So, putting aside all the usual humbug, what conclusions can we tease out of what we've now seen of Windows 7? (And don't say you don't care: even if you use a Mac, you have to accept that Windows holds a near monopoly on the personal computing world and thus, like it or not, sets the pace -- or the limiter -- on the entire electronics world.)
Microsoft is scared of Apple. It's pretty sad that the hottest new feature you have on your most important new product is old news, introduced a year ago by your smaller, but much sexier, competitor. Sure, Apple doesn't offer iPhone touch technology on its Macs -- yet. But doing so would probably take a long weekend … and you can be sure Apple's OS will have it and be shipping long before Windows 7.
Microsoft is even more scared of "Not" -- It's pretty obvious to everyone that the future of consumer tech is not PCs but Third Screen -- mobile phones, handhelds, etc. And as all of those sore-thumbed Blackberry owners will tell you, the biggest challenge in Third Screen, especially as the Web moves onto it, is data input. Tiny keyboards won't cut it for long -- and until somebody comes up with something better -- input is going to have to be touch and slide.
The iPhone pointed the way in a big way (though its zero tactile feedback keyboard is a deal-breaker to us writers), and the entire wireless world seems to be moving in that direction. Microsoft's problem is that a lot of folks are realizing that in a wireless world with a graphical, touch interface, you don't really need an old-fashioned computer operating system … and as a result, a host of new companies have sprung up offering non-OS alternatives to things like file-sharing. This hits Microsoft right at the very heart of its business. This is one competitive battle it simply cannot lose.
Microsoft is running out of time -- Showing off Windows 7 so soon on the heels of the late arrival of Vista (and thus risking cannibalizing sales of the early OS -- I'll bet HP, Dell and all of the other PC makers are real happy about this) underscores the catastrophe of Vista and the recognition by Ballmer and the company that they don't have time to milk every penny of profit out of the earlier operating system. They've got to make their move now: plant their flag in touch screen wireless, shore up the sinking loyalty to Windows, and show they've still got the chops to compete against Apple and all of the young up-and-comers. If Windows 7 (or the later wireless version) slips more than about six months, you can't help thinking that Microsoft might be in real trouble. The days when the Boys of Redmond had no viable competition are long gone.
Touch screens are the future -- like 'em or not (and I hated the old HP touch screen computers). Market forces and Steve Jobs have made them the Next Big Thing. That means dirty screens (to the horror of cleanliness freaks like Henry Blodget), taking your hands off the keyboard (anathema to touch typists), and a whole lot of waving and wrist flicking. Goodbye carpal tunnel, hello torn rotator cuff.
We've seen the future of tech, and it is the consumer electronics industry giving us the finger. In the case of Microsoft, that won't be anything new.
This is the opinion of the columnist, and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.