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  • Microsoft’s Invitation: A Threat or a Compliment?

    August 30th, 2006

    On Tuesday, I got a letter from Microsoft. No, it wasn’t personal. I was, in fact, one of 100,000 to receive an invitation to participate in the Windows Vista pre-RC1 test program.

    Now regardless of what you might think, gentle reader, I am not a Microsoft basher by trade. In fact, I respect the company for building products good enough to dominate the personal computer industry. True, I also criticize the company for its many security lapses, but everyone benefits if they build an operating system that’s more reliable, and, one hopes, more secure.

    In fact, one of my early book chapters covered a Windows communications product, although, truth to tell, it was actually written on a Mac running the late, lamented SoftWindows. Even when I have engaged in writing about the Mac at full tilt, I have remained exposed to Windows. Sometimes Microsoft even has a good idea or two, so let’s avoid the knee-jerk reactions.

    I have also tried to maintain a good professional working relationship with Microsoft. I’ve had their representatives on one of my radio shows, The Tech Night Owl LIVE, and my current favored keyboard is one of their “Comfort” models, which mimics the ergonomic keyboard, although the main keypad is in one piece.

    So why did Microsoft choose to include me in that list of the favored 100,000? Well, it’s not that I am a special person, a VIP or whatever. I just happen to be among the two million or so who downloaded Windows Vista beta 2. So I suppose I was picked at random. I doubt that Microsoft’s Windows team knows me from a hole in the wall.

    But it raises the larger question of whether Microsoft can, at long last, get its often-delayed operating system out the door and have it in the hands of consumers by the end of January next year. At least orders are now being taken, and after a brief flap over a premature listing in Canada, we know what it’ll cost for all that PC joy.

    As to that pre-RC1 test version, it is apparently the one that precedes the real RC1. If all goes well with the latter, Microsoft will be able to release Vista manufacturing on its latest schedule. If it proves to be a shaky beast, and you’ll see the online chatter about Vista’s current condition soon enough, there will be another delay supposedly to set things right.

    Microsoft’s bigger problem, whenever Vista is released, is convincing existing PC users that what they have now, even if it works and isn’t driving them insane with malware, isn’t good enough and that they need to upgrade. This will be no mean task, no matter how well Vista turns out. You see lots of big businesses aren’t even up to Windows XP yet, and that came out in 2001.

    Several banks in my area, for example, still operate with Windows 2000, and it does seem to get the job done. Or at least my bank hasn’t lost any of my money yet, or had any heavy-duty outages that I know about, although they occasionally freeze their site over the weekend for maintenance of one sort or another.

    While power users and owners of brand, spanking new PC boxes will no doubt rush to acquire Vista right away, I expect the larger business community will sit back and wait to see what’s really involved in that upgrade, and whether it makes sense financially to take the plunge.

    However, don’t count Apple out when it comes to skepticism about a new system version. If you’ve taken the Mac OS X ride from the beginning, you’ll see that Tiger is a superb system, and that the remaining quirks are minor for most. Already some Mac users are suggesting that they might just hold off on moving to Leopard; that is, unless some of those “Top Secret” features Apple doesn’t want to tell us about are truly compelling reasons to upgrade. So far they are skeptical that a system-based backup, multiple desktops and eye-candy for iChat and Mail are sufficiently powerful selling points. And full 64-bit support doesn’t light their fires.

    In any case, when finally Vista gets out, Microsoft will be spending hundreds of millions of dollars to tell you that it’s the greatest thing in the world. Even if many are convinced, and they will be, the next question is which version to buy. You see, Microsoft wants to give you choices, and there are six. Yes, six versions of Windows Vista to select from.

    Now the low-end version, Windows Vista Starter, will supposedly be restricted to so-called “emerging markets,” or third world countries. The real starter pack will be Vista Home Basic, which is sort of a glorified Windows XP with enhanced security and search.

    To get the new, Mac-inspired interface, Aero Glass, you need to upgrade to Home Premium, which also includes support for Media Center and Tablet computers. You’ll also need a PC with a graphics card of sufficient power to support the new fancy visuals.

    Next on the on-ramp is the business version, known, with a typically Microsoft degree of clever packaging, as Vista Business. This will be the counterpart to XP Professional. There is also a Vista Enterprise version for large businesses that also includes enhanced encryption, virtual machine and Unix services support.

    Now take Vista Home Premium and combine it with Enterprise and you get Vista Ultimate, which supposedly does everything but take out the trash every night. It’ll also cost $399, retail, which is more than some pay for the entire computer. An upgrade version will set you back $259.

