Microsoft seeks to steal Apple’s thunder, Windows 7 Beta @ CES

Luckily, Rumors had received advance notice of this announcement overnight from sources in Redmond and has been able to spend some quality time with the very build of Windows 7 that will be flying out the door tomorrow from Microsoft’s download servers…..and though it is certainly a big step up from the painful trainwreck that is Vista, it sure ain’t no OS X killer.

Not by a long shot.

We’ll be posting more hands-on Windows 7 Beta reviews from the Mac perspective in the days ahead, but suffice to say that Windows 7 might as well be called “Windows Plays_Catch-Up_With_OS X_10.3.” It won’t be reverse-Switching anyone…..and even if it had that potential, it won’t be shipping until well after Snow Leopard — and whatever “catching up” to Leopard Win 7 might be able to pull off will be of little concern to Mac users flying along on top of the Grand Central-core’d OS X 10.6 for months before Win 7 even ships.

Although it is supposed to be “faster” than Vista, and is in some areas though usually only in stopwatch terms — not real-world discernible in most cases — on older hardware, Windows 7 still has major problems and though it is supposed to include a software rendering engine to replace the 3D hardware that has made Vista such a bear on certain low-end or older machines, this engine doesn’t seem to work well if at all on most entry-level consumer Macs based around the Intel GMA950 integrated graphics accelerator.

Head to head running the same applications Mac OS 10.5.6, an alpha build of Mac OS 10.6, Windows Vista and Windows 7 Beta gave us no real surprises — Snow Leopard, thanks to Grand Central and exhaustive Intel optimization efforts, ran common third party applications like Firefox and Adobe Media Player, VLC and Google Earth which also run on Windows….and ran them at speeds which crushed all the other systems tested.

The early build of Snow Leopard, which we will be previewing in the coming weeks as we get more hands-on time with it after taking it home from “Bothans” at Macworld, certainly isn’t a perfect model of stability but showcases the new style of development which underlies Grand Central; it is more reliable and more complete than any previous major version of OS X at this stage. It also performs much better — normally, this early on developmental builds are weighed down with debug code.

Snow Leopard is certainly not where it will be later this year, but it’s light years ahead of Windows 7 at this point, and stopwatch benchmarks bore this out in almost excessively repeatable fashion. Time after time, we watched 10.5.6 finish ahead of the Win7 Beta on key tasks….the difference was often considerably smaller than against Vista, but rarely did the Windows Beta best even today’s shipping Mac OS except in places where even Vista gives it a run for its money.

The only thing we found to be a real strength of the new Windows 7 Beta? Its user experience. It’s no UIKit — not even an Aqua; but it certainly has come a long way. Redmond has done remarkably good work, given their (IOHO) fundamentally broken corporate culture….and our friends there are to be commended for the projects they’ve been able to squeeze through this new development process. Many of the subtler innovations and touches, like the new bundled applications, show the marks of talented individuals as much as the larger sweeps of changing style at Microsoft.

All in all, if you’re concerned that Ballmer’s announcements today could dampen interest in Macworld and Apple’s upcoming announcements — which will be even bigger than those at the Expo itself, though third parties have really made the show for us — fear not. Apple is untouchable right now, and with good reason. No single development, no matter how dramatic it might seem at the moment, will be able to turn the momentum of that train aside in this day & age.

Microsoft cannot say the same; on virtually every front, they are facing shrinking market share and the disdain of customers who are flocking towards better solutions. Whatever the state of any individual Apple employee, even one as important as Steve Jobs, the fundamental advantages of the company’s culture and development process, technologies and sheer quality of people….speak for themselves.

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  • Ted

    If Windows 7 still requires the customer to buy anti-virus software that takes up a good percentage of a machine’s cycles, it will be another DOA moment similar to Vista.

    There’s only so long Microsoft can keep marketing garbage until people wake up and smell the roses – whether that be open source or Apple.

  • admin

    We couldn’t agree more!