I’ve been playing with Windows 7 since the early betas and along with being especially impressed with the operating system have found myself pondering why certain things have been implemented and what impact they may have going forward. I do want to also point out however that I personally didn’t have much of an issue with Vista and have used the operating system successfully since release – I was more disappointed with how quickly the technical community jumped on the bandwagon of slating the release especially when there were no grounds other than recital.
Anyway, one of the things that in my opinion have always plagued Microsoft is that the organization has catered for a vast array of hardware implementations and applications, both good and bad in both of these cases. This has been vastly more prevalent in recent times with things such as the Apple commercials where they take various issues with the ‘PC’ such as instability, speed and usability. What has amazed me with this in not how much the general public has bought into it (Apple have produced an awesome advertisement campaign) but how much the technical community has.
I appreciate that I’m off topic with the title of my post here but I’m setting the scene…
The technology industry today is a very unfriendly and sometimes inhibiting environment and unfortunately Microsoft receives much criticism, most of which is unfounded. It is also true that Microsoft is responsible for many of today’s technological advancements and for pushing the boundaries of what is possible further.
Today many companies are constantly trying to push alternate versions of software such as office tools, web browsers and server side programs but where were these companies when the page was blank, when ideas were needed, when someone needed to make a start? It’s easy to criticize a company from the sidelines but when all is said and done no one can take away the fact that Microsoft has pioneered in almost every area of computing today setting the foundation for millions of others to build upon and in every area that Microsoft has ventured, the technology has developed at astounding rates.
So why did I bring in Apple and what relevance does it have to Windows moving forward?
Apple makes massive claims as to the stability and reliability of its operating system which as both a Mac and PC user I do agree with, however, personally I find Windows just as stable. What you need to consider is that the Apple operating system is designed for a very small subset of hardware and in fact the EULA of the software goes on to prohibit it’s use on anything else. When an organization has limited boundaries or defined markers it’s much easier to develop solutions which are known to work correctly.
When Microsoft creates an operating system however they have to consider that its use will be far more reaching than just a given set of hardware. If Microsoft all of a sudden chose to prevent the use of its operating system on certain hardware there would be numerous lawsuits. Microsoft also has to consider and cater for the numerous developers creating products for the platform and again when large changes are made which result in incompatibility, Microsoft finds themselves involved in lawsuits – it really is a losing battle for them.
This argument has been especially highlighted recently when the EU forced Microsoft to decouple its Internet Explorer software from the operating system as it was seen as prohibitive to competition whilst at the same time Apple are permitted to include Safari, decide which applications can and cannot be used on an iPhone and tell me what hardware I can run the software which I have purchased a license for – is it only me that is thinking double standards?
Anyway – back on track, so what can Microsoft so about this?
Well as we have already established, Microsoft are in a difficult position because they need to provide backwards compatibility for the numerous applications to avoid problems whilst at the same time innovate and enhance the platform – the 2 don’t really go easily together. In order for Microsoft to develop an operating system that meets today’s and future needs fundamental things such as security, connectivity and hardware interaction need to change but when this happens backwards compatibility breaks – this is where 2 things become interesting:
The first of these is the Windows XP mode provided with Windows 7. This is in essence a virtual machine which is running a legacy operating system and providing all of the legacy bells and whistles that came with it. This means that the host computer can run a brand new operating system which is feature rich with today’s requirements but not backwards compatible whilst at the same time run a legacy operating system which can cater for the older or poorly written applications. This in essence separates the need to provide legacy support from the operating system development entirely and allows Microsoft to redesign the OS with little regard to the past.
Obviously, the introduction of XP mode within Windows 7 is new and something not been seen before but it does highlight the possibility or easier method of allowing the law-suit bringers to be happy whilst catering for those technical folk who would rather see technology advance than some poorly written software have a competitive chance.
The second thing that is interesting is the introduction of the client hypervisor such as Citrix XenClient (watch the video – very cool) which will both virtualize the base hardware that is presented to an operating system whilst allowing multiple operating systems to run at the same time. What this does is takes away the varying levels of hardware in most cases (you will still have situations when specific hardware is needed) and allow Microsoft to develop for a much smaller subset.
Hopefully you can see from this where I am going in that I believe that Microsoft are in a difficult place with a desire to advance the operating system substantially but a (legal) requirement to support past and present technology. By decoupling the legacy components from the operating system, Microsoft can advance without regard for breaking old applications.
Interested to know your thoughts –