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Windows XP vs Windows 7

Michael Brown   April 8 2009 08:12:20 PM
As Windows 7 approaches its first Release Candidate, expect to see many performance comparison articles, courtesy of the ever friendly (towards Microsoft) computer press.  I guarantee that these will all say pretty much the same with regards to performance: "Windows 7's performance is miles better than Vista's and almost on a par with XP's".  That's where such comparisons mention XP at all.  I suspect that many won't, or if they do, they'll gloss over it quickly as if it's an irrelevance.

Microsoft needs this forgetfulness to happen if Windows 7 is going to be the massive hit for which they're hoping  There's plenty of Microsoft fans - and surely they can't all be astroturfers - urging that this is how it should be.  E.g, take a comparison from Overclockers, which does include XP in the mix and which concludes that "Windows 7 underperformed XP in every category".  (Note: that's underperformed, and not outperformed.)  The first comment on this article says the the following:
Lets face it Windows XP is soon gonna be a fond memory for about 90% of the people in the near future so there is no longer any real need to see how Windows 7 stacks up against such a aging XP OS any more.
You wish, "rocky"!!  But I don't think you and Microsoft are going to be able to pull the wool over quite that easily.

"The Sale To End All Sales"

Here's an analogy.  I was watching an episode of an old western TV show recently - guilty confession; I think it might have been Little House on the Prairie! - where the unprincipled propitiator of the town store wanted to make money on a sale she was holding.  So how do you make a profit during a sale, when you're actually dropping your prices?  Simple: she quietly raised her prices by 25% the week before, and then put signs in her shop window proclaiming "the sale to end all sales! everything reduced by 20%!".  As long as nobody remembered what the original prices were before she raised them, then she gets to pocket the extra 5% while the customers are convinced that they're getting a good deal.

So it is with Microsoft.  In terms of performance (although you could argue for dollar costs too) XP is the original price; Vista is the 25% jacking up; and Windows 7 is "the sale to end all sales" that actually puts things back almost as they were in the first place.  But the whole scam only works if nobody remembers the "original price" that is XP.  You only need know that "Windows 7 isn't Vista".  Just as people love Barack Obama, and while he may turn out to be a great U.S. President, all most people care about now is that he's not George W Bush.

Likewise, Microsoft knows that 7 is going to be better than Vista.  That's a no-brainer, because anything is better than using Vista.  Hell, getting whacked in the face with a shovel full of compost is better than using Vista!  So, you can expect Microsoft to "encourage" only studies that show the differences between Vista and 7, and which brush XP quietly under the carpet.

Home Vs Business

But how relevant for you is a comparison of Vista to 7?

If you're a home user who got stuck with Vista because it was all that was available when you bought your new PC (and you didn't want to pay through the nose for "downgrade" to XP rights) then it's very relevant.  Hopefully, you'll be able to trade up to something that's much better than what you have, although that's not saying much, so good luck to you (but why not have a quick play with Ubuntu while you're waiting?).  It only remains to see how much Microsoft is going to sting you for that privilege.  (If you believe, as many people do, that Windows 7 is "Vista as it should have been" then you may be hoping that 7 will be a free upgrade from Vista.  Dream on.)

However, if you're a business that's avoided Vista like your life depended on it - because from an IT reliability perspective, it very likely did! - then a comparison of 7 vs Vista is of no relevance to you whatsoever.  You would be moving from XP to 7, and not from Vista to 7.  How much better 7 is than Vista is neither here nor there, as far as you're concerned.

Lotus Notes, Bloat and Going Around In Circles

As a Lotus Notes developer, I may appear to be on thin ice when I point out - as I'm just about to! - that Vista and Windows 7 are bloated monsters.  The Domino server may continue to amaze by packing in more features and offering better performance with each subsequent release, but the Notes client has been bloating up for many years now.  Notes 8.0 was the worst culprit yet in terms of its increased size and lack of performance.  Let's be honest: Notes 8.0 crawled.  Thankfully though, Notes 8.0.2 and particularly Notes 8.5 managed to get on top of those performance issues and get things back to usable levels, even on older hardware.

But there was always a crucial difference between the Notes 8.0 bloat and the bloat of Vista and Windows 7: Notes 8.0 added some extra features over its predecessors!  I mean real features; features that people actually wanted and that companies were willing to pay to have.  To use a Hollywood comparison, you could see where the money had been spent; it was all right up there on the screen.  I won't list all those new features here, but off the top of my head we had:
  • A vastly improved UI.
  • Multiple calendar overlays.
  • Multiple undos. (Bring on redos!!)
  • The Eclipse framework to give us:
    • Simultaneous cross-platform releases for Windows, Macintosh and Linux.  (Worth the price of admission alone, IMHO).
    • Composite applications and mash ups.  (Are they the same thing?  Oh well!)

And what does Windows 7 give you over XP?  Where's the beef?  What is ten years of development - 7 for Vista then 3 more for Windows 7 - going to bring to the party?  The party that you are paying for, by the way.  To put it another way, at the end of an expensive - in terms of man-hours alone - upgrade from XP to Windows 7, what will you have that you didn't have before?  What will you be able to do that you couldn't do before?  Where will you be that you weren't before?  Are you sure that you're not about to go around in a big circle only to arrive back pretty much at where you started?  Mitchell Ashley at Network World makes the killer point:
Windows 7 is a better Vista but doesn't deliver enough advantages or differentiation from Windows XP to woo XP users from their stable, reliable and functional desktop OS.

Reasons To Upgrade?

Here are some of the reasons that you're likely to hear when you're being pushed to make the move from XP:
  • It will have better security
    Surely, you jest?  Microsoft said the same of Vista.  Did you see how all of the Vista PCs were impervious to Conficker, unlike their "outdated" XP cousins?  Neither did I.  Every version of Windows since 95 has been the one "that's going to fix security" once and for all.  Do you really think that Windows 7 is going to be the one?  (Did you also predict that the current recession "might have blown over by now"?)

  • It has an improved Interface
    If my limited experience of Vista is anything to go by, this will translate to mean "controls and functions that you could find in XP have been moved around so that you can't find them any more".  Oh and a smattering of the Dock - the weakest feature of Mac OS X - has been thrown in for no particular reason.

  • That's progress!  If you want to stay in the past you should have stuck with Windows 3.1 or even DOS!
    I don't want to use DOS because I prefer a GUI to a command line.  I didn't stick with Windows 3.1 because Windows 95 was miles better.  Even though it took far more resources to run - really, it needed a new PC for most people - it was worth it for the breaking of the 8.3 file name limit alone.  Similarly, XP was worth the upgrade (hardware and software) from Windows 98 because of its better stability and responsiveness when multitasking.  In fact, apart from Windows ME (which was hardly a flagship release anyway), every version of Windows had been demonstrably better than the versions that proceeded it... until we got to Vista.

  • Macs are expensive.
    Linux isn't.

  • You just have to because... Microsoft says, and there's no alternative!
    I refer the honourable gentleman (or lady) to my previous answer.


1Bilal Jaffery  04/08/2009 12:51:20 AM  Windows XP vs Windows 7

What a great post! This is going on stumbleupon!