in the Next Windows?”-type page on the company’s site. This is a product that’s used by over a billion people every day. Maybe it’s time for the company to ask a few of them what they think. Not MVPs. Not beta testers. Not the tech press. Real people. People who can’t fire up Regedit and make it work.

My top request for Windows 7 is simple, and it goes something like this:

Ask, don’t dictate. Find out what your customers want. And then do it.

It sounds so simple. But I sometimes feel like there’s a disconnect between Microsoft and its customers. That Mr. Gomes here didn’t know about Vista’s OS snapshot (System Restore) and undo (Previous Versions) features suggests that few consumers have heard about them either. It’s time to engage, Microsoft. And that doesn’t mean communicating about communicating. It means really listening.

Just a thought.

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