Microsoft Windows 7 Battery Life Claims Spark Investigation

Microsoft is investigating claims from irate users over allegedly poor battery life for laptops running Windows 7, an issue that primarily seems to be affecting users who upgraded from either Windows Vista or Windows XP. While the number of users affected is unknown, complaints about battery life as low as 15 minutes have been reported on Microsoft forums as far back as June 2009. Microsoft has seen the adoption rate for Windows 7 steadily climb since its Oct. 22 release, with one research firm suggesting that 7.5 percent of PCs now run the operating system.

Microsoft is investigating user complaints related to the battery life of laptops running Windows 7, a problem that apparently existed even before the operating system's Oct. 22 launch. The issue seems to primarily affect those users who upgraded their system to Windows 7 from either Windows Vista or Windows XP, and limits their battery life to as short as 15 minutes.

"Microsoft has been made aware that some computers running Windows 7 receive a warning that battery needs to be replaced when the battery is new or in good health," a Microsoft spokesperson told eWEEK in a Feb. 3 e-mail. "In conjunction with our hardware partners, we are investigating this issue."

The spokesperson added: "The warning received on some computers using Windows 7 uses firmware information (information about hardware status provided by the PC itself) to determine if battery replacement is needed. We are working with our partners to determine the root cause of what appear to be erroneous warnings and will update the TechNet forum with information and guidance as it becomes available."

Windows 7-related complaints about battery life extend back to June on the Microsoft TechNet discussion forum, with users reporting either rapid power drain or else a "Consider Replacing Your Battery" message. The issue seems to occur on a variety of manufacturers' laptops, including models from Dell, Acer and Hewlett-Packard, and for both the 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Windows 7.

"This is completely, totally [unacceptable]," wrote one poster on Jan. 12. "You can understand why Microsoft would probably not want to own up to this, as it would immediately open them up to replacing probably hundreds if not thousands of laptop batteries."

"My PC is 1 year old, battery was great with Vista," wrote another on Jan. 27. "I upgraded a few weeks ago and now if I unplug it turns off completely. I have checked the battery settings through control panel. After countless hours of yelling every curse word in the book, none of them seem to have fixed it."

Theories about the problem have been circulating online, with some IT pros suggesting that Windows 7 is incorrectly reading the laptop's existing battery charge.

On Feb. 3, a posting allegedly from Anthony Mann, Windows Client IT Pro Audience Manager for Web Forums, suggested that the company was looking for a solution. "We are investigating this issue in conjunction with our hardware partners," that post read, "which appears to be related to system firmware. We are working with our partners to determine the root cause and will update the forum with information and guidance as it becomes available."

At least one analyst doubts the issue will affect the longer-term sales of Windows 7.

"Since the pool of Windows 7 users is already large, a handful of incidents doesn't yet make a case for anything in particular," Roger Kay, an analyst with Endpoint Technologies Associates, wrote in a Feb. 3 email in eWEEK.

Windows 7 has experienced a steady rate of adoption among consumers, with statistics-tracking firm Net Applications reporting that the operating system ran on 7.57 percent of all PCs surveyed in January 2010. By comparison, Windows XP held 66.15 percent of the market, and Windows Vista owned 17.47 percent. According to Microsoft, some 60 million licenses for Windows 7 have thus far been sold, powering year-over-year revenues for its Windows & Windows Live Division from $4.06 billion to $6.9 billion for the second fiscal quarter of 2010.

Microsoft executives indicated in a Jan. 28 earnings call that the company's recent uptick in revenues was largely due to strong consumer demand for Windows 7 and new PCs, although CFO Peter Klein also noted that enterprise software sales have remained stagnant in the wake of a massive global recession.

Microsoft has offered little guidance on a timeline for a potential Windows 7 Service Pack. "Why do we need a service pack?" Windows spokesperson Chris Flores joked with an eWEEK reporter at the 2010 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.

Editor's Note: This article has been updated with commentary from an analyst.