    Let me remind you, once again, that the last version of Mac OS X cost $129, and a five-user home package went for $199. With Vista, as with XP, Microsoft will also strictly enforce activation on just one computer. You try to activate it on a second box, and Microsoft will spit the attempt back in your face, forcing you to buy another user license.

    More important to me is that all those versions, even if the differences are fairly clear-cut, will just confuse people. I can imagine the nightmares consumer electronics stores will suffer as customers walk over to salespeople begging them to explain which upgrade they should buy.

    Of course, Microsoft’s support people will also be fielding lots of calls from confused customers with the very same questions. I could say they deserve it for what they put the world through as a result of all those viruses and such, but maybe they won’t invite me to download the next prerelease of Vista.



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    11 Responses to “Microsoft’s Invitation: A Threat or a Compliment?”

    1. JayB says:

      You’re paying for higher quality. If OSX costed more, that’s what Mac zealots would say.
      XP user interface is somewhat lame in comparison to OSX. Now it’s a new ball game (and a greater threat to Apple). If it wasnt a threat, Mac zealots wouldnt be talking about it so much.

      Large business systems are often composed of many smaller systems that integrate with each other. In the case with a bank or government/military application, when you change one part of the system, you really have to retest integration with everybody else. That’s too much of a pain, expense, and great risk. So it makes sense that these organizations are still on Win2K.

      Vista and the new development features of .NET greatly encourages businesses to rebuild their applications. Unlike previous OS transitions, I believe this is the big one that will encourage new PC sales and new significant software developement (it already is). Our product, our integration partners, and our competitors are all working on Vista ready applications. Vista is the most tested OS in the history of computing. Yes we know it’s not perfect, but still, there is a high confidence in the quality of Vista. Problems can and will be fixed. Apple, on the other hand has a much bigger problem to deal with (market share).

    2. JumpBean says:

      If you’re randomly picked then obviously it’s neither a threat or a compliment. You’re just a number. But since you write (rant) so nagatively towards Microsoft, I’d say it’s a great threat to you.

      XP was just a giant patch for Win2K. No surprise that people still use it. People will upgrade as cool Vista apps and services arrive and support for older OS is reduced or eliminated. In the end, weather a user upgrades or not, they will still be Windows users.

    3. Angel says:

      Might as well call this the “Vista Night Owl” since that’s all we seem to read about here.

      Hasta la vista.

    4. If you’re randomly picked then obviously it’s neither a threat or a compliment. You’re just a number. But since you write (rant) so nagatively towards Microsoft, I’d say it’s a great threat to you.

      The title was meant to be humorous. And I said as much, I was just a number. What didn’t you understand about the sentence, “I doubt that Microsoft’s Windows team knows me from a hole in the wall”?

      And did you notice when I said, “everyone benefits if they build an operating system that’s more reliable, and, one hopes, more secure.”

      I guess not.

      Peace,
      Gene

    5. BruceH says:

      What is significant here it that Window’s fan boys read your article in the first place. Perhaps OS X represents a threat to their OS world view? Time will tell. If only 4 or 5% more Windows users make the switch to Mac that represents a big chunk of change for apple. Vista will have to convince a lot of fence sitters not to fall in Apple’s direction. I must say that the frustration level (spyware, viriuses and system slowdowns) of my Windows using friends is quite high and most are comtemplating a switch to Apple. I can say one thing, change is in the air.

    6. Andrew says:

      Back in 2003 the malware scene was so bad that I switched (back) to Apple. Since then, it seems to be under control and only those Windows users who don’t know how to protect their PC and lack the common sense to not open silly Elf Bowling games have much trouble. Go look on a PC forum like the one I read for IBM (now Lenovo) ThinkPads and you will see users who love their computers and generally complain about the same things that Apple owners complain about on Apple forums. Apple portables with the new CoreDuo processors complained a lot about heat, and guess what, so did ThinkPad buyers. Apple buyers talk about the good and bad of Apple’s build quality, and so do ThinkPad buyers. There is much more in common than there is different these days, and the two OSs even play nice with each other.

