Windows 7's Upcoming Impact, and Microsoft's More Open Development
In the open source community, few companies gather more criticism than Microsoft, and the company's proprietary, patent-centric practices--as well as its highly publicized run-ins with the DOJ and the European Commision--have a lot to do with that. Still, those of us who want open source software to flourish in the long run should be objective enough to look at what the software giant does right. I mentioned Microsoft's sophisticated usability testing efforts here, the company spends a lot of money on its Microsoft Research division--which produces innovative technology--and even the company's stance toward open source has improved in some ways under open source czar Sam Ramji.
With the debacle that Windows Vista has been for Microsoft, many people have been lulled into forgetting what happens when Microsoft delivers a well-received version of Windows. When the company does that, it affects the entire technology ecosystem, and open source will definitely be affected when Windows 7 arrives this fall. By most accounts worth trusting, Windows 7 is an extremely solid operating system, and some of that has to do with more open development practices from Microsoft.
As Savio Rodrigues notes, Microsoft has learned from "adoption led marketing," which is a proven best practice from the world of open source software. Rodrigues notes that unlike Vista, Windows 7 preorders have sold like crazy all over the world, and he adds:
"Whoever at Microsoft decided to open up the Windows 7 beta and release candidate testing program to anyone wishing to try out the new OS deserves kudos."
Indeed, that attitude toward unfinished software has rolled a virtual red carpet out for Windows 7. It has silenced many of the people who might suggest that Windows 7 will have as many problems as Vista had, it has ushered in much praise from the technology press, and more. Rodrigues also cites the "lots of eyeballs" advantage:
"By opening up the testing program Microsoft has increased the number of testers and chances of finding edge case bugs. Successful open source projects highlight the benefits of a large set of users whose use uncovers bugs that formal testing did not or could not find."
When Windows 7 arrives this fall, it's likely to be the first really well-received version of Windows--among both consumers and IT managers--since Windows 2000. Microsoft has big plans for it in the hot netbook space, where it may threaten open source platforms and applications, and many Apple watchers are predicting that it will mark the first time in many years when Microsoft has an OS that is anywhere near competitive with Apple's.
Love it or hate, it's not a good idea to ignore Windows 7 at this point. And I agree with Savio Rodrigues that future versions of Windows will probably have open beta and release candidate programs--a winning development model practiced all around the open source arena. More open development practices are just one of many ways that Microsoft could learn valuable lessons from open source.