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Windows 7: Cutting corners in the rush to market?

Is Microsoft moving too fast with Windows 7? That's the complaint coming from some members of the technical beta program. According to these people, Microsoft isn't taking their feedback seriously, even when filed through their private beta tester feedback channels.

Development team responses like "won't fix" or "by design" seem to be the norm for even serious issues, leading many testers to conclude that the product was feature complete (ie. no longer subject to significant modification based on tester input) long before they received their first code drop.

Now I hear that the much anticipated release candidate build (7048?) has already been branched off of the main code tree and is being prepped for release as early as the end of this month - this just five weeks after the one-and-only beta drop was made public.

I've long felt the Windows 7 development process was a bit too opaque. After the near transparency of the Vista soap opera - where we all tuned in weekly to learn of the latest axed feature or slipped ship date - Windows 7 has been a veritable "black box." Most of us knew nothing about the new version until we received our pre-release PDC builds, and by then much of the OS' design and feature set was already frozen.

And as for the public "beta" charade, more than one person has accused Microsoft of using the threat of limited availability and a fixed cut-off date as a kind of PR stunt, a way to generate buzz by showing how much pent-up demand exists for their new baby. Of course, once the download deluge began, the "limited" number of user slots quickly became unlimited while the cut-off date slipped from mid-January to just last week (and even now you can still get the bits through MSDN, TechNet and a host of Torrent links).

As I ponder the above confluence of factors, I can't help but conclude that Windows 7 is being rushed to market without adequate testing or even acknowledgement of beta user feedback. Much of the blame can be placed at the feet of Steve Sinofsky, a man notorious for running a very "cloak and dagger" development process while helming the Office product group.

Even before the pre-beta bits were dry, I opined that he was the wrong man for the job. To be sure, Windows Vista was a PR disaster (blame Jim "I love the limelight" Allchin for that one). However, this whole Windows 7 beta process reeks of overcorrection. It's as if they had locked everything down months in advance and are using the public testing cycle as nothing more than an elaborate strip-tease designed to get geek pulses raging so they'll fork over those Software Assurance dollars by the truckload.

So, as I curse at the latest compatibility gaffe (XenoCode, like ThinApp, is completely broken under Windows 7) to trip up my beta experience, I can't help but feel sorry for those brave technical beta testers, many of whom have invested a good portion of their personal and professional lives helping Microsoft to assess the readiness of each new Windows version.

Wake up, people. It's all been a big lie.

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