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Everybody Hates Vista
Commentators on the sudden appearance of Windows 7 seem to agree that Microsoft's decision to push out a new operating system quickly has a lot to do with the failure of Vista. I am not, personally, against Vista. I use it on all my machines. But even if you look favorably on Vista, as I do, it cannot be denied that Vista has been a public relations bomb. And perhaps no group rages against it more than computing enthusiasts and hardcore PC gamers.
At first glance, this seems odd. After all, Vista brought Direct X 10 to the table. But Direct X 10, like Vista, ran into serious stumbling blocks, not the least of which is the high grade of hardware needed to make use of it. There are many games where changing from Direct X 9 to Direct X 10 cuts frame-rates in half. For most gamers, that sort of penalty is unacceptable, no matter the eye-candy improvements.
So will Windows 7 do anything for gaming enthusiasts? It is hard to say for certain, but the Windows 7 beta gives a good idea of what gaming performance in Windows 7 will be like.
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Promises? What Promises?
Unfortunately, a simple glance at Windows 7 does not seem to hold much good news for gamers. The focus of Windows 7 seems to be on improving the user interface, revising controversial features like UAC, and improving energy efficiency. Microsoft does not seem to have much to say about the disappointing overall performance of Direct X 10, and they've reinforced the lack of a party line with a lack of action. Microsoft has also had little to say regarding the overall performance of Vista, which is often criticized.
In other words, Microsoft has made no explicit promises to do anything for gaming. This is disappointing, and surprising. Microsoft's Games For Windows Live! push had, at least in its beginning, an inkling of real promise to it. A solid effort by Microsoft at integrating gaming into the Windows experience could have good results. But it appears that, at least for now, Microsoft's priorities are elsewhere.
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How Does It Perform?
While Microsoft has not made any grand promises, that doesn't mean that gaming performance won't improve. Refinements to the operating system, and/or to Direct X 10, could result in a notable performance increase, yet at the same time slip under the radar. At the very least, it seems that Microsoft has an interest in making Windows 7 smoother and easier to use. This focus, if it results in a quicker, lighter operating system, could result in a performance boost for gamers.
To find out, The Firing Squad , a PC hardware and gaming website, did a serious of benchmarks pitting Windows 7 against Windows Vista. The results? While The Firing Squad seem impressed, I think the results can be interpreted as a definitive "meh". Across the series of tests, Windows 7's performance ranged from a little bit better to a fair bit worse. The instances in which Windows 7 seriously stumbles, such as Crysis benchmarks, do not worry me. There is a strong and reasonable argument to be made concerning driver immaturity. This is a beta, after all. That said, if we are to expect any serious improvement in gaming performance, I believe we would have an indication of it at this stage. The latest rumors say that the release of Windows 7 isn't that far away.
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Don't Expect Much
Overall, there isn't anything in Windows 7 that should attract the attention of gamers. It is obvious at this point that PC gaming is not a focus of Microsoft. Games For Windows Live! remains largely an after-thought. Direct X 10, once released with much fan-fare, now is spoken of only in hushed tones. Microsoft's lack of a goal when it comes to PC gaming seems clear.
There is little silver lining. Windows 7 will likely be the last new Microsoft operating system in some time, and its sudden appearance is mostly due to Vista's public relations fiasco. Because of this, it is safe to say that Microsoft will not be the driving force in deciding the direction of gaming for the next few years.