SHIFT: Why Windows 7 doesn't matter

DVICE writers take a closer look at the latest tech trends in our weekly column, Shift.

There's a massive tectonic shift about to happen in the world of PC operating systems: Windows 7, now in final development, will soon hit the streets in full force, and according to those in the know, it's going to be hundreds of times better than the much-maligned Windows Vista. Is this going to be revolutionary or just more of the same?

Neither. Windows 7 is nowhere near as fantastic as it's being touted in the blogosphere, nor is Windows Vista as horrible. In the end, typical users will hardly notice any difference in their day-to-day computing lives. But they'll be told it's better, so by many accounts it will seem so. Then Microsoft will finally get what it's wanted for years: Good press about its operating system.

More after the jump.

Why will Windows 7 be touted as a success? Whether it's better than Vista or not, most users won't really know, because the OS doesn't matter anymore. Microsoft says that 80% of the time people spend with their PCs has to do with reading or writing. You launch your browser or your word processor, and except for the occasional fleeting glance at the taskbar, you don't see that operating system again for a long while. It disappears.

Where the OS Ends

Windows 7 doesn't crash much, but not many OSes do anymore, so that's not really a reason to love it or hate it, either. You can find your files once you get used to its structure, just like you can in Vista, OS X, and all the others. It has a pretty user interface, and the others do, too. Still, if you don't like the way it looks, you can change it. So why do we care so much about the OS?

Because we've been told to, by those who spend 80% of their time tinkering with operating systems. Looking at it from another angle, we've been brainwashed by constant barrages of TV commercials and product placements with logos on laptops (seen any Windows machines on 24 lately?), convinced by a thousand marketing messages that this or that OS is way cooler than the rest.

Our Hero

Now the marketing spin is working on Windows 7, Microsoft's rebound OS, the one that's supposedly hugely better than the horrible nightmare that is the dreaded Windows Vista. The only problem is it's all noise. A majority of the most vociferous haters of Windows Vista have never even used it for more than five minutes. A few clicks here and there, and they decide, "Oh, I hate it. Everything I've heard about Vista is true." Mark my words: They'll all do the opposite with Windows 7. A few clicks, and then, it'll be, "This is amazing. Everything I've heard about Windows 7 is true."

They'll see that shiny new taskbar and they'll fall in love. But will they actually learn, study, and use Windows 7's most innovative features, such as the smart resizer, window peeking, alt-tab peeking, libraries or homegroup networking? No. Will they notice that it's faster? Not unless they run benchmarks every day.

Propellerheads Rule

For all the buzz surrounding new operating systems, most people can't tell the difference — they just want to get their work done. And if they're told an operating system bug fix with a facelift on top is a paradigm shift, well, that must be so. Trust us, Windows 7 will not be a paradigm shift from what came before, unless that shift is, "The operating system no longer matters."