The wait for Microsoft’s next major operating system continues, and the question of how eager customers are to upgrade is unsettled, but its official name has been released.
The announcement, made at an Atlanta Microsoft sales rally called the Microsoft Global Sales Briefing, comes with few details that have not yet been revealed.
Microsoft has committed to release the Beta 1 version of Vista to developers and selected corporate customers on Aug. 3.
The company posted a video of the announcement at a new Web site that is devoted to the new operating system, but it contains no new information.
Microsoft has also reiterated the “three pillars” of Longhornthe three basic design goals whose benefits Microsoft execs hope will justify widespread corporate upgrades from Windows XP, Windows Server 2003 and even Windows 2000.
The three pillars have actually morphed a bit over time. WinFS, an advanced filing system that was to have provided lightning-quick search, fell by the wayside as Microsoft searched for ways to guarantee a 2006 ship date.
It also de-emphasized the .Net framework, which was to have been built into the core of the OS, making it an optional set of functions for software running on top of Vista.
Microsoft has, however, built in more efficient search, richer scripting, graphics and windows-presentation capabilities and a more capable communications subsystem that will enable Vista machines to connect with a variety of non-PC devices.
Microsoft will also, reportedly, release the Beta 1 version of Internet Explorer 7.0 at the same time it ships the Vista client and server betas.
Being able to ship even a definitive beta is extremely important for Microsoft’s continued financial well-being, according to Jonathan Eunice, president of Nashua, N.H.-based consultancy Illuminata Inc.
Microsoft’s goals for the OS are laudable, and the name is “aspirational” enough to match Microsoft’s usual optimism. But “they desperately need to encourage people and corporations to upgrade,” Eunice said. “They have been having a huge problem with that in recent years, getting people to move either to new versions of Windows or of the apps like Office.”
But long before Longhorn ever came out as code, user concerns about it were bouncing around Microsoft support forums and user groups.
For example, Microsoft plans to embed an RSS (Really Simple Syndication) platform to automatically distribute feeds into Windows applications, both its own and those from developers.
That plan has many potential customers concerned that building RSS into the core of Vista would present an irresistible opportunity for hackers.
Others are concerned about compatibility problems, such as those that cropped up with the SP2 patch kit, will be greater than they can afford to fix.
Next Page: Wall Street will be watching Vista sales.
Even the improved error-reporting function in Vista raises concerns from users worried (as many did in past Windows releases) that Microsoft will be able to gather from Vista machines information they consider private.
Microsoft has said the error-reporting feature known as Crimson is based on a health model that maps correct and incorrect functions for every service, defines all the functional states of each, and the incidents that mark the transition between a healthy function and one that has stopped working properly.
“This is a good thing,” according to David Robert, a systems manager for a global consulting and engineering company in Cambridge, Mass. “Better logs will also be great, but I will have to see them first before I believe them. If you could determine from the log what the problem is without having to go to a Microsoft knowledge base or to the Web or to call up Microsoft Professional Support Services, then that is more than half the battle right there.”
Microsoft’s financials seem strong, but Wall Street appears to view it as a company that is maturing beyond the point that huge gains in sales can come from year to year.
For example, the company predicted to analysts that its revenue in the first quarter of 2006, which ends in December would be between $9.7 billion and $9.8 billion. Analyst consensus estimates predicted revenue of $9.9 billion
The numbers Microsoft predicted would equal about a 6 percent increase compared to the same period a year ago. By comparison, the fourth fiscal quarter, which Microsoft reported this week included net income of $2.69 billion, is 9 percent greater than a year ago.
Microsoft’s stock price dropped 2.5 percent Friday morning, immediately after the announcement.
“Big revenues and good quarters are not enough; Microsoft has to be consistent,” Eunice said. “It needs a predictable, constant upgrade stream to keep their hefty revenue growth objectivesWall Street’s expectationson track.”
Making that happen depends heavily on whether Microsoft can make the case to corporate customers that Windows Vista will be worth a chain-reaction of upgrades. Upgrading to the new OS would force many to retool their custom applications, possibly require upgrades in commercial software from Microsoft and other companies, even require hardware upgrades for companies whose existing computers lack the power to run features of the new OS and apps.
“It’s a real good question [whether the upgrades would be justified],” Eunice said. “Especially given that Windows 2003 and Exchange 2003 and such are pretty darn good and solid. Whether companies will be ready for yet another major upgrade cycle is an open questionbut I am skeptical.”