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Is Vista the Beginning of the End?

Just an early-morning thought: is there any chance that Vista is the beginning of the end of Windows as an operating system? In other words, could the distinct lack of excitement surounding Vista (not surprising given much of the good stuff didn’t get into the first release of Vista) suggest we’re at a tipping point when it comes to Microsoft’s dominance of the OS market?
Look at it this way: other than people buying news PCs, there’s little reason for anyone to upgrade to Vista right now. The new features aren’t compelling enough, the hardware requirements are pretty stiff (some suggest 4GB of RAM is needed) and there’s no guarantee your existing software will be compatible with Vista. As a result, there’s an OS void in the market where most Windows users are perfectly content with the status quo. Still, there are a growing number of consumers looking for something different and/or better – and the current version of Vista ain’t it. It means there is a huge opportunity for Mac annd Linux to step into the void.
There’s seems to be a lot more buzz about the Mac, anecdotal evidence more people are moving over to Mac, and Apple’s fiscal first-quarter results suggests there’s more interest among consumers. The number of computers (desktops and laptops) sold climbed 28% to 1.6 million, highlighted by a 65% jump in unit sales of laptops to 986,000. Maybe this suggests the MacBook has become the default for the cool laptop set, or maybe it suggests laptops are beginning to outstrip desktops for people not chained to a desk all day.
Of course, the Mac will never really be taken seriously until it grabs a bigger foothold in the corporate market where Windows has a stranglehold. But you are seeing more attention about whether this could happen. I’m not sure whether anyone should get too excited about it yet but there is a conversation starting to emerge.
At the very least, the OS landscape could be poised for change because Vista has shown people that Microsoft’s ability to produce anything more than Windows upgrades has come to an end. At the very least, I’d argue that a powerful OS with lots of bells and whistles is becoming important given the browser has become the new OS for more people. Sure, people will argue you need a robust OS to run multi-media applications, etc. but all you really want the OS to do is work and work well without things like crashes and virus attacks.
As a result, Windows – and maybe even Mac, for that matter – is being shoved aside as the engine by the browser and the search engine, which are poised to become much more exciting places than the OS. Take a look at the buzz surrounding Firefox, Powerset and Freebase for a sign of what’s exciting tech people these days.

Update: For some interesting insight into why Apple is using “cats” as a theme for its OS iterations, check out TUAW.

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  • http://blog.larixconsulting.com/ Tris Hussey

    Yes. Although I nearly borked my system to the wipe and start over level trying to install Ubuntu (my fault, not theirs), I think Linux has a potential to make huge gains. Think of all the older machines running Windows. OS X isn’t an option for them. What do you do as it starts to age? What about when you want new features? Now, the key is for the Linux players to band together and make a play for this market.

    People are going to need a way to switch to Linux without losing files, etc. Something like “upgrade to Linux”. That would be a coup.

  • http://www.duanestorey.com Duane

    I installed Vista on my laptop a few weeks ago and had so many problems with it, that it prompted me to finally go out and buy a Mac. Many of the guys are work are debating the same type of move as well. Like you said, Vista isn’t very exciting, and I found it very slow compared to XP — many programs I used to use ran poorly as well.

    In terms of Macs not being taken seriously until they have a stronger hold in the corporate world – I’m not so sure. I work for a software company, and even though we don’t generate a pile of revenue from Mac sales, it’s still deemed critical since most executives with decision making power we encounter are using Macs.

  • http://www.chrisg.com/ Chris Garrett

    Through my MacBook there are a fair few people who are going to be buying Macs (mainly MacBooks and Minis). I think at least among bloggers and home users the Mac is on the up. There are a fair few techies using Macs now in corporates – mainly those who used to use Unix workstations admittedly. I feel so ashamed now for knocking all those Mac-using designers in my past – well … a little

  • http://www.markevanstech.com Mark Evans

    One thing I do wonder about is the appetite for Mac beyond the tech-set, and tech savvy. For most consumers, Windows-based machines are appealing because they’re reasonably inexpensive whiles Apple still demands a premium.

