Microsoft's Lurch Down the Windows 7 Rabbit Hole

As Apple customers, we are in awe of Apple's migration from Mac OS 9 to Mac OS X. While the technical details remain for true OS geeks, we know that Apple used vision, focus, technology and determination to make the urgent, much needed change to UNIX. Belatedly, Microsoft, in fact, is trying to do a similar thing right now with Windows 7 and "XP Mode," but in a much more haphazard fashion.

Recently, Microsoft announced a new feature of Windows 7 that had remained a secret, namely, "Windows XP Mode". Think of it as a virtual machine built into Windows 7 that can run Windows XP, all its apps and display them on the Windows 7 desktop.

Sounds just like what Apple did, right? Maybe not.

While Apple was making its own transition, it was leveraging from a new set of modern frameworks and Cocoa to provide a forward migration path. For awhile, it looked like Apple developers could coast with Carbon -- until Apple finally slammed the door shut by announcing that Carbon wouldn't be migrated to 64-bits. There was outrage, but the handwriting was on the wall. Apple, slowly but firmly, migrated its developers away from the Mac OS 9 APIs. Of course, the imperative was higher because the Mac OS 9 APIs weren't reentrant. Never mind that. Apple forced the issue to a new set of APIs, not just a new OS.

Microsoft, however has had its share of panic induced moments and has simply put a band-aid on the situation. Desperate to get customers, unmoved by Vista, to upgrade to Windows 7, Microsoft is simply making a marketing concession.


First, as Randall Kennedy at Infoworld describes it, Microsoft had a better solution, namely, using its own App-V technology that it acquired from Softricity. That would have enabled Microsoft to avoid virtualization and the corresponding security issues of Windows XP running inside Windows 7. (Just as Classic was an absolute security nightmare in Mac OS X because it allowed the user unrestricted access to the file system.)

App-V, as Mr. Kennedy describes is, would have solved Microsoft's technical problem of allowing creaky Win-32 apps to run in Windows 7 with security and performance. However, the Vista fiasco defocused Microsoft from the task at hand.

Microsoft's desperation was born of a different imperative than Apple's. So MS let work on App-V in Windows 7 slide and worked instead on selling the idea of Windows 7 -- which is fundamentally Vista under the hood -- and put a band-aid on things by offering Windows XP Mode.

Worse, during Microsoft's panic time over Vista, competitors bought up Softricity's competitors and produced, for example, ThinApp (VMware) and XenApp (Citrix), giving them a technical leg up on Microsoft and possibly throwing IT departments in a quandary.

The Road to Perdition

Not only will Windows XP in Windows 7 present performance and security issues, it won't provide much incentive for the myriad of Windows developers to build apps for the new architecture of Vista, um, Windows 7. And so, for the foreseeable future, customers will be using Windows 7 but running Windows XP apps. We know how that goes -- resistance to change is high. How successful Microsoft will be at forcing a migration of nearly 100 percent of its developers over to Windows 7 native apps in the future, in a similar fashion to Apple, is anyone's guess. I am not optimistic.

So when you read about Windows 7 "XP Mode," don't take that to mean Microsoft has fired up the courage to make the Big Change that Apple did with Classic in Mac OS X. Instead, the endeavor is just a temporary concession to Microsoft's market realities.

Mr. Kennedy concluded: "It's another 'good enough' solution from a company that stopped shooting for technical excellence long ago."