Apple and Linux forces rain on Windows 7 parade

Will efforts from Apple, IBM & Canonical impact Windows 7 sales? Some research suggests strong adoption on the business side

Apple and Linux advocate IBM both tried hard to cramp Microsoft's style this week before the Windows 7 rollout even got under way. On Tuesday, Apple launched a new iMac, MacBook, and Mac Mini line, while IBM joined with Linux distributor Canonical to introduce a new "cloud-and-Linux-based" offering called IBM Client for Smart Work.

A week earlier, Apple had taken the wraps off an anti-Windows 7 ad campaign that will focus on upgrade hassles from Windows XP to 7 and also position Mac OS as less prone to viruses.

Apple's negative marketing blitz will coincide with the official availability of Windows 7. Moreover, IBM is making no bones about its timing. Neither is Canonical, a vendor that also plans to release the next edition of its desktop Linux OS, 9.10, on October 29, "one week after Windows 7," according to an e-mail from a company rep.

"Ubuntu gives users a functionally equivalent alternative that looks great, runs the Web great, and won't cost [a] dime to upgrade the software," contended the Canonical rep.

For its part, Microsoft's own timing hasn't been exactly perfect lately. With Microsoft set to talk up its latest desktop security features at the Windows 7 event on Thursday, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer admitted to Network World last week that Microsoft's recent Sidekick data loss episode was "not good."

But will the efforts of Apple, IBM and Canonical make much, if any, impact on Windows 7 sales? Research from some analysts suggests strong adoption on the business side, in any case.

Some two-thirds of IT decision-makers in North American and European enterprises and SMBs plan to migrate to Windows 7 eventually, with 51 percent saying that Windows 7 will be the primary OS on their PCs within 12 months, according to a recent report by Forrester Research.

Another survey, conducted by Information Technology Intelligence Corp. (ITIC) together with Sunbel Software, found that 30 percent of the 1,600 businesses studied will deploy Windows 7 in the first six months, and another 20 percent within the next six months thereafter.

Research about consumer adoption seems harder to find. But Matt Rosoff, an analyst at Directions for Windows, said most consumers will move to Windows 7 when they feel it's time to buy a new PC. Rosoff added that this decision, in turn, will be affected by the state of the economy.

Overall, about 80 to 85 percent of new Windows licenses result from new hardware purchases, as opposed to OS upgrades on old hardware, according to the analyst.

"The upgrade from Vista to Windows 7 will be easier than the upgrade from Windows XP to Vista," noted Rosoff, who also pointed to user interface improvements in Windows 7. "But for most consumers, Windows 7 will not be a release that you'll migrate to just because of the software," he added.

As some others have pointed out, however, upgrading from Windows XP to Windows 7 will be a more demanding process than upgrading from XP to Vista.

Apple's efforts against Microsoft have indeed resulted in a slight market share gain in recent years. But as Rosoff sees things, desktop Linux isn't likely to see all that much success, unless perhaps Android — a Linux distribution now picking up lots of momentum on mobile phones — starts to get installed on netbooks and other small PCs.

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