  • http://passtheremote.wordpress.com/ Eric

    I would add that the Mac will be a more serious competitor on the corporate side once it becomes as affordable as most PCs. Apple makes good hardware and easy software, but isn’t seen as a serious persons computer. Its a stylish computer for people with the extra cash. Hopefully this will changei nthe future, but I doubt that Apple wants to take this route after all these years.

  • http://www.inter-canel.com Shaun

    Tris, you’re 100% right. Linux looks really cool but the installation and ease of use need to be tweaked just a little more to be a suitable replacement OS for the bulk of computer users out there.

    Duane, your story is too familiar! I’m a student at York University and I have been noticing how easily more than 50% of the students use laptops in class now and I was SHOCKED to see how may Mac’s made their way into students’ hands this year.

    Chris, I am the exact same. I used to ridicule my cousin who is in graphic design. Now I want one…

    Mark, your article is dead on! I’ve been waiting eagerly for someone to say it. I always hear about how Vista is great or was easily hacked but not enough is said about how it’s almost a NON-UPGRADE from XP! In fact as Duane said, software runs SLOWER! Vista lasted 48 hours on my machine. The first 24 were enjoying the flashy look, the next 24 were using it with all themes off (I prefer XP this way too. It runs smoother and you get to enjoy the real performance of the OS). In the end, I realized the time it took to boot Vista and log in was unacceptable. I was losing TOO much time.

    And Mark, your comment about “laptops are beginning to outstrip desktops”… well that happened LONG ago :) http://news.com.com/PC+milestone–notebooks+outsell+desktops/2100-1047_3-5731417.html

  • Brad

    I think you are missing some information when suggesting the end with Vista. You fail to look at the numbers of major sellers of Windows-compatible systems. 1Q 07 Revenue; Dell 14.2B, HP 25.1B. When saying that Apple’s had more interest among consumers with a 28% increase in computers sold; HP had 11% revenue growth from last years 1Q.

    If computer sales numbers stay consistent with prior years, you are looking at around 200 million IBM-compatibles sold and if Apple has a record year 6-7 million Macs sold. I don’t have actual numbers of system pre-installed with Windows operating system, so I will figure that at least 40% of the systems sold are home computers. You are looking at 80 million new systems sold this year with Vista installed. I will figure the other 60% to be whatever Unix, Linux, Server, XP, MCE. My sales numbers are based on this website. http://www.pegasus3d.com/total_share.html

    Don’t expect a viable alternative to Vista for the masses in the next couple of years. Big software and hardware companies had a hard enough time getting drivers and software developed in time for the Vista launch, which Microsoft included at least 1-2 years of beta testing software.

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  • rob

    You may be right about the end of the big OS – I believe Ray Ozzie of Microsoft has even said as much.

    But there are some significant challenges facing Linux and Mac acceptance in the enterprise. The Linux side is easy – which distro? There are becoming so many that it’s turning into the same world as the original Unix – i.e. Solaris, HP/UX, Irix, DG/UX, etc. While Linux is one word, the experience can take so many different forms that enterprises need to do an inordinate amount of research to pick one and then figure out how to set it up properly for their environment. I believe Michael Arrington of TechCrunch recently surveyed his readers to see which one he should try for a monthlong review – everyone is telling him to choose a different one for “the best experience”! It’s definitely within reach, but there needs to be some consolidation before it gets accepted on the desktop.

    The Mac is in a whole other camp. Apple has always catered to consumers, designers and students – none of which have a great need for industrial-strength enterprise controls, which need to be built-in to the underlying OS in order to provide for global management. Until Apple decides to play in the enterprise space and starts to build the enterprise features demanded by IT, they will continue to remain a boutique OS…except now that they run Intel, we’re seeing more and more people make the switch, based on the brilliant plan to allow Windows to run on the Apple hardware- now people don’t feel like they have to make an “either-or” decision.

    But wasn’t that the origin of this thread to begin with? Who needs an OS anymore? How about scaled down task-specific devices that have a minimum of overhead, do not store anything local, with instant startup and shutdown, and flexibility to run anything on the web…the age of the network computer is arriving, but it took a lot longer than McNealy and Ellison thought, and it’s taking a much different form than they originally envisioned!

