Joe Wilcox has an article over at Betanews where he outlines what he feels are the strategic issues surrounding Windows 7.  In large part it’s an article designed to goad Mac fans (it’s even named “Mac fanboys should get a life and some Windows 7 common sense”).  But once you get past that he makes what I feel is an erroneous point about Windows 7’s “true competition” (as he puts it).

He lists three “true” competitors: Windows XP, Pirates and Netbooks.  The one I’m interested in is his point on Windows XP.  He says…

Windows 7's biggest competitor will be Windows XP, which runs on about 80 percent of PCs, according to combined analyst reports. Microsoft's first challenge will be getting XP users to move up to Windows 7. Mac market share was 7.6 percent in the United States in second quarter, according to IDC. (Gartner and IDC should release Q3 preliminary numbers in the next couple of days.)

I’m not sure I would have keyed in on this if not for Mac lover John Gruber’s post which focused on that paragraph.  He said

I think Wilcox is spot-on that Windows 7’s primary competition is XP. Microsoft really does worry first about raw market share, and XP is the market leader by a long shot. Such comparisons against the Mac are apples-vs.-oranges, though, because Apple isn’t concerned about overall market share.

Sometimes I think certain points seem so obvious that people don’t actually think them through. This is one of those points.  At first blush it seems like XP will be a big problem for Windows 7 but when you look at the actual facts you find that’s not the case. 

Here are a few reasons for that…

1.  You won’t be able to buy computers with XP anymore.  The reason XP has been a thorn in Vista’s side is because Microsoft was forced to let PC manufacturers continue to sell XP (largely because Vista was such a disaster).  But WIndows 7 won’t have that problem.  I suspect Microsoft will allow manufacturers to still sell Vista on systems but who in their right mind would choose Vista?

2.  XP is losing hardware support.  Anyone who has maintained a large number of XP computers over the last couple of years will tell you that some specialized hardware is starting to come without XP drivers.  Worse, many new systems are 64bit which adds another wrinkle.  So even if someone pursued XP by installing it themselves they’re going to run into problems.

3.  XP really isn’t sufficient.  Again we come back to the problem of Vista.  People stuck with XP because Vista was so bad but that doesn’t mean people have been blinded to the fact that XP is 8 years old and getting a little long in the tooth.  All the security concerns, power management issues, and other issues are still there and are all still bugging most IT people.  There was just no where to go up until now.

The bottom line is that PC users have been waiting for a decent upgrade.  Not clinging to XP out of some love for it.  Now that we have a worthwhile successor I suspect you’ll see a Windows 7 rollout that is faster than any previous version of Windows.