Home opinion-and-analysis Fuzzy Logic Is a modular Windows 7 in 2010 really such a good idea? No.

Is a modular Windows 7 in 2010 really such a good idea? No.

Microsoft watcher Mary Jo Foley is suggesting that Windows 7 will be a modular operating system, with a central core that is the OS itself, with other modules to be separately installable. Why isn't this a good thing, and would it mean only ‘one’ version of Windows at retail?

There’s been a lot of talk in the last couple of days about Windows 7, due in 2010, being offered as a modular version.

Microsoft Watcher Mary Jo Foley has a blog posting about Windows 7 potentially going to pieces, while Ars Technica suggests that Windows 7 won’t just be modular but will have subscription elements, too.

If Windows 7 is modular, it could mean that you’d have the base OS, such as the ‘MinWin’ core that was suggested by Microsoft a few months ago, and on top of that, different modular parts. Foley suggests there could be a ‘mail, photo, video’ module, although in one way that sounds a little bit like iLife with only the photo and video bits.

There could be an Internet module that has a browser and mail. Yet another module might have Windows utilities.

Part of the reasoning for Microsoft doing this could be to get the DoJ and other regulatory authorities off Microsoft’s back for including so many different technologies into Windows itself.

Microsoft could also then start charging subscription fees for certain modules, such as an Internet security/anti-virus/anti-spyware module, much as they do now with Windows OneCare.

Another reason for going modular is to lower to attack vector for Windows, supposedly. Of course, if you have several or all of the modules loaded, it sounds to me like you get a wide attack vector back, but hey, it kinda sounds good – Windows isn’t as secure as Mac OS X or Linux, so why not give it a shot?

Some of this talk might be coming from Microsoft in an attempt to deflect attention away from the SP1 debacle, and Vista itself. Both have had horrible publicity, despite the fact that after a year’s worth of updates, Vista is actually Microsoft’s best operating system yet.

There’s also the chance that Windows 7 could be a single OS version. But if you then need to buy modules, some of which may, or may not be included in the retail version or on retail PCs, the add-on modules end up becoming the different versions of what you can get with Windows, rather than Windows 7 being one version itself.

It’s a bit like transferring the problem somewhere else – you still have the problem, however.

Please read onto page 2 to find out why Microsoft shouldn’t put all its efforts into modularising Windows 7 now, something I think spending a whole heap of effort on is just a monumental waste of time – and potentially very dangerous. Please read on.

Look, if Microsoft really can modularise Windows 7, then great. But so far, early builds of Windows 7 look like versions of Vista with a few changes here and there.

This whole modularisation thing might turn out to be one of those grand Microsoft ideas that doesn’t get implemented for a decade.

After all, we’re still waiting for Windows to offer features that Bill Gates talked about 10 years ago.

I think Microsoft’s best plan, for now, is to keep working on Vista’s successor using the now SP1 Windows Vista and Windows 2008 code base.

2010 isn’t that far away, and Microsoft really needs to start issuing real beta versions no later than this time next year, so they can get it out the door well in time for Christmas 2009, after which comes 2010. Microsoft shouldn’t try to sell an OS in January again, it’s the worst possible time to sell an OS and new computers. Christmas 2009 is the go-to date as far as I’m concerned.

For Microsoft to go off on grand experiments right now isn’t the right path. Sure, put some programmers onto it, get them working on it for Windows 8 - but not Windows 7 itself.

For the love of God, and the sanity of all your users, please Microsoft do not try to modularise Windows 7 and then stuff it up, forcing us to wait until 2012 or something for the next version of Windows.

No-one wants a repeat of the 6 year wait between XP and Vista, and Microsoft promised this wouldn’t happen for the next Windows, hence this 2010 deadline.

Given the fact they couldn’t program SP1 to be trouble free for what appears to be a large chunk of their user base, and many people STILL can't get it, I don’t hold out much hope that Microsoft will totally re-engineer and modularise Windows 7 by 2010. I really don’t.

But an upgrade to Vista as it currently stands? Sure. That’s doable, even for Microsoft. They'll have the next year and a half to get it right before launching to retail.

That's not much time at all! And Microsoft have worked to these short timescales before without making huge leaps - think Windows 95 to Windows 98 to Windows ME.

Even Windows 2000 to Windows XP was done fast, without introducing huge new changes that caused the 6 year gap between XP and Vista.

I’m sure Windows will be properly modular one day. But if there is any move towards it for Windows 7 in 2010, it’ll only be baby steps.

A modular Windows 7 in 2010? Well, it's a bit like a Windows version of Humpty Dumpty. Microsoft can make him fall off the wall, but can Microsoft put him back together again? By 2012 or later maybe, but I seriously doubt by 2010.


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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

One of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.