  • rob

    Oh, and one more thing…I’m writing this from Vista Ultimate, and it absolutely rocks! Unfortunately, people either aren’t running on recent hardware (Mac would have the same issue folks – OS’s have been designed to push the envelope of current hardware. There will always be people that love antiques, but I’m not one of them), or the drivers have not yet been updated. I’ve had to replace my video driver at least 5 times since November, and I think nVidia has finally addressed their issues. But I don’t hold Microsoft responsible. I guess we could ask them to close the OS and just build their own hardware to ensure 100% compatibility.

  • http://geekspeaker.spaces.live.com Jason Bogovich

    If you would read the article you would notice that it says 4GB is a sweet spot for Vista. This is due to two things. First, there is a innovative feature which I love called Super Fetch, which loads programs in the backround for me. (I have two gigs of ram and my PC runs blazing fast) and then there are Gadgets, which if you load an entire second monitor up with em like I do, end up eating a lot of ram. I am a super geek, have been one for a very long time, and I can honestly say that I think Vista is super exciting, I love every inch of it, and I know that makes snotty mac fans angry. Before you jump me just realize that if you ever want me to post something serious, don’t spin the facts. Vista will run albiet not very good on a half a gig of ram. There is nothing wrong with that, Vista is designed for new hardware, put Ubuntu on older hardware.

    I have a better story for everyone to read. It’s over at the Guardian Unlimited.
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/story/0,,2006031,00.html

    [quote]
    I hate Macs. I have always hated Macs. I hate people who use Macs. I even hate people who don’t use Macs but sometimes wish they did. Macs are glorified Fisher-Price activity centres for adults; computers for scaredy cats too nervous to learn how proper computers work; computers for people who earnestly believe in feng shui.

    PCs are the ramshackle computers of the people. You can build your own from scratch, then customise it into oblivion. Sometimes you have to slap it to make it work properly, just like the Tardis (Doctor Who, incidentally, would definitely use a PC). PCs have charm; Macs ooze pretension. When I sit down to use a Mac, the first thing I think is, “I hate Macs”, and then I think, “Why has this rubbish aspirational ornament only got one mouse button?” Losing that second mouse button feels like losing a limb. If the ads were really honest, Webb would be standing there with one arm, struggling to open a packet of peanuts while Mitchell effortlessly tore his apart with both hands. But then, if the ads were really honest, Webb would be dressed in unbelievably po-faced avant-garde clothing with a gigantic glowing apple on his back. And instead of conducting a proper conversation, he would be repeatedly congratulating himself for looking so cool, and banging on about how he was going to use his new laptop to write a novel, without ever getting round to doing it, like a mediocre idiot.[/quote]

  • http://www.robhyndman.com Rob Hyndman

    I can’t imagine using Windows now. It feels like OSX 2001. Even Vista. Inelegant. Dowdy. Kind of turdy, actually. I’m so much more efficient on the Mac than I ever was on Windows.

  • Vava

    Sorry for jumping in late on this post, and I suppose I should leave a comment on Richard Branson’s cage stunt – BTW, being a Virgin Mobile customer, I absolutely hate the fact that as of March 5th we are charged for calls starting from the moment one presses the “talk” button and not from the point at which the call is connected!!! Do the other guys do this? Is this a Bell stunt to rid themselves of Virgin? – but I thought that Dell’s recent pronouncement that they are considering offering Linux as an option on their consumer-aimed products was interesting. Apparently, the company started an online “suggestion box” in mid-February and a significant amount of interest in this idea was the result. Could be interesting given the fact that some, and count me in on this, cannot even begin contemplating making the jump to Vista for at least another year and are intrigued by Linux more and more.

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  • Javier

    Microsoft can only grow bigger and bigger. I dont know how i got to this article but MAC seriously dont have a chance in the PC market share because it's like comparing apples to a BMW.

    The fact that Microsoft released the best Server Operating System, Windows Server 2008 R2, can only confirm this. MAC is, as some poster already said, for the guys who need to browse the web and have the extra cash to show a jewel. A serious computer user will get a PC and will be doing that for a very long time to come.