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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

Features like jump lists - click on the taskbar icon for Word, say, and a list of recently-opened documents appears - pinning and thumbnails (admittedly introduced in Vista but made larger and interactive in Windows 7) have proven durable enough to last through multiple OS generations.

For a blast from the past, check out this blog about the Windows 7 taskbar that was posted almost a year before the operating system's release.

It was authored by Steven Sinofsky, at the time one of the development heads for the OS. Later, Sinofsky became president of the Windows Division, where he became the public face of Windows 8, the heir to 7 that bombed.

The end of an era


Windows 7 was Microsoft's last stable OS.

For a bit more than a decade, Windows 7 remained fixed, steadfast, unvarying, enduring. According to Microsoft's model, we'll never see Windows like that again, not on personal computers. Windows 10 LTSC may be meant to stay static for 10 years, but it's not suited for general PC purposes.

Windows 7 sported just a single service pack (SP), the cumulative roll-ups released at irregular intervals, that was issued in February 2011, about 16 months after the OS's debut. But although Windows 7 SP1 contained some changes, they were all under the hood; nothing visible to users was altered.

Much the same could be said for a subsequent platform update, a February 2013 release focused on graphics and imaging components and including Internet Explorer 10 (IE10).

Meanwhile, Windows 10 morphs every 12 months if enterprise customers are lucky (and the 2019 major-minor pattern continues), every six months if they're not.

Post-retirement patches step into daylight

Microsoft believed commercial customers were so enamoured of Windows 7 - and would hold onto the OS in such numbers - that for the first time the company publicly unveiled a program to provide post-retirement security updates. That was a significantly different approach than the company has used before as an OS nears it end times.

Called Extended Support Updates (ESU) and revealed in September 2018 - a year and a half prior to Windows 7's expiration - the program focused on volume-licensing customers, its largest and most important patrons.

Those businesses would be able to purchase support in one-year increments for up to three years, with prices doubling in the second year, doubling again in the third. Customers with subscriptions to Windows 10 would receive a discount.

Near the last minute - in October 2019 - Microsoft caved to small businesses and said it would also sell ESU to customers who did not have existing volume licensing plans in place.

What was remarkable about ESU wasn't its existence, but that Microsoft was so public about it.

The firm has sold post-retirement programs before, notably when Windows XP neared its retirement. But those deals were clouded in secrecy, with mysterious - and negotiable - price points.

Prior to Windows XP's 2014 exit from support, Microsoft sold "custom support agreements," or CSAs, to its larger customers. But buying CSA was a completely-behind-the-scenes process done on a company-by-company basis, with virtually no public information about the program nor price lists.

That allowed Microsoft to dramatically raise CSA prices in late 2012 and 2013, then turn around and slash them just days before XP's retirement.

Don't it always seem to go..., you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone

The world-turned-upside-down shock of Windows 10 - its continual updating most notably - did more than anything else to elevate Windows 7's long-term reputation. Faced with the jolt of Windows 10, its predecessor came off looking that much more composed.

At the risk of being rejoined with an "OK, boomer," and knowing that nostalgia can backlight even incompetence with an artificial glow, Computerworld proposes that Windows 7 was what an OS should be, serviced as an OS ought to be, useful like an OS better be.

Much of that stems from the habits that Microsoft force-fed customers. Updates should be discrete so that individual patches can be postponed or rejected outright; feature additions should arrive only after years-long intervals to maximise learning "expense;" the OS should not transmit vast quantities of telemetric and diagnostic data to Redmond's servers. And so on. But Microsoft upturned all of that in a single swoop, unlike the gradualism of Windows' past.

No wonder there was resistance from enterprise customers, who on the whole valued continuity and tradition.

But what they were objecting to was not Windows 10 per se - from the start the OS was widely praised on its merits - but instead Microsoft's changing policies of servicing. Where features were extensively criticised - such as 10's data hoovering - they were integral to those policies' execution (at least in Microsoft's mind), not integral to the OS as an OS.

That that has been the case can be confirmed by looking at the most substantial changes Microsoft has made to Windows 10 since its mid-2015 launch. Those changes have largely been made to the servicing policies, not to the OS itself.

For these reasons, Computerworld wagers that Windows 7 will be long viewed as peak enterprise OS and remembered, fairly or not, more fondly than if it had been succeeded by, say, Windows 9 in 2015.

Where's Windows 8 in all this? Invisible, frankly. That OS was an even bigger dud than Vista for corporate customers.

Things have gone this way before, of course. Windows is famous, in fact, for its good-bad cadence of editions. Windows XP was good, Vista was not; Windows 7 good, Windows 8 not. Here, however, Microsoft has boosted Windows 7's standing not by creating a sub-standard edition as follow-up but by changing practices and policies of that successor.

Microsoft recognises what it has done. That's clear from the modifications it's made to Windows 10, such as lengthening the support lifespan and reducing the number of true feature upgrades; it's shifted that operating system closer to the model of ... Windows 7.


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