Microsoft Will Stumble On Windows Vista And Office 2007 - InformationWeek

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Commentary
3/1/2006
05:55 PM
Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner
Commentary
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Microsoft Will Stumble On Windows Vista And Office 2007

The thing about the story of the boy who cried wolf is that the wolf eventually showed up. Every time Microsoft updates Windows and Office, pessimists say customers won't adopt the new version. This trend goes back more than a decade. It happened with Windows 95, with Windows 98, with Windows ME, and with Windows XP. And the pessimists have been wrong every time. But this time around, it's looking like the pessimistic view is the right one. Neither Vista nor the upcoming Office 2007 offers co

The thing about the story of the boy who cried wolf is that the wolf eventually showed up.

Every time Microsoft updates Windows and Office, pessimists say customers won't adopt the new version. This trend goes back more than a decade. It happened with Windows 95, with Windows 98, with Windows ME, and with Windows XP. And the pessimists have been wrong every time.

But this time around, it's looking like the pessimistic view is the right one. Neither Vista nor the upcoming Office 2007 offers compelling reasons to upgrade.Certainly Vista offers many improvements over Windows XP--things that make you look forward to getting your hands on it. I discussed this issue with my colleague Scot Finnie, and he pointed out a few right off the top of his head: The new user interface is much more attractive and easier to use than the existing user interface. The performance is better, making the user experience much more pleasant--you no longer feel like you're dealing with bloated, sluggish software, as you sometimes do with Windows XP. Shutdown and startup time will be much faster for most users.

Vista also includes some intriguing technology for indexing information, making it easier to organize and search for documents.

Microsoft Internet Explorer 7 is much better than IE6. It includes tabs, a feature missing from IE6 that's been standard in alternative browsers like Firefox and Opera for years.

All those things sound pretty good. But they don't make you want to rush out and buy a new PC right away, or, if you're an IT manager, make room in your 2006-2007 budgets for upgrades to your PCs. You're probably thinking--as I am--that you'll upgrade to Vista whenever you get around to upgrading your hardware.

Moreover, there are several obstacles to upgrading to Vista. To take advantage of all the new features, you need top-of-the-line hardware. The new file organization and search tools will require users to learn all new habits for organizing information, a process that will take years. Applications will have to be redesigned to take advantage of these features.

Microsoft plans six versions of Vista, a confusing array. To get the high-end business version, you have to sign up for Microsoft's expensive and controversial Software Assurance program.

And perhaps worst of all, both Vista and Office 2007 make significant user interface changes. They're getting rid of drop-down menus in applications. The friendly, familiar menus labeled File, Edit, View, Tools, Help, and so forth are gone in Office 2007 and native Windows applications like Notepad and WordPad.

Instead, Microsoft is using tabs and a technology it's calling "ribbons." To get a closer look, complete with screenshots, see our recent review.

This kind of change may, in fact, be for the better. And power users will absorb the changes in a short time. But most PC users aren't geeks like us, and the slightest little change to the user interface will confuse most PC users. Corporations looking to train thousands of users will have to hire massive staff to teach the new tools--and they'll have to hire psychologists, too, to provide trauma counseling for abused help-desk staff.

Previous versions of Windows saw users coming to Microsoft. With these upgrades to Windows and Office, Microsoft is going to have to sell Vista and Office 2007 to users and sell it hard, and it might not succeed.

Now there's a counter-argument to what I'm saying here, and here it is: security. Vista will include built-in anti-virus software, two kinds of built-in anti-spyware software, and an improved firewall that monitors both incoming and outgoing traffic. It will have on-board encryption that encrypts the entire hard disk drive (so if a business laptop gets stolen, you don't have to worry about compromising data) and digital rights management to keep confidential data confidential.

And Vista handles distinctions between user and administrator accounts more gracefully so that a user doesn't have to be logged in as administrator, with full power to make changes to the system, to get anything done. (That's a feature that Unix has had for 25 years--welcome to the 1980s, Microsoft! You'll really enjoy the movie Die Hard when it comes out in five years.)

Maybe improved security will drive demand for Vista after all.

Or maybe not. Every time Microsoft comes out with a new Windows version, it promises that this is the version that finally gets security right. Maybe it really will do it this time. And maybe it will be making the same promises again, when it comes out with its next major Windows upgrade after Vista, in 2010 or so.

What do you think? Are you planning to upgrade to Vista right away? Will Microsoft see a lot of demand for Vista immediately?

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