Yes, Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) Windows Vista will eventually run on most corporate desktops. But early sales in the consumer market have been softer than some analysts expected. For those of us who covered Windows 95's launch more than a decade ago, Windows Vista has been a yawn. These 10 questions—and their answers—reveal why Vista isn't the hit some pundits expected:
1. Where do you spend your time? A decade ago, most of us lived in Word, Excel and PowerPoint. We cheered when Windows 95 and its Office 95 counterpart arrived with true multitasking. Today, we spend the bulk of our time in email and online. Vista is a big, bloated operating system that doesn't provide killer online capabilities.
2. How do you get information? In 1995, most IT trade reporters wrote weekly stories. Microsoft worked overtime to influence how the news was covered, offering beta testers as potential sources for our stories. From around mid-1993 to August 1995, each trade reporter covering Microsoft had about 100 total chances (one per week) to describe the highs and lows of Windows 95. Today, bloggers covering Microsoft pump out 10 to 25 online posts per week, working around the clock, testing software on their own and sharing concerns on the Web faster than Microsoft can effectively react. As a result, the Vista press coverage has been more independent and more balanced compared to the Windows 95 love fest from a decade ago.
3. How do you acquire software? Some of us actually purchased Windows 95 on disk. Others preferred it on CD-ROM. Today, more of us prefer online applications . For those who move to Vista, the vast majority will do so through PC hardware purchases. The days of multi-hour manual software upgrades for products like Vista are over.
4. Who controls the desktop? A decade ago, Microsoft's grip on the market was so firm that PC makers didn't dare to change a single icon on the desktop. PC vendors that attempted to remove the Internet Explorer icon from PC desktops risked having their Windows license revoked. Today, the open source movement and innovations from Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) and Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) have restored competition on the desktop. PC vendors are now willing to take a few risks in the software sector if leads to new sales.
5. How's your memory? During Windows 95's early design stage, Microsoft promised that the operating system would run in 4MB of memory. In stunning contrast, Windows Vista requires about 1GB of memory for full performance. Does Vista deliver 250 times the power for 250 times the memory requirements of Windows 95? Doubtful. Users want fast, responsive software. They want frequent, tightly written enhancements delivered over the Web—not annoying bug fixes or service packs , and not big upgrades delivered every five years.
6. Who's the competition? In 1995, OS/2 was on its last legs because ISVs, PC makers, customers and even IBM CEO Lou Gertsner didn't want it. And Apple nearly closed up shop amid repeated delays of its next operating system, code-named Copland. Although Microsoft still dominates today's desktops, there are now real alternatives in the market. I am writing this article using Mac OS X. And about 10 percent of you are reading this article using a non-Windows desktop, mobile or handheld device.
7. What are the killer features? Windows 95 was miles ahead of Windows 3x. Built-in networking, preemptive multitasking, a new user interface, loads of new applications, and plug-and-play software drivers (heck, sometimes PnP actually worked). There were dozens of reasons to jump from Windows 3.x to Windows 95. Today, Microsoft is evangelizing Vista's improved security, desktop search and 3-D user interface in the consumer market. Ho hum.
8. Where are the profits for Tech Consultants? Windows 95, when compared to Windows 3.x, certainly lowered the total cost of managing PCs. That made the upgrade a compelling sell for tech consultants. Windows Vista may be a worthy upgrade to Windows XP—but can consultants really explain why customers will benefit from the upgrade?
9. Where's Compaq, Dell (NASDAQ:DELL), Digital Equipment, the IBM (NYSE:IBM) PC Company and Packard Bell? Many PC companies from the Windows 95 era either shut down or got acquired. Those that survive (particularly Dell) are struggling to grow their profits. In the consolidated PC industry, vendors are more likely to try non-Microsoft approaches if the risk can generate rewarding profits.
10. Where is the industry going? Smaller, cheaper, lighter. Just about every IT vendor is moving in that direction, designing tiny smart phones, introducing free (but advertising-based) online services and delivering software that runs easily on numerous devices. With Windows Vista, Microsoft ultimately delivered a much larger operating system with several higher-cost versions and more demanding hardware requirements. While Microsoft spent 5 years designing—and redesigning—Vista, many observers (including myself) grew skeptical and moved on.
Still, Vista will gain strength thanks to Microsoft's own server software developers. As Microsoft introduces upgrades to Dynamics, Exchange Server, Share Point and SQL Server, the upgrades will surely integrate tightly with Vista. At that point, Vista will become part of a larger solution sale for VARs—assuming they haven't already jumped to LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP) and other market alternatives.
Disclosure: Author has no position in any of the above-mentioned securities.