Vista: Not another XP

Vista is the first significant OS release from Microsoft in 5 years. It’s also the first consumer Windows release since Windows 3.1 (1992) where I am not working at Microsoft during the end of the release cycle. And though I am not at Microsoft, I still know a lot of people there. And it appears, at least from where I sit, that this release has one major difference from all the others. Well, all the others but one.

That difference is the general excitement of the Microsoft developer staff about the product. And I measure that by the number of people who have access to the beta or RC bits and yet have not installed them at home. The practice of “dogfooding” the latest and greatest has been something that MS has kept as a cultural core value. From what I’ve seen, very few ’softies are taking the plunge and putting Vista on their home machines. And from conversations, I know that many don’t plan on getting Vista installed any time soon.

When we were getting Windows 95 out the door, everybody had to use it. The improvements over 3.11 were huge, and I wanted them at home. So did most of my friends and coworkers. The same was true for Windows 98, though to a lesser extent. As for XP, daily builds were available at the front desks of most buildings, and they would run out daily. I was putting new builds on my machine weekly (or more often), and things were good.

Which brings me to Vista. I just don’t see any excitement from the cross section of MS people that I know. Nobody is rushing to install it at home. Many are avoiding putting it on their development machines. The dogfooding effort is usually aided tremendously by the enthusiasm of the staff in using the latest and greatest. But the buzz for Vista that I see is…. well, I don’t see it.

And the only other time I saw such apathy with an OS release at Microsoft? That would be Windows 98 ME. And I think we all know how well that release turned out. A cousin of mine in the oil industry told me that they switched an entire department to ME. A month later, they switched back to SE.

So I’m sure there are people excited about Vista. And I’m sure that Microsoft will sell millions of copies. Hundreds of millions. But I don’t believe that the incremental improvement are going to cause a rush of upgrades. XP was a compelling upgrade, but the business case for upgrading to Vista, including the required hardware upgrades and the (in my opinion) high cost of the OS, is not as cut-and-dried as it was five years ago.

And if customers don’t buy it, then developers won’t build their apps with Vista-specific features. And if the apps don’t require Vista, then XP will last longer. The Vista adoption curve is going to be much slower than that of XP. And if that happens, the chances of customers spending more time analyzing other OS options, including the Mac and Linux, will increase.

So Vista is not another Windows XP. I don’t see it being the sales juggernaut that XP was. It will still more than pay for its development and generate billions for MS. I just hope that that money is re-invested to make the next version of Windows. A version that even Microsoft employees can get excited about.