As someone who has been following Microsoft for over 25 years, I remain staggered by the completeness of the Vista fiasco. Microsoft's constant backtracking on the phasing out of Windows XP is perhaps the most evident proof of the fact that people do not want to be forced to “upgrade” to something that has been memorably described as DRM masquerading as an operating system. But this story suggests an even greater aversion:
Studies carried out by both Gartner and IDC have found that because older software is often incompatible with Vista, many consumers are opting for used computers with XP installed as a default, rather than buying an expensive new PC with Vista and downgrading.
Big business, which typically thinks nothing about splashing out for newer, more up-to-date PCs, is also having trouble with Vista, with even firms like Intel noting XP would remain the dominant OS within the company for the foreseeable future.
What's really important about this is not so much that Vista is manifestly such a dog, but that the myth of upgrade inevitability has been destroyed. Companies have realised that they do have a choice – that they can simply say “no”. From there, it's but a small step to realising that they can also walk away from Windows completely, provided the alternatives offer sufficient data compatibility to make that move realistic.
That may not have been the case before, but the similar poor uptake of Microsoft's OOXML, taken together with the generally good compatibility of OpenOffice.org with the original Microsoft Office file formats, implies that we may well be near the tipping point for migrations to free software on the desktop.
That doesn't mean everyone is going to rip out Windows and replace it with GNU/Linux, simply that they will stop upgrading Microsoft Office too, and start using OpenOffice.org on new systems instead. More people will come into contact with OpenOffice.org, and start using it at home – not least because they are actually *allowed* to take copies from office systems. Throw in Firefox usage that is starting to creep up to significant levels, even in the UK, and you have the recipe for a subsequent migration to GNU/Linux systems running these same apps that is almost painless.
I'm obviously not the only one thinking along these lines. Last weekend, Dell was advertising its new Inspiron Mini 9 in at least one national newspaper. This would have been unthinkable even a year ago, when the company's fear of upsetting the mighty Microsoft by mentioning the “L” word would have been too great, and is further evidence that GNU/Linux is indeed becoming a mainstream option.