Hey, Microsoft: Keep Windows 7 simple

Microsoft should keep the next version of its operating system simple, as its name at first appears to be. But will the company really want to do that, given its history?

Don Reisinger
Former CNET contributor Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.
Don Reisinger
3 min read

When Microsoft announced that it will keep the Windows 7 moniker for Vista's follow-up, I was happy to hear it. After years of trying to be clever with names like XP or Vista (not to mention Longhorn), Microsoft has finally realized that keeping it simple is the best idea in the operating-system market.

And then, just as the company tried to lay the groundwork for simplicity, it blew up in its convoluted justification for naming Windows 7.

It starts out simple enough: the first Windows was Windows 1.0, the second, 2.0, and so on. But then Microsoft revealed that Windows 95 was Windows 4.0 and "Windows 98, Windows 98 SE, and Windows Millennium each shipped as 4.0.1998, 4.10.2222, and 4.90.3000, respectively."

Oh, and don't forget that Windows XP, although a major release, was actually Windows 5.1, since Windows 2000 was Windows 5.0. And thanks to Vista being dubbed Windows 6.0, we arrive at Windows 7.


Is it even possible for Microsoft to make sense anymore? Why couldn't the company have just said, "uh, we named it Windows 7 because, well, we wanted to"? Wouldn't that have been much simpler?

See, when Microsoft first told us that it wouldn't change Windows 7's name, I was happy. I figured that the company had finally seen the light, and for once, it would try to take complexity out of the equation and start bringing a culture of simplicity to Windows.

I'm starting to think that I was wrong.

The problems with Windows Vista go far beyond incompatibility. The real problems with Vista revolve around the complexity and downright absurdity of the operating system's bloated code. Some say Microsoft is a victim of its own success and that it has no other options, but I think that's ludicrous. There's no reason why Microsoft can't simplify the code and create a more robust operating system.

Granted, many of Vista's issues were fixed after SP1, but a slew of issues still remain. User Account Control is annoying (to say the least) and it's obvious every step of the way that Microsoft tried to do too much and address too many problems when it only really needs to do two things: eliminate the bloat, and develop a front end that doesn't try to copy Mac OS X but rather stays true to Windows.

What do I mean by that? Microsoft needs to stop believing that the operating-system business is a beauty pageant and start realizing that what most users want is a simple system that gives them access to what they want as quickly as possible, without exposing them to all the security issues currently plaguing Windows. Granted, many of those security issues are created by the users, but it doesn't matter; Microsoft can do more to protect them.

Maybe it's only a name, but Microsoft's decision to keep it simple made me hope for something more out of Windows 7. I thought that Microsoft was finally drawing a line in the sand by saying it won't simply put a fresh coat of paint on the same problems, but rather finally gut the operating system and make it far more appealing to users by making it easier to use.

When I use Mac OS X, I can't help but think that Apple did something right with Leopard. It didn't try to do too much, but it made all the applications I use readily available, and in the process, it reduced the number of headaches I experience when using Windows.

There's no secret formula to making a fantastic operating system, but I think there is a way to make one that's almost perfect. That operating system would be lightweight and secure. It would offer high usability and deliver an experience that isn't nearly as concerned about beauty as it is quality.

And if we look at Vista, Microsoft didn't do anything of the sort. Instead, it created an operating system that was too resource-intensive, had low usability, thanks to an odd menu structure and annoying pop-ups, and it coveted design over security.

Windows 7 cannot succumb to those same issues. Microsoft needs to develop a culture of simplicity and remove unnecessary complexity through the OS. And if it can succeed in doing so, you can bet that a new, simple, Windows 7 will finally put Microsoft's competitors back on their heels.

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