News that Windows 7 beta 1 will be available on or around Jan. 13 got me thinking about the new look and feel of the OS and Microsoft's deliberate effort to have a cooler-looking interface.
Then I came across a thoughtful, though somewhat alarmist, post by SuperSite for Windows blogger Paul Thurrott that accuses Microsoft of hiding complexity rather than removing it with Windows 7. This is a common criticism of the Mac OS interface and Thurrott expresses concern that Windows 7 is drifting too close to the design architecture of a Mac.
It's too soon for copy cat accusations, but I did recognize Mac resemblances in the Windows 7 screenshots and demos I've seen, especially in the Windows 7 taskbar, which has a physical appearance and functionality similar to the Mac OS X dock. Another Mac likeness in Windows 7 is the ability to drag and drop icons into the taskbar and access them quickly.
Microsoft is only asking for trouble by emulating the Mac OS X design and functionality. Mac users will gloat; PC users will feel deceived; Apple will tear Windows 7 apart in ads.
I do like that Microsoft is trying to break new UI ground with Windows 7; we're overdue for more visual flair and, dare I say it, eye candy in Windows. But the OS better be easy to use. I'll take a more colorful Windows experience as long as it makes my life easier. As long as it's better than Vista.
Microsoft has to walk a fine line with the Windows 7 interface. It's been touted as a streamlined and lean OS, which most agree is a necessary change after Vista. But if its graphics and functionality start resembling Apple, it's a no-win situation. If a devoted PC user flips open his or her new laptop running Windows 7 and is reminded, even for a second, of his or her friend's MacBook that he or she borrowed last week, how is said PC user supposed to feel? Betrayed is not too strong a word.
To quote veteran Microsoft watcher Mary Jo Foley on this subject: "If I wanted a Mac-like environment, I'd buy a Mac."
It really is that simple.
Don't get me wrong. Everyone steals or borrows: musicians, filmmakers, politicians, and yes technology companies. But there is an art to stealing. You steal concepts from obscure sources that the mainstream doesn't know about and then integrate them with your own vision. Or you steal from two or three different sources so that the finished product is fresh yet vaguely familiar.
What you don't do is steal from your very public enemy. That's a death wish.
However, it is early yet and Microsoft will be making plenty of tweaks to the Windows 7 UI before it is released. But with an established reputation for copying its rival, Microsoft can't afford to exacerbate that notion with a taskbar and desktop apps in Windows 7 that smell like Apple.