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Seven high points of Windows 7

Seven high points of Windows 7

What a long ride it's been for Microsoft's popular OS. Support for Windows 7 has ended, making this a good time to look at some of its highs and lows over the years

Credit: Dreamstime

Microsoft has issued its final free security update for Windows 7, putting an end to that operating system's decade.

To remember that service - a retirement party but without the cloyingly-sweet cake and cheap gold watch - Computerworld selected seven highlights of Windows 7. While the seven do not pretend to trace Windows 7's history, they illustrate the influence and impact of the OS.

Here's to Windows 7. Raise a glass, for cryin' out loud.

It salvaged Microsoft's reputation after the Vista debacle

The numbers say it all.

Windows Vista, the 2006 replacement for Windows XP, topped out at 20 per cent of all Windows versions in October 2009. Even though the OS it followed was long in the tooth – XP was nearly twice the age of a typical version when it was supplanted - Vista struggled to put a dent in its forerunner's share.

Windows XP still accounted for 75 per cent of all Windows activity when Vista peaked.

Windows 7 drove down Vista's share toot sweet: In 18 months, Vista's share of all Windows had fallen to 11.5 per cent. Users couldn't wait to rid themselves of Vista.

But then, what would you expect of an OS that fostered a class-action lawsuit?

The three-quarters-of-a-billion-dollar snafu

An oversight - so said Microsoft - with Windows 7 Service Pack 1 (SP1) cost the company €561 million ($732 million at the time) when the European Union's anti-trust regulators fined the firm for omitting a browser choice feature.

The March 2013 decision by EU officials - the first time regulators there punished a company for shirking an antitrust agreement - ultimately stemmed from a 2007 complaint by rival Opera Software, which alleged that Microsoft manipulated the battle for browser share by tying Internet Explorer (IE) to Windows.

Two years later, Microsoft agreed to show European users of Windows a "browser ballot," a screen that displayed download links to other browsers, including Google's Chrome, Mozilla's Firefox and Opera's namesake.

But Microsoft failed to show that ballot to users of Windows 7 SP1 for some 14 months, from May 2011 until July 2012. More than 15 million users did not see the ballot as they should have, the EU charged.

In mid-2012, Microsoft admitted the goof and apologised, even as it downplayed the problem, saying it had been purely a "technical error" and blaming an engineering team.

Microsoft failed to disclose the snafu in the self-certified compliance reports it was required to submit to EU authorities.

In fact, Microsoft had ignored a user who reported the omission of the browser ballot in Windows 7 SP1. That user had queried support representatives in March 2011, a month after the launch of SP1 and two months before the start of the span during which regulators claimed Microsoft had scratched the ballot, saying, " I do not see the options for the browser choice."

Although a support engineer replied to the user in the online forum, he paid no notice to the question of the ballot's whereabouts.

SKU insanity

Microsoft tried to hang onto the netbook market for a while longer with Windows 7 Starter, one of a ballooning number of SKUs (stock-keeping units) segregating the OS.

Starter, which had been preceded by same-named versions on both Windows XP and Vista, was meant to service the netbook market, the name for the smaller, less capable, and most importantly, cheaper notebook computers that juiced PC sales after their 2007 debut.

Windows XP Starter and Windows Vista Starter had been sold only in a small number of markets outside the U.S.; Windows 7 Starter was sold domestically, however.

Microsoft kept calling these systems "small notebooks," eschewing the "netbook" nomenclature for some reason.

By the time of Windows 7's late-2009 launch, netbooks were plainly converging with standard small and light notebooks and/or sub-notebooks (another name for another category, or sub-category). Microsoft acknowledged that, at least to some extent, by dropping the three-application-at-a-time restriction from Windows 7 Starter that had been imposed on XP's and Vista's versions.

Other omissions and limitations remained, however. Windows 7 Starter left out the "Aero" graphic user interface (GUI) that was Windows 7's most visible feature, omitted support for DVD playback and did not provide the ability to change the desktop background. What?

Starter was also a signal that Microsoft still held a more-is-better belief when it came to fragmenting an OS into multiple versions, or SKUs. Windows 7, like its Vista forerunner, came in six: Starter, Home Basic, Home Premium, Professional, Enterprise and Ultimate. Vista had used Business rather than Professional.

Because Windows XP also featured half a dozen SKUs - although the versions were different in several cases - Microsoft pushed six SKUs from 2001, XP's launch, through 2017, Vista's retirement.

From 2012 on, however, Microsoft pared Windows to three with Windows 8 (four if you counted Windows RT, which no one should) and maintained that number, at least at the beginning, with Windows 10 (we're counting Home, Pro and Enterprise).

Since 10's launch, though, Microsoft has loosened its belt, expanding the SKUs with options like Windows 10 Pro Workstation and Windows 10 S, even as it tightened said strip of leather by dropping something-for-everyone SKUs like Windows 10 Mobile and Windows 10 Mobile Enterprise.

Belly up to the bar

Windows 7 boosted the size of the task bar and added several elements that remain to this day in its successor, 10.

Microsoft beefed up the taskbar's vertical dimension by 33 per cent - when using the by-default large icon and labels option - from Windows Vista, and also expanded the width of the active application tiles as well as the icons for pinned apps.

Read more on the next page...


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