Microsoft opens Windows 7 with a Tupperware touch

Somewhere in your email inbox last week you may have received from an acquaintance an invitation to a “Windows 7 Launch Party” scheduled for some time in the next 10 days. Do not be offended by this unsolicited and impertinent communication. Look at it in a positive light. The person who sent it meant no harm. He or she is offering you an opportunity to participate in an exciting new way of selling operating-system software. Its secret codename is “Tupperware 2.0”.

Some background may be helpful. Microsoft, a hitherto-successful computer company based in Redmond, near Seattle, has been labouring for two years to recover from a disaster called Vista, which was Version 6 of its celebrated Windows operating system.

The disaster, it should be said, was entirely of Microsoft’s own making. Vista was years behind schedule and ludicrously cumbersome and, despite a great deal of marketing hype, failed to ignite the enthusiasm of the vast majority of Microsoft users across the globe. Many of them, indeed, were so unimpressed with it that they actually paid computer manufacturers such as Dell a “downgrade fee” entitling them to replace the mandatory copy of Vista supplied with their laptops with the earlier — XP — version of Windows. Corporate customers were similarly unimpressed.

Microsoft, of course, insisted that Vista was a great success, much as Churchill used to extoll the virtues of the Dardanelles campaign. But deep in the bowels of Redmond, emergency measures were taken. The guy who ran the Microsoft Office range was switched to operating systems, and vast resources were thrown into a project to create a simpler, cleaner, more efficient version of Windows.

The goal was to fix Vista’s flaws and give Microsoft customers a convincing reason to move up from XP. In keeping with the new philosophy, fancy names would be eschewed: the product would be known simply as Windows 7.

Now it’s ready for the official launch on 22 October. The product has been around in its beta version for ages, and most of those who have used it think it’s a great improvement. Walt Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal, possibly the most influential mainstream commentator on these matters, loved it: “I believe it is the best version of Windows Microsoft has produced. It’s a boost to productivity and a pleasure to use. Despite a few drawbacks, I can heartily recommend Windows 7 to mainstream consumers.”

The problem for Microsoft is that the world did not stand still while it was extricating itself from the Vista mess. Apple continued to thrive and began to put a version of its OS X operating system into its iPhones and iPods, thereby turning them into formidable small computers. The world discovered netbooks — small, cheap, notebook-sized computers which came with the (free) Linux operating system. So threatening was this development that Microsoft abandoned plans for discontinuing Windows XP and instead concentrated on getting it on to as many netbooks as possible.

Worst of all (from Microsoft’s point of view, anyway), Google announced that it was developing an operating system of its own, which is the computational equivalent of parking its tanks on Redmond’s lawn.

In the end, none of this may matter. If Windows 7 is as good as people say, Microsoft’s dominant market position will ensure its continued prosperity in the desktop market. But the problem is that, as Google has soared and people increasingly use the internet rather than their own PCs as a computer, Microsoft has come to seem, well, rather dull. So even if Windows 7 is terrific, the world may greet it with a yawn.

Hence the invitation in your inbox. Microsoft is trying to generate a “buzz” round its new baby. It has commissioned an outfit called House Party to encourage thousands of employees, partners and Windows-loving techies to hold “launch parties” in their homes. Hosts will receive a free copy of Windows 7 Ultimate and “a good chance of winning a PC worth $750!”.

They are also supplied with a “party pack” based on one of “four festive themes: PhotoPalooza, Media Mania, Setting up with Ease, and Family Friendly Fun. Each pack contains a poster, playing cards, a puzzle, a tabletop centrepiece, a bag of streamers, a bag of balloons, a package of napkins, and 10 tote bags. Like I said, Tupperware 2.0.

The only drawback is that potential hosts have to be vetted by House Party. Otherwise, Apple fanatics and Linux jokers might conduct their own subversive versions of the launch party. Indeed, I had rather hoped to do that myself. But on visiting the website, I find I’ve missed the boat. “Thank you for your interest,” it said. “Sorry, we are no longer accepting applications for this event.”

I’ll just have to wait for Windows 8. –

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