I’ve been testing out Windows 7 at work for a couple of weeks now, largely because I need to keep abreast of developments in new operating systems (and then identify issues with supporting them).

I actually like it more than either XP or Vista, and might even consider using it for some basic tasks. However, what I’m testing is the Ultimate Edition. What I’d be getting as a UK buyer of the software is something quite different.

Now, I’m a big believer in freedom of choice. I believe that every computer user should be given a choice as to what hardware, operating system and software they use to carry out their daily work. I believe that a computer should be fit for purpose, and that what suits me might not suit the person across the street. And because of that I’m generally a fan of an operating system that gives you one of each type of software (browser, email client, chat client etc.) but then tells you what the alternatives are and where you can get them (ideally for free and with full integration into the OS). That way all tastes get catered for, and those people who really don’t care have one of each type of package and can start being productive straight away.

I’m also a big fan of an upgrade path that doesn’t involve reformatting, data loss, and paying lots of money for something that is newer but not necessarily better.

Windows 7 fails me on all of the above. It will not ship with a web browser in Europe but will instead offer a link to download Internet Explorer. Now, if they really care about giving people a choice I’d expect a link to download IE, one for Firefox, one for Chrome, one for Safari and one to give a list of the other 20 or so browsers that work on Windows with a bit of blurb on the pros and cons of each one. I don’t expect this move to lose IE many users, or to push users to one of the other browsers, I just expect it to annoy and confuse non-technical users.

Also, I learn today that there will be no upgrade version of Windows 7, again due to competition regulations. This suggests that users wanting to upgrade will need to do a clean install and migrate all their data. Again, not great for a non technical user and a pain for people who provide unofficial tech support to families and friends.

So yes, I’m increasingly convinced that these changes don’t go along with the spirit of competition regulations. All they do is make the competition seem all the more attractive. If you’re going to have to reinstall anyway, it might be worth looking at all the alternatives before choosing Windows 7. And when people start doing that, then I think it might be that the take up of non-Windows operating systems increases.

Which might not be what anyone involved intended, but would be a victory for freedom of choice.