The biggest competition to Microsoft on the desktop is not Linux or any other product. It’s past Microsoft products and to some degree future ones that are the real threat. XP is what Microsoft needs to worry about with Windows 7, not Mac OS or Linux.
Windows 95 finally added a GUI to Windows that was workable. Win2k and XP refined that usability with the stability of the NT kernel. I am still not sure where the overall value of Windows 7 will come into play. I was reminded of a comment in Douglas Coupland’s Microserfs, where one of the characters says somrthing along the lines of “The current GUI desktop metaphor is the intellectual avocado-colored kitchen appliance of the 21st century.” AMEN.
Adding UI tweaks and glitzy effects doesn’t change the mix that much. It’s not just about simplicity or even reliability. Show me some new things that will empower us in new ways and I’ll buy. Show me cool new apps that take advantage of the OS and can’t be had anyplace else (there was exactly one app that required Vista to use until it was killed. Bonus points if you know what it was) Otherwise, what we have today might just be good enough. Even more interesting is the window of opportunity for Apple that has a real alternative platform to Windows to gain market share while Windows 7 comes to market.
Microsoft needs a more compelling OS story and soon.