Why Windows 7 Didn't Make eWEEK Labs' 2009 Products of the Year List

Windows 7 was one of the biggest product stories of 2009, so why didn't Microsoft's new client OS make eWEEK Labs' Products of the Year list? A lack of true innovation and several outstanding questions are among the reasons.

Windows 7 was certainly one of the biggest tech stories of 2009, so why didn't it make our Product of the Year list? Simply put, none of eWEEK Labs' analysts--myself included--were enthusiastic enough about the new Microsoft OS to put it there.

While Windows 7 may prove to be the best overall operating system Microsoft has delivered, in our tests, it provided only incremental improvements over a highly unpopular predecessor--many of the critical improvements in Windows 7 were actually included first in Windows Vista.

Windows 7 also has curious lack of continuity and logic across features that lead to a seemingly inexhaustible set of questions.

Do administrators really need the added complexity (security, management and licensing) of a second operating system to support legacy applications, as XP Mode requires? And, if XP Mode is so critical, why won't it play nicely with Microsoft's latest communications technologies, such as DirectAccess? And if we really still need to run a legacy OS in a virtual machine, do we really need Windows 7 at the base to run the hypervisor? Why not run all Windows-craving line-of-business applications in an XP VM on top of a lean, modern Linux distribution? Isn't that alternative at least worth considering?

On a personal level, I was pretty disappointed with Microsoft's stance on security with Windows 7. The OS could have been all about securing data and the user experience, but instead Microsoft sacrificed that objective on the altar of usability and profitability--toning down the protections afforded by UAC, limiting the availability of hard disk and removable drive encryption to the most expensive SKUs, and even replacing and limiting a security feature once available to all business SKUs (Software Restrictions Policies) with a similar one available only to the Enterprise and Ultimate SKUs (AppLocker).

Microsoft also could have done something to natively provide information about the patching levels of third-party applications (a la Secunia PSI) as well as of the OS itself but, alas, it did not.

Despite all this, I expect Windows 7 will likely gain significant traction with enterprise IT--not because of Windows 7's greatness, but rather because Microsoft alternatives are not up to snuff and IT implementers need to do something soon. Windows XP, which still lives on the vast majority of enterprise client machines, is on its last legs of commercial viability--with creaky support for the latest hardware and 64-bit architectures, as well as Microsoft's unsurprising lack of commitment to its ongoing security development. And Windows Vista had too many perceived problems and detractors to ever get off the ground as a viable alternative.

Indeed, Windows 7 betters its forebears in most of the ways a new Windows should, but is it really the right solution for the way people compute today, given the increasing viability of mobility and cloud-based services in the enterprise? Do enterprises even need a fat client on the desktop anymore?

I expect that most Windows shops will likely opt for Windows 7. And for many, that's fine. It's familiar, it's solid, and it's the path of least resistance.

Customers just need to ask themselves if it's the right choice for today and tomorrow.