Early adopters give Windows 7 high marks, says survey

But former XP users less thrilled than those who upgraded from Vista

Users who have moved to Windows 7 gave the new operating system a big thumbs up in a just-released survey, although people upgrading from XP were less enthusiastic than those migrating from Vista.

The survey conducted by Technologizer polled more than 550 early adopters of Windows 7, asking them to rate their overall satisfaction with Microsoft's month-old OS, comment on their installation experience and judge the new features they liked the most.

Of all new Windows 7 users, 70% said that they were "extremely satisfied" and another 24% said they were "somewhat satisfied" with the operating system. But users who came to Windows 7 from Vista had stronger feelings than people who moved from Windows XP, said Harry McCracken, the founder and editor of Technologizer. McCracken is a former editor-in-chief of PC World and still-frequent contributor to the publication, which is a Computerworld sister site.

"Windows XP users were somewhat less enthusiastic about Windows 7," said McCracken.

While the overall satisfaction level of the two groups was nearly identical -- 95% for former Vista users, 94% for those migrating from XP -- the latter were more likely to be lukewarm. For users upgrading from Vista, 79% said they were extremely satisfied with Windows 7, and another 16% said they were somewhat satisfied. However, only 61% of XP users claimed they were extremely satisfied, with 33% saying they were somewhat satisfied.

"From looking at the comments [people appended to their votes], there's still a group who are largely happy with XP, so the bar for them was a little bit higher," said McCracken. "Vista users were a little easier to please."

McCracken attributed that to Vista's long-running reputation as a balky, underpowered operating system. "Vista users were just glad to have something that had Vista's good qualities but without its problems," McCracken added.

Even so, a majority of former XP users said that they wouldn't think about ditching Windows 7 and returning to the eight-year-old operating system: 61% said they "definitely wouldn't" go back to XP, while 31% said they "probably wouldn't."

There, too, users who have shifted from Vista were significantly more committed to Windows 7 than their XP peers: 86% said they definitely wouldn't give up Windows 7 for Vista. Another 9% said they probably wouldn't return to the 2007 OS.

"Overall, even for XP users, the response to Windows 7 has been very positive," said McCracken.

Windows 7 installation woes may have given some users fits, but the vast majority polled by Technologizer gave the operating system glowing marks. According to the survey, 84% said the installation went "extremely smoothly," a remarkable figure considering the results of a 2002 PC World poll where half of those upgrading to the then-new XP admitted having problems.

The reaction to Windows 7's installation caught McCracken by surprise. "I tend to be gloomy about what's going to happen with a new OS," he said, "which is one reason I recommend that people wait to upgrade." He attributed part of the smooth upgrade to the fact that 82% did a so-called "clean" install of Windows 7 -- which requires users to reinstall applications -- rather than a more-problematic "in-place" upgrade from Vista.

Mac owners and users, however, gave Windows 7 mixed reviews when asked to pit Microsoft's newest operating system against Apple's Snow Leopard. About a third thought Windows 7 was better than Mac OS X 10.6, a third thought the two were neck-and-neck, and a third gave the nod to Snow Leopard.

Microsoft might not want to crow about those numbers, however, if only because it could remind people of the gaffe made by one of its executives earlier this month when he said Windows 7's goal was to "create a Mac look and feel." Microsoft quickly disowned the official's comment, saying it was "uninformed" and "inaccurate."

Other indicators have recently pointed to Windows 7's success. According to Web metrics firm Net Applications, in its first three weeks after launch, Windows 7's usage share outpaced what Vista had acquired after five months.

"Windows 7 is off to a good start," said McCracken, adding that it's too early to tell whether the OS is, in fact, the winner that Vista never became. "Reviewers gave Vista a pretty favorable response, too, but real users had considerable qualms with Vista," he said, adding that the true test for Windows 7 satisfaction will come when mainstream users -- not the experienced users his poll surveyed -- have a chance to weigh in.

The complete results of the poll can be found on McCracken's site.

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