Microsoft Myopia Leads to Revisionist History

Last week, Microsoft revealed that Windows 7 would be priced similarly to Windows Vista. There were some discounts to be had -- a kind of "Crazy Eddy" pre-order sale for upgrade licenses -- but by and large the retail cost remained the same.

This, of course, resulted in criticism within the blogosphere. Some claimed that Microsoft didn't go far enough with its discounting -- that the company should essentially give the product away for free to Vista users (which is not going to happen) or at least be more aggressive with its stated retail pricing, which ranges from $130 to $200 depending on the Windows 7 version.

Many of these critics were Mac enthusiasts referencing Mac OS X Snow Leopard's more palatable-sounding upgrade price of $29. And they were quickly countered by the Microsoft apologists who noted how Windows 7 will at least run on some older systems, whereas Mac users with pre-Intel hardware are left out in the cold with regard to Apple's latest Mac OS X release.

[ Find out what Mac OS X Snow Leopard brings to business in InfoWorld's in-depth analysis. ]

It's this latter argument that caught my eye as being somewhat disingenuous. While it's true that Windows 7 will run on older hardware, the reason it can has more to do with the stability of the Intel (x86) platform than any altruistic impulses on Microsoft's part.

Simply put, Microsoft has never faced the kind of fundamental architectural shift that Apple was forced to navigate when it abandoned the fading PowerPC platform nearly four years ago. In fact, the closest thing to Apple's Intel migration within the Microsoft realm would be Windows NT's long-forgotten support for the MIPS R4xxx and DEC Alpha platforms. And even there, Microsoft ultimately abandoned those dead-end platforms in favor of more tightly focusing on the volume Intel architecture.

In fact, most modern-day users would be surprised to learn that Windows 7's progenitor was originally designed to be entirely platform-agnostic and that Microsoft even ported Windows NT to the much maligned PowerPC chip at one point in its history (though it never shipped the PowerPC version). For Windows proponents to now criticize Apple's decision to cut the cord to a dead-end CPU architecture seems a bit hypocritical.

After all, it's not like Microsoft hasn't ditched its fair share of declining hardware platforms (my money is on Itanium getting the ax next). It's just that these decisions happened long ago and affected mostly niche systems in the engineering and supercomputing segments. Apple is doing the same thing with Snow Leopard. Unfortunately for Apple, the final divorce settlement from its PowerPC union is being played out on a larger stage, in front of an industry press hungry for story ideas.

The bottom line: Nothing fuels the Windows 7 zealot fires like a good Mac-bashing angle.

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