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Windows 7: The New NT?

Last week, Microsoft announced that Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 will be released to manufacturing (RTM) in the second half of July and will be made generally available (GA) to customers on October 22, 2009. This date is almost exactly one year after Windows 7's public unveiling at the 2008 PDC last October, and well before the original timeframe Microsoft had allotted for its release.

As most of you are no doubt well aware, I've been evaluating Windows 7 since last year. Actually, maybe "evaluating" isn't the right word: I've been using Windows 7 day-to-day, on all of my production PC hardware, foregoing XP and Vista almost entirely, since late 2008. And in this time, I've never run into any major issues, on any of the many, many PCs with which I've used Windows 7. This has been the most uneventful OS beta in Microsoft's history from what I can tell.

In fact, I'd go so far to say that Windows 7 has brought the NT mojo back to Microsoft's desktop OS, and in a big way. (Side note: The Server team never lost it.) And this is a big deal, as any NT old-timer could tell you.

I still remember the NT days longingly. NT was the OS that sort of looked like Windows, was sort of compatible with Windows hardware, and was mostly compatible with Windows software. But it wasn't hobbled by the technical limitations of the DOS-based Windows versions that were so common a decade ago, and it wouldn't go crashing down to the hardware every time an errant application decided to cough its way across an unprotected memory boundary. NT was solid, rock-solid, and it was the choice of administrators, developers, and power users of all stripes.

In retrospect, we should have known NT's days were numbered. It was branded as Windows NT before it even shipped to the public for the first time. After Windows NT 4.0 shipped, Microsoft made the wrong decision and integrated the immature, buggy, and insecure Internet Explorer (IE) into the OS via an NT Option Pack, forever tarnishing NT's previous bulletproof record. And after NT 5.0 hit the Beta 2 stage, Microsoft finally banished the NT name to the dustbin of history, announcing that it would brand the system as Windows 2000. NT was dead. (And I skipped out on the Windows 2000 launch, largely for that reason.)

Subsequent NT-based Windows versions suffered from various infamous issues. There was the Windows 2000 Service Pack 2 (SP2) debacle. Then XP shipped as arguably the buggiest and most insecure Windows version of all time, a fact few remember today, but mostly because XP's successor, Windows Vista, is considered to be so bad. Vista is an OS that can't even run well netbooks, the most successful PC devices being sold today. Unbelievable.

And then there's Windows 7. Sure, it looks like a prettier version of Windows Vista. But it's small and fast, usable and secure. It is the first version of Windows, perhaps ever, that I can recommend wholeheartedly, and without reservation, to virtually anyone. It is the first version of Windows since, well, NT, that I'm proud to use and point out to others, sure that there isn't anything better out there, from Microsoft or elsewhere. This is quite a turnaround.

In fact, it's so much of a turnaround that the NT comparison is almost unfair. To Windows 7, that is. Because unlike NT, Windows 7 is also broadly compatible with all of the hardware and software currently in the market. In the future, I suspect, we'll always look back on this as a the high-water mark of quality in the Windows product timeline. It's never come together this well before.

I realize there's no such thing as perfect software. But I'm looking forward to October in ways that I could never have imagined with previous NT-based versions of Windows. I just wish they could figure out a way to bring the NT name back. Now that would be perfect.

An edited version of this article appeared in the June 9, 2009 issue of Windows IT Pro UPDATE. --Paul

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