      I switched back to Windows about a month ago for my personal laptop (my office is all Mac) for reasons that had nothing to do with OS, but rather with Apple’s lack of a small laptop that runs reliably. I went through three defective MacBooks in a row, which was really upsetting after 3-years of absolutely trouble-free PowerBooks. While I sold my MacBook just last month, I’ve owned the ThinkPad for about a year (I always keep a VERY lightweight laptop around), and using it full-time has not affected my productivity at all. Do I like Windows XP or Vista Pre-RC-1 (I’m one of the random numbers as well) as much as OS X? No. Does OS X make me any more productive than Windows? No. OS X looks nicer, and takes away my weekly virus, adware and spyware scans (all of which happen while I’m sleeping), but otherwise the differences in real world use for what I do are insignificant. Word for Windows 2003 isn’t Word for Mac 2004, Firefox isn’t, and my Outlook and Thunderbird pair aren’t Entourage and Mail.app, but those core applications all do the same thing, do it in a similar enough fashion and generally just stay out of my way and let me do my thing.

      I hope Vista is secure and reliable, as I buy laptops at least based on hardware capabilities. I want weight under 3lbs, battery life for more than 9 hours. These abilities are every bit as important as high-end video cards and fast processors, for my use perhaps more.

    7. justme says:

      While the MacOS X (10.4 or 10.5) vs Vista debate may seem important to some, it’s really just a background hum. It will affect people that don’t just throw out their $300 PC and go to Best Buy and buy another when a serious Spyware infection makes their PC start running slow as molasses in MN in January, but those that try to get others to fix ($$$) their $800+ PC, over, and over, and over again. (A smaller and smaller group)

      The real story will develop as Virtualization apps for MacOS X Intel mature. Run the XP apps you need on your new Mac. I can see the ads now… Buy a Mac that runs the advanced UNIX based MacOS X and Windows… or… Just a PC. Then show a few “system shoot outs” price points showing Macs as costing less than a comparably config. PC. The Mac vs PC debate is dead. Long live the MacOS X + Win vs just Win debate!

      The other big thing coming, is the word of mouth of iLife..It seems to be gaining steam… I have one client I saw this past week that saw a homemade DVD his friend made.. a mix of video and photos made into video (Ken Burns I’m assuming). He asked his friend how she made it. She said “It was easy, I just used the software that came with my new Mac.” (She’s a recent switcher) He’s now obsessed with getting a Mac and doing the same. I think we’re close to a critical mass of “friends” doing the things we’ve always taken for granted, exposing potential switchers to iLife and creating new Mac users.

      Can these things be done on XP.. Sure. To the same level with the tools that are in the box? Haven’t seen that pulled off yet. Show me your demo. Make me believe.

      Computers are tools.. Period. Some prefer Craftsman, some prefer Stanley, some prefer Snap-on. Use the tool that works best for you for the tasks at hand. Macs work best for me. And yes, I think that the vast majority of my clients would be better served using Macs. Windows has its place, as does Linux. Hell even OS/2 has a place. Use what works best for you.

      Just my $0.02US

    8. javier says:

      “I can imagine the nightmares consumer electronics stores will suffer as customers walk over to salespeople begging them to explain which upgrade they should buy.”

      No nightmare. The salesperson will just ask, “How much money do you have?”

      “Oh, then this is what you need”.

    9. Andrew says:

      Actually it will be just like XP, most folks will buy the home version and those who know what they need or want to feel special will buy the business versions.

      What really gets me is people today who buy PCs with dual core processors and XP Home, an OS that isn’t multi-processor aware.

    10. Richard Taylor says:

      Gene,

      I’m a fan. (Uh-oh. You know what’s coming.) I delight in the way you carve up irrational arguments, the way you thrust for the heart (of the matter) and clarify your point with a pithy rejoinder. But… well… this ‘Gene, Peace’ thing is driving me nuts. It’s like ‘Have a nice day’ but without any cognitive hooks. I know, it’s probably an Englishification of ‘Shalom’ and as such is meant to suggest that you mean no harm to its recipient, but Gene, in the world of jousting ideas, you do mean harm (at least to the offending idea) and the contradiction just detracts from your original point.

      Okay! I’ll shut up.

      Richard Taylor
      Peace

    11. steve says:

      Andrew Says:

      August 30th, 2006 at 10:17 am
      Actually it will be just like XP, most folks will buy the home version and those who know what they need or want to feel special will buy the business versions.

      What really gets me is people today who buy PCs with dual core processors and XP Home, an OS that isn’t multi-processor aware.

      What gets me is people running ther mouth who don’t know what they are talking about.

      “On October 19, 2004, Microsoft announced that its server software that is currently licensed on a per-processor model will continue to be licensed on a per-processor, and not on a per-core, model. This policy will allow customers to recognize more performance and power from Microsoft software on a multicore processor system without incurring additional software licensing fees.”

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