Vista: Reality Edition


I’m really getting tired of “analysis” of the “Vista problem” that is an inch deep and has no historical perspective.   I see lots of conclusions being drawn about “lack of adoption” in the enterprise, with the consumer, etc.  All of it is detached from reality and is a good example of the herd mentality so pervasive now and exacerbated by the fact that the internet has become an authoritative source of information (the fact it is all editorial seems lost on people) and that “journalists” and “analysts” seem to have happily joined the herd (much easier than actually working, I suppose).
Windows 2000 was a big release for Microsoft.  It was a dramatic paradigm shift from Windows NT 4 and was needed to, ironically, catch up with both Novell and the internet.  And for anyone keeping score, by the way, this was just before the release of OSX so before Steve Jobs had fixed the near dead Apple.  Classic OS was still nearly useless even with 9 (although at least Apple had finally fixed TCP/IP for the most part).  Point of that is that, contrary to current popular opinion, there is no one company that is either always right, or always wrong.
Anyhow…  For those who don’t keep score, corporate IT works on a 5 year refresh cycle at best.  This means that every 5 years, they replace hardware.  Hardware refresh is the time honored mechanism by which they uplift the OS image.  In between, people take a breather and regression test the next OS.  Proper analysts (Gartner etc), vendors (Microsoft et al) and even some IT pros, don’t like this setup.  The business realities of IT, however, have kept this setup in place since the dawn of distributed computing.  It is absolutely essential in measuring the “success” of any version of Windows to know this fact as an absolute.
So Windows XP released in 2001.  It was much maligned like all things Microsoft (the company could cure cancer and it would be called into question).  But the real point here is that in 2001, most corporations were just starting their Windows 2000 rollouts.  Microsoft knew this.  Windows XP was not targeted at the enterprise.  It was a consumer OS designed to counter the rise of OSX.  Steve Jobs really is a visionary and I don’t think anyone expected just what a brilliant job he would do with his NeXT Step IP and how rapidly he would resurrect his baby.  People underestimated both his vision, and his passion.
So Microsoft, uniquely caught between the consumer and enterprise worlds (NO software company is in this position, btw.  Not even Apple who gives only the most casual nod to serious enterprise requirements) basically split Windows into two again.  Windows 2000 rollouts in the enterprise weren’t exactly encouraged, but there was an appreciation of reality by Brian Valentine, so there was no customer hostile discouraging of them either.
As time marched on and XP improved (and the next hardware refresh loomed), enterprises started moving to Windows XP.  Today the enterprise share is largely XP with some 2000 left and fading fast since it is end of life from a support standpoint (another huge driving factor for IT).
This is the landscape Vista launched into.  The FACT is that Vista is actually enjoying FASTER enterprise adoption than XP.  This isnt saying much, however, since XP wasn’t on the IT roadmap for a while, but the point is still significant.  EVERY enterprise WOULD HAVE rolled Vista given another two years.   ALL IT waits for SP1.  This is another basic fact of doing business that many don’t like, but isn’t changing any time soon.  ALL IT takes their time regression testing (no reason not to).
Now add in the fact that Vista is a big paradigm shift that breaks lots of old apps (this is unusual, but was needed).  Vista also has some steep hardware requirements (again, to keep pace with Apple there is consumer functionality that IT doesn’t need, but gets anyway).  Vista also ships out of box configured with all of the bells and whistles (bad… Vista Business should ship with everything off.  Ultimate, with everything on).  Vista also was a bit of a cluster fuck internally and needed another year of work.  And then the economy collapsed.  Add all of that together, and consider that Vista launched in 2006, and how much enterprise adoption should one expect?!  The story isn’t that “everyone didnt role out Vista”.  The AMAZING story is that ANYONE had yet.
