I installed Microsoft's Windows Vista RC1 Beta a couple of weeks ago and started a list of things about it that really impressed me. The graphics are really whizzy, for one thing: That Aero 3-D interface is very pretty. And...well, it's only been a couple of weeks. I'm sure my list will get longer. But in the meantime, I got a chance this week to see what's on Microsoft's list when Mike Sievert, corporate vice president of Windows client marketing at Microsoft, pitched Vista to the crowd
at the Digital Life 2006 trade show in New York City.You've got to understand that Digital Life is a consumer show. It's definitely not aimed at the corporate crowd. And Sievert's presentation clearly represented a nontechnical approach to explaining why you'd want to run Microsoft's newest OS. He didn't spend a lot of time on features, but laid out a benefits package that stressed four themes--"easier," "safer," "better connected," and "more entertaining."
He talked about the "two-foot scenario" vs. the "10-foot user experience." (When you sit at your PC, you're about two feet from the screen with your hands on the keyboard. When you watch TV, you're about 10 feet from the screen with your hands on a remote.) Vista is apparently supposed to be the first OS designed for the 10-foot experience. Just as many whizzy applications are included in the Home Premium edition to improve your media experience as there are to make you more productive.
Applications is the key word here. From the end-user viewpoint, Vista is all about the bundled applications. Does this sound familiar? Once upon a time Microsoft decided that the Web browser application was so important that it had to be part of the operating system. With Vista, Microsoft has decided that photo albums and image fix-up and slide shows burned to DVD, among other things, are so important that they belong in the operating system. Security? Windows Defender is in there. The media center doesn't leave much room for third parties. The whole 10-foot experience is represented by applications bundled with the OS to a degree we haven't previously seen in Microsoft products.
Microsoft has already been attacked by security vendors for locking them out of meaningful access to Vista internals. I was struck during Sievert's talk to the extent that other software application categories are going to go through the same grief process. The third-party application as a business model is going to suffer.
It's not that this is an entirely bad thing, but it's just not the way PCs have worked in the past. I'm perfectly willing to buy a Macintosh and get a suite of applications intended to be so complete it's called iLife. With Vista, that strategy becomes one more page from the Apple playbook that Microsoft has taken over. Commercial success, after all, belongs in the operating system.