Not Such A Scenic Vista For Microsoft

Today's top story, "20 Questions About Windows Vista," only reinforces my gut feeling that we won't see any rush to upgrade to Vista. The software just doesn't offer any compelling reason for the vast majority of business users and consumers to run out and upgrade immediately.
Today's top story, "20 Questions About Windows Vista," only reinforces my gut feeling that we won't see any rush to upgrade to Vista. The software just doesn't offer any compelling reason for the vast majority of business users and consumers to run out and upgrade immediately.Best-case scenario for Microsoft: When Vista comes out, there's a tiny bump in demand, as the gotta-have-it early adopters rush to get the latest thing, just because it's the latest thing. After that, demand for Windows continues as it proceeded before, with people installing the new operating system as a natural progression when they deploy new PCs. Multimedia features in particular should be attractive to users--that's become apparent in the last six months, as sites like YouTube and Google Video have made everybody into a TV producer.

In that scenario, Vista is a placeholder. It doesn't help Microsoft become more profitable, but it keeps Microsoft from losing profitability and market share.

Worst-case scenario? Consumers and business look at the big hardware requirements for Vista and the need to learn a new user interface, and, for the first time in decades, users are actively repelled by a Microsoft operating system upgrade. They decide to stick with Windows XP as long as they can, or they defect to the Mac or Linux.

Let's look at the situation in more detail:

Reasons to upgrade ASAP:

New user interface.

Early adopters will look at the Aero Glass interface, clap their little hands together with delight, and say, "Oooh! New toy! Shiny!" It's got transparent and animated windows and a 3D task switcher. It's got a Sidebar with Gadgets, small applets that can automatically grab and display information. IE7 is an improvement over the current version of Internet Explorer.

A new network center makes it easier for home users to manage and secure their networks.

The operating system has improved multimedia support.

New deployment and management tools for business.

Improved security includes an improved firewall, Windows Defender anti-spyware software built in, anti-phishing tools, and drive encryption.

Reasons to wait:

The new user interface: Yeah, I know, I listed that as a reason to upgrade. But for many users, it's a reason to wait, simply because it requires them to learn something new in order to be able to do the same things they've always done.

Corporate IT managers will find the new user interface especially problematic, as many users will require training classes to get up and running on Vista.

Security: Amidst all the praiseworthy security upgrades that Microsoft put into Vista, there's one baffling security hole, apparently left in there intentionally: The built-in firewall filters inbound traffic, but not outbound traffic. Enterprise administrators will be able to turn on outgoing filtering, but it appears that home users won't.

Outbound traffic filtering is important because it can block spyware from sending confidential data to crooks, as well as make it less likely that computers will be taken over and used as zombies. And consumers are the ones who need outbound filtering the most, because they're the most likely to be tripped up by spyware or have their machines taken over as zombies.

An analyst with Directions on Microsoft says the change was made to avoid confusing consumers, and that's plausible. But it also leaves a whopping security hole in Vista.

A whole bunch of confusing versions. Vista comes in eight versions--for home, business, and several available only outside the United States. Customers will have trouble figuring out which one is right for them. Vista Home Basic, for example, doesn't include the new Aero interface or DVD burning, so what's the point?

No support for WinFS. WinFS is a new, object-oriented file system that was supposed to revolutionize storing and searching data. But Microsoft didn't get it to work right, so it got cut from both Vista and Longhorn server. That decision was made some time ago, but it still stings.

Incompatibility with older software. That's a problem every time there's a major upgrade to an operating system. You can run tests to make sure your software is compatible and rewrite the software or upgrade if necessary, but, again, that's significant extra work you're doing just to get back to the same place you were before.

Vista is a hardware pig. Gartner estimates that half of current corporate PCs won't run Vista. You'll need at least 1 Gbyte of RAM, and 2 is better, with similarly advanced processors and storage.

Also, these things are small beer, but users won't be able to dual-boot Vista and Mac OS X on Intel Macs, and it'll be tough or impossible to dual-boot Vista and Linux.

All in all, I'm not seeing a lot of upside to Vista, and I'm seeing a potential disaster for Microsoft.

What do you think? Will there be a lot of demand for Windows Vista? Are you in a rush to upgrade?

Editor's Choice
Brian T. Horowitz, Contributing Reporter
Samuel Greengard, Contributing Reporter
Nathan Eddy, Freelance Writer
Brandon Taylor, Digital Editorial Program Manager
Jessica Davis, Senior Editor
Cynthia Harvey, Freelance Journalist, InformationWeek
Sara Peters, Editor-in-Chief, InformationWeek / Network Computing