Vista's dead: Microsoft kills an OS and no one cares
For anyone still burning a torch for Windows Vista, its time is rapidly approaching. Buy now or forever hold your peace.
I can't say I'm surprised at how any of this has turned out. After all, Vista's launch was, to be charitable, rocky. When it first arrived just before Christmas 2006, it was late, bloated and, for some, expensive. It may have looked pretty on the outside, but critics quickly pounced on it for driver incompatibility, sluggish performance on mainstream -- and sometimes even high-end -- hardware and enough bugs to fill a family-sized tent on a weekend camping expedition. Microsoft didn't help matters with its ill-fated "Vista Capable" designation -- a public relations debacle that convinced buyers who were too lazy to read the fine print that Vista would run just as well on hardware barely suited for XP.
It's always too late to change a first impression
Since first impressions are often the only things that matter in today's attention-deficit world, Vista got stuck with a reputation it's never quite been able to shake. Which is somewhat unfortunate given how nicely Vista has padded Microsoft's bottom line since then. It's sold hundreds of millions of copies and it runs on the vast majority of laptops on display at the average big box electronics retailer. Service Packs and updates have fixed most of the major bugs and security gaps and more devices than ever are Vista-friendly now that hardware manufacturers have gotten into the driver game. Vista hasn't been the failure its detractors long said it was.
But memories are funny things, and despite its market performance over the past two-and-a-half years, no one seems willing to forgive Vista for being inadequately baked and improperly messaged when it first arrived. So Microsoft, recognizing that the era of the operating system is past middle age, is killing Vista. There's been no press release, of course, no official announcement that it's ending production -- because it's still churning out retail boxes and pre-loaded builds for OEMs just as it always has. But last week's announcement of the Windows 7 Upgrade Option Program signals the likely death knell for Vista.
Free, cheap, and desperate
The Windows 7 Upgrade Option Program is a promotion under which customers who buy a PC equipped with Vista Premium, Business, or Ultimate between now and October will be eligible for a free upgrade when Windows 7 ships. It's designed to prevent the usual drop in demand for a current OS that precedes the launch of the next generation -- a critical move in the middle of a recession, when no one's buying anyway. To further stoke interest among folks not interested in picking up new hardware anytime soon, Microsoft is pricing pre-orders for Windows 7 Home Premium at $49 and Professional at $99 -- as close to fire sale pricing as we've ever seen on a Windows product.
What does all of this posturing and price manipulation mean? Simple: The writing is on the wall, and Microsoft will do anything it can to protect its Windows franchise, even if it means killing off one of its own. Vista's the new sacrificial lamb. Given how well pre-release versions of Windows 7 have been received, it's in the company's best interest to finish off Vista as quickly as it can and shift everyone's attention to Windows 7.
The company needs to move fast, because the age of selling a full-featured OS that fetches a triple-digit price is drawing to a close. We run applications, not operating systems, and Apple's $29 upgrade for Snow Leopard signals just how commoditized the OS has become, and how little the average cash-strapped consumer or business owner is willing to pay for it. While you still need an OS to run the hardware that allows you to get online and run the applications you need, the slow evolution of increasingly network-centric computing points toward a future where what's powering our hardware is less important than it is today.
Tomorrow's operating system won't be the headline-grabbing, Mick Jagger-attracting retail superstar that Windows once was. As long as it connects all the underlying pieces together (and stays out of our way while doing it) that will be enough. A leaner, meaner, cheaper Windows 7 bridges Microsoft toward this somewhat uncertain future. Likewise, big and brash Vista no longer has a place in the line-up, hence Microsoft's all-hands effort to make us forget it ever existed.
But I like Vista
As the transition from Vista to Windows 7 gathers steam, countless folks running Vista find themselves wondering whether Microsoft's accelerated transition to Win7 means they're about to be orphaned. Not especially. Like all Microsoft operating systems, Vista will receive the same tiers of extended support that have traditionally applied to all versions of Windows.
Microsoft is only shifting its marketing focus: Support timelines aren't being changed, and current users have nothing to fear beyond having less to talk about at their next party.
Protect revenue at all costs
In the end, what matters to Microsoft, as with any company, is moving product and maintaining revenue. Whether it's called XP, Vista, Win7, or even Bob is almost immaterial. If it sells, it stays. If it doesn't, it's gone. Microsoft has always managed the Windows sub-brands in a chaotic, ever-evolving manner, grazing over naming conventions as casually as most of us would cruise the buffet table at a distant cousin's wedding. The company's eclectic naming choices are coming full circle with Windows 7, returning to the simple numbering scheme that started it all.
Call it anything you want, as long as you call it Windows. That'll be good enough for Microsoft as it figures out how to make money in a post-Windows, post-Office landscape. With Vista out of the way, the company at least stands a fighting chance of convincing jaded consumers and enterprises alike that the OS is still relevant. Windows 7 is indeed a leaner and better product than Vista. The question on everyone's mind is whether that's enough to sustain the franchise.
Carmi Levy is a Canadian-based independent technology analyst and journalist still trying to live down his past life leading help desks and managing projects for large financial services organizations. He comments extensively in a wide range of media, and works closely with clients to help them leverage technology and social media tools and processes to drive their business. And in case you're wondering, no, Carmi is not wearing pants.