Assessing Windows Vista On Its First Anniversary - InformationWeek

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Software // Enterprise Applications

Assessing Windows Vista On Its First Anniversary

In its first year, Microsoft's highly touted operating system has had a rocky start as users have struggled to get a grip on application compatibility, usability, and performance issues.

"The 'Wow' Starts Now," Microsoft proclaimed when it officially launched Windows Vista a year ago. But looking back from Vista's first birthday, while Microsoft claims Vista is a major reason for its best revenue ever, it's been a year when Vista, far from scoring a quick knock-out, seemed to take more punches than it landed in the early rounds. If there is any good news for Microsoft it is that with experience -- and adjustments -- Vista has finally begun to accumulate points on the cards of both enterprise and consumer judges.

Vista's first year was not an entirely smooth one, to say the least. Early on, even while it was winning the respect of the security community for at least improving on previous versions of Windows, it met with some very public rejections from large organizations like the Department of Transportation, where CIO Daniel Mintz placed "an indefinite moratorium" on upgrades to Vista, citing "no compelling technical or business case for upgrading." Similar pronouncements came from enterprises that were worried about Vista's incompatibility with their existing applications, or the high hardware costs imposed by the new operating system.

At the same time, consumers were finding that what made Vista more secure also made it more annoying. User Account Control's barrage of dialog boxes led many users to simply turn off some of what made the OS more secure. And they found other problems, like one-shot product activation and, later in the year, malfunctions in the Windows Genuine Advantage anti-piracy code that shut down legitimate copies of the OS.

Both companies and consumers struggled with Vista's lack of support for custom applications and current versions of widely used programs, the lack of Vista-compatible drivers for hardware devices, and the operating system's heavy hardware requirements, particularly when it came to graphics.

The net result, at the end of Vista Year One, seems to be that consumers buying news PCs are taking home Vista because it's installed, but not rushing to upgrade, and the enterprise market has been slow to show much interest.

Microsoft, for its part, has been relentlessly upbeat about Vista. Throughout the year it issued glowing reports of Vista sales, backed up by strong financial results. Its latest quarterly report, for the period ending in December, shows an 81% increase in earnings on a 30% increase in revenue over the same period in 2006, an improvement it linked directly to Vista sales -- which have exceeded 100 million copies, Bill Gates said in his keynote speech at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas a month ago.

"We're pleased," said Neil Charney, a product manager in Microsoft's Windows Client group who was made available for an interview in response to a request to the company. What he was pleased about was the 100 million number, but, he said, "we're also pleased with the results of some of the investments we made." He cited Vista's security in particular and named features including Windows Defender, parental controls, and User Account Control. "It's a more secure operating system than we've ever released before. There's a level of support for security in Vista that's something entirely new -- for things that many users won't ever see."

Charney also named as successful investments several usage scenarios -- what Microsoft has taken to calling "customer experiences" -- that Microsoft intends for the new operating system, including sharing photos and home media networking.

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