The glitz that accompanied Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer at the launch of their new operating system was reminiscent of Windows 95's own coming-out party.
Back in August 1995, Microsoft blitzed the media with events and stunts that had consumers asking dozen of questions about this new version of Windows - which of course was exactly what the company wanted. It even had the famously technophobic interviewers on Radio 4's Today programme asking questions about it. Fast forward 11 years and we're back there again.
Windows 95 was, in technical terms, a big step forward, not just the famous change in its user interface but its improved networking and communications, better application reliability, and improved usability (although it would be remiss not to point out that Internet Explorer did not ship with the OS). Such features are important to all users but particularly to business. As a result, the software though technically inferior to its main rival IBM OS/2, took desktops by storm.
But Vista is supremely less likely to repeat that feat. Even though Microsoft has spent the equivalent of the GDP of a small country on the launch, underneath the new OS is more show than go. And the fact that it's more aimed at consumers than enterprise customers can be seen from Microsoft's marketing strategy: it sent copies to bloggers but none to enterprise-focused publications like Techworld.
It is making a big thing of the OS's new user interface, Aero. But there's little to suggest that business users will gain from it - the added time taken to get to grips with it might even lower productivity - while the hardware requirements are beyond what the standard corporate desktop is likely to contain.
One thing that could have proved compelling was dropped along the way: WinFS - the file system as a database. That would have freed users from the limitations imposed by the file system's tree structure, and allow information to be organised as the user wants. Vista has directory meta-tags that get part way there, and includes a "breadcrumb" trail so you can track back through your hard drive, but it is certainly not what WinFS was going to offer.
Enterprise customers will be pleased by greater attention to mobile users' needs, such as the Sync Center for mobile devices and Mobility Center that help with road warrior presentations. Other features include improved security, better support for tablet PCs, and domain support in the small business edition. It is also, allegedly, more robust as Microsoft has moved third-party device drivers out of the kernel. That should lower instances of the blue screen of death. And there's a number of areas where the OS has been brought up to date, such as built-in IPv6, the ability to access the full 4GB allowed in a 32-bit environment, encryption and a secure bootup process to make a stolen laptop less of a nightmare.
Without hands-on experience, which Microsoft has not condescended to provide, it's hard to be definite about the utility or effectiveness of many of Vista's new features. However, one common thread running through many commentaries is that the OS is far too Microsoft-dependent. For those who use plenty of third-party replacement for anti-virus, firewall, Web browsing and so on, Vista is far from agnostic.
Analyst response has been muted too. Jonathan Eunice of research firm Illuminata told Techworld: "Windows XP is already quite good and sufficient for most users needs, and there's a large infrastructure of supporting components - anti-virus and security add-ons, software installation infrastructures, off the shell applications, corporate applications and so on - that complete XP.
"While Vista does have some nice features - new look, more systematic approach to security, etcetera - despite Microsoft's efforts to make it seem a must-have, it's not a 'wow, we really should upgrade soon!' situation for most customers."
Eunice does however see a future for the OS: "Vista's rollout does create opportunity for various desktop virtualisation and consolidation initiatives, whether based on VMware, Softricity, or the blades-plus-virtualisation efforts of folks like HP and IBM. If we're going to roll out a new platform, this might be the right time to put in place a new platform management strategy - that would be the thinking."
IT managers tend to agree. We asked key sysadmins in a number of large corporations and none said that upgrading to Vista was on their roadmap. One told us that he'd only just finished rolling out XP.
Vista looks good and offers some added functionality for consumers and multi-media users. However it's not as smooth to use as the latest MacOS, by all accounts, nor does it offer any must-have features from an enterprise perspective. What it does offer is a big opportunity for the likes of Dell, which is reporting a big jump in sales. But for the rest of us, at the very least, it's a wait-and-see product.
This might be the one Microsoft OS to miss entirely and then either wait for the next version or - whisper it - switch operating system altogether.
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