Windows 7 will now be hailed by those with no insight and myopic vision as the Microsoft attempt to “fix it”.  Some will say it is successful, some will say it is not.  They will all piss, moan and argue.  The whole thing is so tired.  The FACT is that IT will roll Win 7.  And they will roll it because the timing is right, refresh is looming, they’ve had forever to test against Vista, and XP is nearing end of life for support.  As expensive as doing “new stuff” is, keeping old crap running is even more expensive.  THAT is why Windows 7 will succeed in the enterprise.
On the consumer side, things are an even bigger mess.  The real problem Microsoft has is image.  People get the OS that comes on their PC and they generally like it (except Linux – sorry *NIX nutjobs, but Linux doesnt test well in *normal* consumer sat).  And keep in mind, Im a *NIX expert as well as a Windows and Mac expert and have a long proud history on all three.  I just call it like I see it.  But I digress again.  What is happening increasingly is that the “voice” of the internet is set by the technorati.  The intellectual elites who opine endlessly and somehow make a full time job out of “podcasting” and “blogging” (how do I jump on THAT scam?!)
These folks are cynical and jaded.  Some have been around forever (Laporte, DVorak) some are new and snarky (Rose, Norton).  But all pretty much represent the same thing.  They are extreme technophiles who, by nature, are suspicious of any big incumbant, in love with the true visionaries like Jobs (and extend that love to his products most of the time) and are extremely critical in their analysis of everything (except where that analysis is colored by afforementioned romantic attachment).  Once this crowd latches onto an idea, it spreads like wildfire through the ranks.  There is really a monopoly on thought here and you will never see anyone taken seriously who dramtically breaks away from the accepted wisdom.  Its kind of like how the best way to seem like an “idiot” in NYC or LA is to say “Im a Republican!”  I’m a generally neutral to left leaning guy, but hive mind thought always bugs me.
So Vista, among this crowd, quickly became a favorite punching bag for various reasons.  The “media” picked up on this (again, the media gets lazier and lazier), and eventually the public noticed.
I have spoken with normal people who have said “Vista is NO good!”  And I have asked them (this is casually standing arond Best Buy) “why not?”  (playing dumb)  Their answer has been “Oh! My nephew told me! He really knows computers!!!”  I then ask “did he read it on the internet, or does he use it?”  The answer is “Oh, I dont know.  I dont understand this stuff.” So I ask “so what kind of computer did he say to get?” And they say “He told me to get a Mac!!!”
And THAT is the essence of Microsofts problem.  Kevin Rose says “DUDE… get a Mac!” Legions of kids say “oh man… I GOTTA get a Mac!” (this is of course oversimplified).  Steve Jobs makes a great product (Steve, not Apple) and packages it BRILLIANTLY so the kids see that Apple store and the “coolness circle” is complete.  Kevin was right!  It IS cool!  Then they get their Mac and, since it IS good, they are happy.  They then program their family to buy one too.
Is this bad?  Not really.  But its bad for Microsoft.  And NONE of it has ANYTHING to do with whether or not Windows is “good” or “bad”.  Windows is FINE.  I run XP, Vista, Win 7, OS X, and Debian Etch-n-a-Half (and Amiga OS 3.9).  ALL of them are fully viable and great (well, Amiga is classic of course).  None of these platforms really let you down.  Linux isn’t ready for prime time with a consumer unless we’re talking REALLY commodity (click here for email, click here for web, type menuing).  Apple is a great alternative, BUT you have single vendor lock in, limited selection, and basically no games.  Apple doesnt care about gaming really and has only recently with OpenCL focused at all on the EXPLODING GPU segment.  Microsoft, on the other hand, has more people working on gaming than Apple probably has employees (an exaggeration, but you get the idea).
So Microsoft has “good fundamentals”, but they cant image manage or market their way out of a paper bag.  And despite what ANYONE tries to pretend about there being a “return to substance” and a “return to value”, the internet generation is more driven by image than ANY that came before.
Win 7 may be a bandaid for this larger problem for now, but unless it fixes it in a real way, share will continue to slip.
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