Coming off the disaster that was the release of Windows Vista with its performance and compatibility issues, there was a palpable sense in the community that Windows 7 had to be our saving grace. Despite Windows having the vast majority of the market share, we fanboys felt under attack. Everyone thought Macs were cooler, easier to use, safer, and faster. And the worst part of all, you had to field the onslaught of “Macs are better” from your sister’s friends. “Security through obscurity,” we cried in defense. Harder to use wasn’t a bad thing, we took pride in it. We did our duty, we relished in defending our platform. The strongest among us believed Vista was only unsuccessful because the OEMs didn’t properly update their drivers. But in our heart of hearts, we knew the truth.
Much to our delight in 2007, a mere six months following the release of Vista, Microsoft announced the next version would be codenamed “Windows 7.” The salivating started, we saw a flicker of light that would be our salvation. Then, in 2008, Microsoft officially announced the name would be “Windows 7.” We cheered. The name was simple, obvious, to the point. It felt fast, easy to type, easy to translate, it oozed efficiency and we couldn’t wait to touch it. In late 2008 a beta version of Windows 7 was leaked and distributed on torrent sites. The bravest among us slapped it on our machines and sung its praises near and far, anything to wipe the memory of Vista from our minds as quickly as possible. “Using the beta on machines responsible for life support, at a hospital where I work, runs perfectly, absolutely zero problems,” sang the evangelists. In early 2009, Microsoft released the official Windows 7 beta. Microsoft wanted to hear from us and there was a real sense that they were listening. Our duty was to install the beta and give feedback, if only in the form of anonymous usage statistics. We were in this together.
I remember being stationed at my parents’ dining room table, installing it on my 10-pound machined plastic HP dv6000 with that AMD Turion engine.The feeling of risk and fear we all get when we do a fresh install, a part of us thinking, “this might not work.” Worked it did, and on boot I was awarded with that beautiful betta fish. I leaned back in my chair, looked up at the heavens to Steve Ballmer and Bill Gates, arms outstretched, palms up, head back, “We made it.”
The betta fish wallpaper, a nod from a large behemoth of a corporation that said, “Hey, thanks for testing our software, here’s an inside joke we know only the real hax0rs will get ;).” We ate it up. Windows Aero was fully realized, and for some reason we liked it a lot more in 7 than in Vista. The taskbar, unapologetically geometric, it all felt so right. And of course those insane wallpapers that were introduced in Windows 7 RC 1. I remember a digg.com post, God rest its soul, that topped the charts saying, “Microsoft is on some serious drugs,” linking to the wallpapers, we loved it. They showed us that Microsoft had changed. They showed us that Microsoft knew how to have fun, and have fun with us, the community, because no one else cares about these minor details. But we did, and we cared that Microsoft cared too. The wallpapers were a victory lap for a product that hadn’t even been released. At this point, we all knew the success of Windows 7 was a foregone conclusion.
The official release in October 2009 was glorious. Pre-order records were broken, adoption soared. The troves of Windows XP users who avoided Vista were beckoned, we took their hands and told them it was safe now, they could come out of their troll holes and upgrade. That default wallpapergreeting you on first boot, like the name, it was efficient, simple, it was a digital manifestation of the promises of Windows 7. Promises kept, thanks in part to us. We had arrived.