Ballmer is talking about the need for efficiency in the new economy; I’m thinking that this is a veiled reference to getting past the Vista bloat, especially when he quotes users who claim that it’s simpler and more responsive without actually stating the point of comparison for simplicity and response time. These issues are key for end user efficiency, along with the improvements in handling wireless, but there are also improvements in desktop security that make it more efficient for the IT people who have to manage large installed bases of PCs. There are new versions of the Windows Server (2008 R2) and Exchange Server (2010) products, too, particularly with respect to virtualization, although I try to make everything beyond my own keyboard as virtual as possible so don’t have a lot of interest in the server products: my mail, files and backup are in the cloud, not on a server in my office. That being said, Microsoft is launching a number of cloud-based tools, including the web-based Office suite (still very early and barely functional) and SharePoint Online to complement their Exchange Online offering; although they have some significant clients here, likely the biggest impact is that they are validating the cloud model for email and collaboration, which will benefit their competitors as much or more than themselves.
Windows 7 has had about 8 million beta testers since they released it for download several months ago, and have collected a huge amount of feedback from the early adopters: some are estimating a savings of $100-200 per person per year in reduced support and maintenance costs, although YMMV.
After a brief speech, Ballmer opened it up for questions, and the first one was about upgrading existing hardware to run Windows 7; he responded that any machine that runs Vista well will run Windows 7 (although I thought that the problem was the Vista didn’t run all that well on any platform, hence the crappy adoption rates), but those running XP may require upgrades or replacement. I think that it’s fair to say that a huge part of my customer base – the rather conservative financial services and insurance industries – haven’t even touched Vista, so that could mean some significant hardware investment to support Windows 7; Microsoft can expect to see widespread Windows 7 adoption rates in these industries only when XP support is cut off. Ballmer’s betting on people being excitedly motivated to move to Windows 7, not forced through XP end of life; I think that’s a bit delusional given that he admits that they’re still supporting Windows 2000 for some customers. In the last question, he stated that Windows 7 will not be the last 32-bit OS from Microsoft because of the recent popularity of the Atom processor.
They’ve moved on to the customer videos now, so I’ll wrap this up and wander around the demo stations (and the tea table). In the spirit of full disclosure, Microsoft fed me breakfast this morning but did not otherwise compensate me to be here. I’m still hoping for a free copy of Windows 7.
Update: Scored my free copy of Windows 7 Ultimate on the way out the door. Headed home to install on the netbook.