Windows 7 Eunach edition is out for pre-order

So Windows 7 has just appeared in online stores for pre-ordering. The pre-order deal is also very competitive. Except, it was. The news was announced yesterday and I jumped on to Amazon to get some prices and they were about £80 for the Home Professional version. Amazon have since mailshotted customers announcing the news, headling a price of £44.97, which I suspect is for the Home Premium version.

However, clicking through or searching for Windows 7 in Amazon now displays nothing more than a “Be notified when this product becomes available” message, alongside a reminder about the limited time period.

European users should look closely at the box, though. We’re special, because we get a special version, “Windows 7 Home Professional E”, “Ultimate E”, etc. The “E”, I guess, stands for “Europe”. In the top left hand corner of the box is the message “Windows 7 Home Premium E: Requires a web browser to access the Internet. Internet Explorer not included*”.

This is doubtlessly down to the European Union’s aggression towards Microsoft. Rightly or wrongly, Europe has an axe to grind where Microsoft are concerned. Citing anti-competitive practices, they have caused the creation of special SKUs particular to the European market with no Media Player before now, but now with no web browser.

Several questions jump out at me.

In the age of the connected operating system, what use is there in an OS with no web browser? The first thing a user typically does when they install a new OS is to jump on the Internet to download updates, install the latest drivers for hardware or just browse around while the OS completes its installation work. Doesn’t look like this will be possible for us.

If there is no browser in the box, how do you download a browser, without a browser? Maybe there is a splash screen that allows you to download a browser from a finite list of “approved” browsers such as Internet Explorer or Firefox. Isn’t this “approved list” just as anti-competitive?

Local, off-line content may need a web browser just as much as an Internet connected machine. Many software applications use the IE component in particular to display help information, or enhanced splash screens/dashboards. How will these programs work, if at all? Just because you may not be on the Internet, doesn’t mean you don’t need a web browser. How can a user install a web browser to facilitate this function with no Internet connection?

This really winds me up. This will only cause slower browsers like Firefox to become more popular and increase the variety of browser standards which will mean compatibility with systems and web sites can only get worse, which is annoying after Microsoft have done so much to improve issues with IE 8. An end user is not going to know the value of IE over Firefox, Chrome over IE or some open source browser some geek has coded in his bedroom over a reputable, supported browser. They want to use their computer to get on the internet, fast.

This is typical European legislation getting in the way of common sense. It makes me want to vote for the BNP and reduce their effects, though common sense and basic intelligence means I won’t do this. What is their next step? After removing Media Player, and now Internet Explorer, will they remove Windows Explorer – after all if it is the default GUI/shell then isn’t that anti-competitive?

As an aside, I noticed yesterday Ultimate edition was down as a “notify when becomes available” whereas the lower-end SKUs were available for pre-order. I do hope Ultimate will have a price before the reduced prices expire, otherwise they may raise the prices, then release Ultimate for purchase meaning those who want Ultimate have to pay full price, or twice for Professional version then use the AnyTime upgrade path to get to Ultimate.

“BETA” is now a Marketing Gimmick

I wonder why it is that software and services have now started badging
themselves as “BETA” after a significant change or rewrite. “BETA” was
previously a term applied to software and services which was in a controlled
state of testing by a controlled audience or test-base. Major software like
Microsoft Windows often had a significant and highly sought after BETA test
program, which helped Microsoft control access to the software and thereby
control support requests, feedback and bug reports.

Now, however, it seems it forms part of a Marketing campaign. Web sites, in
particular, are guilty of adding “BETA” to new features/rewritten sites after
the initial development is complete. What signal is this giving to end users? It
sure is sexy and cool (if you’re a bit geeky) to get your hands on new tech
before everyone else, but when the Beta stage comes de rigeur, it significantly
weakens the whole idea of the Beta phase of software Quality Assurance.

In my mind, Beta doesn’t mean “sexy and cool”, it means “unstable, buggy and
requires a professional touch”. It is fundamentally not ready for users. So
launching sites like

Number 10’s new web site as Beta is not in the spirit of Beta software. It is forcing users to use software that would previously not have been released. It amounts to lazy testing. All the money the Labour government throws at IT projects and they couldn’t establish a sufficient testing programme before releasing software to users. What “Beta” means now is “Well, it’s sexy and cool, and if it goes wrong we don’t really care”. If they cared, the “Beta” programme would have been optional. Microsoft’s Download and Support sites are going through a similar Beta programme, but their release has been much more controlled – asking users if they wanted to participate.

I’m not a fan of regular users getting their hands on WIndows 7, either.
Windows 7 is a massive software installation with a huge potential to go wrong.
“Regular” users really should not be part of this Beta programme, certainly not
at this early stage. Just because the download servers crashed for users
downloading WIndows 7 Beta, doesn’t mean Ballmer was right to release the
software to the general public (though I guess he is keen for users to see
post-Vista improvements). As the current build (7000 at time of writing) is
going to expire in August anyway, it will leave a lot of people with a
potentially unusable machine. It’s fine allowing wider access to Beta programmes
closer to launch, at least then these users could just jump on to the upgrade
path. I suspect a lot of “techie friends” are going to be asked to reinstall a
previous Windows install in August! As a member of the MSDN community (an
excellent subscription service that provides access to much of Microsoft’s
portfolio for your own development and testing programmes), I can obtain a copy
of Windows 7 and I am able to test and submit meaningful test cases and
scenarios to Microsoft. How is a regular user able to do this?

So the Marketeers have stolen a term for established test programmes
previously used to control potentially unstable software distribution. Where
does this leave the whole software Quality Assurance process? If “Beta” is now
just “cool and free” copies of software such as Windows (at least for a for
short time) how can I as a software developer control access to my own software
in such testing programmes and instill the idea that the “Beta” label does
actually mean it isn’t yet suitable for release. (Microsoft and others use “RTM”
(Released to Manufacturing) for that, a much better opportunity for the general
public to jump on and try it out). I have two projects on the go at the moment.
At work I am working on an Outlook Toolbar which is currently in a Beta phase, but within our own organisation. We’re very happy with its performance, so we’re going to go with a new stage “Elective Sunrise Edition”, which will be released to specific users with platforms that would highlight any further issues and does what it says on the tin. Our users must “opt in” to the programme and it will be clear that it is pre-release software. “Elective Sunrise Edition” is also
suitably pretentious to satisfy the Marketeer in everyone! After a couple of
weeks, we’ll go “Gold” with a correctly versioned product. At home, my WPF
Twitter Client will go out for Beta Testing (by nature of my own hardware, I can
only test it on a limited number of platforms) but I will be putting code in
there to prevent onward distribution of the software in an uncontrolled manner.
Those users I choose will surely be special, because I will have targetted them
for specific testing reasons such as platform, frequency of use, etc.

For me, “Beta” is not sexy and nor is it a result of impatience on the part
of the Marketing Department to release software before it is ready, or of
developers who are a little too lazy with their Quality Assurance processes, it
means “potentially unstable software, use at own risk“!