Windows Vista No Longer Matters

Make no mistake: Microsoft has moved beyond Windows Vista, which will become all too apparent during this week’s Professional Developer Conference. Windows 7 is the future, and in many ways it’s the present, too.

Contrary to ridiculous assertions recently made by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, Windows Vista is a flop. If businesses aren’t buying Vista, after waiting six (now seven) years, it’s no success. Yet, during the last day of the Gartner 2008 expo 10 days ago, Steve asserted that Vista “has been extremely successful.”

A few days earlier, Steve boasted: “Vista is our best-selling product ever. So, if that takes too much getting overβ€”we’re not going to have products that are much more successful than Vista has been. We sold over 180 million copies in the first 18 months, quite successful.” Really?

But who’s buying this “best-selling” product ever? “We have 180 million users, mostly on the consumer market,” Steve said in an Oct. 2 speech. Oh? According to Gartner analysts Neil MacDonald and David Smith, only about 10 percent of enterprises have adopted Windows Vista. That’s not a high number, particularly in context of the approximately six years between Windows XP and Vista.

It’s not surprising then that PDC attendees will hear whole lots about Windows 7 this week and very little about its predecessor. Windows 7 banners are plentiful enough, as are the sessions: Out of 194, 22 are dedicated to Seven and none to Windows Vista. It has leprosy, baby, and nobody wants to catch it. I Googled “PDC 2008,” and one of the pagesβ€”not now availableβ€”is “Unveiling Windows 7 to the World.”

Vista is headed to as quick a death as Microsoft can give it. Someday soon, some gun-toting Microsoft executive will lead Vista out back and “Pop!” Netbook buying trends and the sagging economy give Microsoft more reasons to want to off Vista as soon as humanly possible. The signs are everywhere:

  • The vanishing license count. Every quarterly earnings since Vista’s release, Microsoft executives counted up the number of licenses shipped. There was near silence during last week’s 2009 fiscal first-quarter earnings announcement. The number was 180 million three months earlier. It’s now “What?” Microsoft’s failure to toot “the number of Vista licenses” horn means something. Maybe the increase wasn’t that great, or maybe Microsoft is moving beyond Vista. I say yes to both.
  • Windows client income down. During the fiscal first quarter, the division’s revenue grew a paltry 2 percent year over year, but income decreased by 4 percent. Microsoft has no tough year-ago comparison to account for the weak results. By comparison, Business division revenue and income were up 20 percent and 23 percent, respectively. Microsoft attributed year-over-year Windows client income declines to sales of lower-cost versions in emerging markets and on netbooks in mature markets. Considering that PC shipment growth was still strong during the quarter, Windows results forebodes Vista weakness.
  • Increasing netbook sales. The product category is pure trouble for Microsoft because Windows Vista demands too much to adequately run on the hardware. So netbooks typically either ship with Linux or Windows XP Home. That netbook buyers would be satisfied with 7-year-old consumer XP is just about the only commentary necessary to understand Vista’s market plight. According to Microsoft, netbooks added 8 percent growth to otherwise flat U.S. PC sales during the third calendar quarter. The category is hot, but Vista is not and couldn’t be. Seven had better run well on netbooks and soon.
  • “Windows. Life Without Walls.” The marketing campaign should be called “Windows. Life Without Vista.” If Vista is so successful, as Steve claims, then why isn’t Microsoft advertising the software? Rather, Microsoft is trying to get away from Vista, abandoning a brand that it already invested tens of millions of dollars promoting. Its absent role at PDC says it all.

There are plenty of other signs:

  • Continued OEM sales of XP downgrade licenses
  • The aforementioned 10 percent enterprise adoption
  • Apple’s Mac market share gains (35 percent in U.S. retail revenue)

Microsoft is moving beyond Vista to Windows 7. Windows Vista no longer matters. If it did:

  • Enterprises would be buying it
  • Consumers would be demanding it
  • Microsoft wouldn’t freak out about Apple’s “Get a Mac” ads
  • The hottest new computer category, netbooks, would ship with Vista
  • Microsoft would be aggressively advertising Vista, instead of trying to bury the brand
  • Developers would be creating hunky Vista apps; instead, projects like Yahoo Messenger for Windows Vista are being abandoned

I’ve long said that Windows Vista isn’t a bad operating system. It’s just not particularly better than Windows XP. Strange, then, that Microsoft isn’t messaging Seven as being particularly better than Windows Vista. It won’t be.

Microsoft believes, with some justification, that Vista has major perception problems. The company clearly has decided that negative perceptions can’t be fixed. Hence, the diminished emphasis on Vista; starting tomorrowβ€”and especially on Tuesdayβ€”an increased emphasis on Windows 7. By shifting emphasis to Seven, Microsoft is treating Vista perceptions mainly as a marketing problem.

Vista deserved better market reception than it got. Strange, a few small improvements could have changed everythingβ€”like startup times. Everybody bitches about how long Vista takes to boot up or wake up from sleep. Last week, one of my longtime Windows buddies bought a MacBook. Yesterday we talked about startup times. He surprised me. He had already clocked startup times: 7 minutes on his Vista notebook and about a minute for the $1,299 MacBook. That’s not scientific, but it needn’t be. One user, one experience multiplied by 180 million Vista licenses is scientific enough.

From here

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