What`s the Deal with Vista Anyway?

By Lawrence Walsh  |  Print this article Print

At Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference recently, a steady stream of executives tried to sell a complicated message: Vista is a success, but Microsoft still needs to attack to build sales momentum. Maybe Jerry Seinfeld can help.

I got an AirMac the other day. Sure, it’s all cute and small, and runs real fast, but what is it running, anyway? Business apps? (Smirk) Is that what we’re calling GarageBand and FinalCut nowadays? And where is the optical drive? Yeah, this is an improvement!

OK, I would never qualify to be a Jerry Seinfeld writer, but you probably get the point. The funnyman who once graced our televisions with a sitcom about nothing is being drafted in the war between Mac and Windows. Microsoft is making Seinfeld the centerpiece of a new $300 million advertising campaign to counter the wildly successful "Mac vs. PC" ads run by Apple for the past millennium.

At last month’s Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference in Houston, a steady stream of executives—from CEO Steve Ballmer and global channel chief Allison Watson to the guy running the Redmond campus parking lots—paraded across the big stage trying to sell a complicated message: Windows Vista is a success, but Microsoft still needs to go on the attack to build sales momentum.

It’s a hard message to sell. Even though Vista has sold more than 300 million copies since its release 18 months ago, it’s besieged by users that have suffered integration and performance issues caused by the operating systems footprint that’s slightly larger than Rhode Island. The culmination of nearly six years research and development, Vista has proven anything but being the most secure Microsoft OS to date, but has demonstrated a superior ability at consuming limited PC resources. (Personally, I can attest that my home PC running Vista Home Premium frequently affords me the opportunity to get another cup of coffee while I wait for a file to open.)

Solution providers and resellers know all too well the problems associated with Vista. The B2B market—from enterprises to small business—has been slow to adopt Vista. Microsoft never gave them a compelling reason to give up the performance and stability that came with Windows XP, arguably the best version of Windows since the NT platform. The release of XP in 2001 forced many shops to upgrade from their old NT infrastructure and deploy Active Directory to take full advantage of the XP operating system. The performance and manageability gains were significant; and Microsoft had finally vanquished "the blue screen of death."

No such gains were promised with Vista. In fact, the only thing that Microsoft promised was integrated search and graphics that would chew up processing power. Some people I’ve talked with have said that when they strip down Vista to its core services, it’s a descent operating system – but it’s certainly not pretty to look at. Again, it’s hardly a ringing endorsement.

Microsoft has another problem in trying to convince us Vista is cool: its own development efforts around Windows 7 – the reported next version of the operating system. Leaks out of Microsoft indicated that the next version will be a lighter, more performance oriented OS that takes the best, most desired features of Vista in a much smaller footprint. Where Vista consumes a whopping 4 GB of RAM, Windows 7 reportedly will sit inside an envelop far under 1 GB. Why upgrade now when you can sit out the next two years on XP and wait for Windows 7?

Apple has a distinct advantage over Microsoft in the OS wars and the battle for public perception: It owns both components of the platform – the operating system and the PC. Microsoft is entirely dependent upon selling its OS through OEM partners, which have a multitude of different machines with varying levels of performance, features and capabilities. Personally, I like Vista’s look, feel and features, but my underpowered HP notebook running Vista is like running a Dodge Charger with a three-cylinder Smart car engine.

As much as I’m a fan of Office 2007 and the integration Microsoft has done with its familiar productivity apps and the Dynamics platform, these are hardly the pull mechanism for PCs sales as Apple has with its iPhone and iPod. Sure, Zune is getting better – I hear you can play music on them now, but I don’t see people bundling PCs and Zunes at my local Best Buy.

This is a huge problem for Microsoft since we know that consumer electronic trends are greatly influencing business IT purchasing decisions. Despite Apple’s continued rejection of the channel and Steve Jobs’ insistence that he’s not interested in the enterprise market, an increasing number of Macs are showing up in the work place. IT stalwarts such as Juniper Networks and Intel have pilot programs for deploying and supporting Macs to their workforces. The integration of the iPhone with Microsoft’s Exchange e-mail server will only fuel Apple’s expansion in the B2B market.

So bring on Seinfeld and the funny jokes. Hell, get Michael Richards to revive his Kramer character (I hear he needs the work). Let’s see if Microsoft can make us laugh as much as Justin Long (the cool Mac kid) and John Hodgman (the stiff PC geek). At least $300 million of air cover advertising can’t hurt the channel.

 Lawrence M. Walsh is the vice president and group publisher of Channel Insider.

Lawrence Walsh Lawrence Walsh is editor of Baseline magazine, overseeing print and online editorial content and the strategic direction of the publication. He is also a regular columnist for Ziff Davis Enterprise's Channel Insider. Mr. Walsh is well versed in IT technology and issues, and he is an expert in IT security technologies and policies, managed services, business intelligence software and IT reseller channels. An award-winning journalist, Mr. Walsh has served as editor of CMP Technology's VARBusiness and GovernmentVAR magazines, and TechTarget's Information Security magazine. He has written hundreds of articles, analyses and commentaries on the development of reseller businesses, the IT marketplace and managed services, as well as information security policy, strategy and technology. Prior to his magazine career, Mr. Walsh was a newspaper editor and reporter, having held editorial positions at the Boston Globe, MetroWest Daily News, Brockton Enterprise and Community Newspaper Company.

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