As Vista launches, I’m in New York thinking back to 1995 when I was attending the Windows 95 launch and imagining what could have been.
Given the size of this launch, this week I’m just going to focus on Vista and think through the impact it will have as it rolls into the market over the next few years.
1995: Windows 95, the Dream OS
1995 was an amazing year. From day one, people were excited about Windows. I remember meeting with Apple and suggesting it really needed to step up its game — only to be told not to worry, Apple users were loyal and would never move. Apple bled a lot of revenue over the next few years, as it discovered not all Apple customers were that loyal.
In many ways, 1995 was Microsoft’s peak. The company was kind of where Google is now. Folks flocked to work there, and while it was called the “evil empire,” mostly that was just in jest — though there clearly were rumblings on the horizon. In particular, the fallout over OS/2 left a lot of companies thinking that Microsoft was becoming a company that couldn’t be trusted.
However, this had nothing to do with the launch event, which was picture perfect. The clouds even matched those that were on the box, and I still vividly remember the moment the bleachers of Microsoft programmers were asked to come up on stage and receive well-deserved praise for the many hours they had put in.
There were tents filled with application vendors and even, gasp, games that looked vastly better than anything you could play on DOS. There were 3D data mining products and table after table of vendors pitching their individual wares. Everyone seemed to realize the world was changing, and PCs would never be the same.
On launch, people lined up around the block to get in, and this was the first and only time an OS was given the same kind of treatment that a game system or a hot toy like Tickle Me Elmo or the Cabbage Patch Kids received. Microsoft was a star, Bill Gates was a rock star, and Windows 95 was a best seller.
Windows 98 to XP SP2
PCs were changed, and for the rest of the ’90s, PCs gradually became kind of boring. There was a huge focus on enterprise and, for much of this time, it seemed the industry had almost forgotten about the user. Growth was good, but it laid a foundation for a market collapse in the next decade. In addition we (well, Al Gore) discovered the Web, and we gradually moved from processor-centric computing to network-centric computing, and it seemed the PC became less important overall.
By the end of the decade, there was a new power sharing honors with Intel and Microsoft as kings of technology, and that was Cisco.
2000 brought us Y2K and Windows 2000, which was the merging of the Windows 95 and Windows NT technology base into something that was more like OS/2 a decade later than Windows 95 — much more reliable, much more secure, and much slower to boot. It also brought us the downside to networks — viruses, and lots of them, in waves.
Microsoft had grown so large that it was having difficulty executing. The general lack of focus on mentoring was hurting virtually every tech company, because entire departments had lost the skills to do their jobs. Nowhere was this more evident than in marketing, as campaigns like Digital Joy and Dinosaur (Office) rolled out.
Windows XP tried unsuccessfully to address the security exposure, and a massive amount of work went into Windows XP SP2 to address the risk. While not as elegant as a ground-up redesign, it did the job. In fact, it probably represents the biggest barrier to Windows Vista deployment, because most think it is good enough.
At the end of this cycle, few seemed to get excited about PCs outside of Apple and gaming, and products like the iPod and PlayStation seemed to garner much more excitement.
Vista: The New Hope
What was to be Windows Vista bogged down. Promised features had to be dropped, and for much of 2006, it didn’t look near ready. However, after some management changes and a massive effort by the Microsoft software engineering staff, it was deemed close enough — and most will probably like the result, eventually.
To really appreciate what is in Vista, you almost need to read through the leading book on the product, Windows Vista Secrets, by Brian Livingston and Paul Thurrott. It’s 595 pages of things you can do with this product — most of which you probably wouldn’t have discovered for some time, let alone right at first.
Some of the new Vista applications — like PCMover, which actually migrates your applications to a new PC; InterVideo WinDVD 8, which allows you more control over a DVD than any standalone DVD player; Yahoo’s Instant Messenger, both more elegant and easier to use; and the new graphics tools from ATI (AMD) and Nvidia can give you a real sense for how things will improve for us on this new platform.
I recently realized, since I’ve been using Vista and Office 2007 for awhile now, that XP and Office 2003 just feel old to me. Moving back and forth isn’t horrid, but it’s like getting used to heated seats and automatic windows and then driving a car without them. You suddenly realize how much you like things you never even knew you were going to miss.
For most of you, the reality of this is months away. However, I expect a few of you will have that experience shortly. Regardless of how I feel about the product, the technology industry is solidly tied to the future of this offering, and much of the impact of it won’t be felt for a few years yet.
Post Vista 2008
An idea of what is to come can be found in the Portege R400 laptop. This product, jointly developed by Microsoft and Toshiba, represents the probable near-term future of all laptops running Windows Vista. It lives in a wireless world with multiple radios and even wireless docking. It has an external display allowing it to function even when suspended and sitting in your computer case, and it is light, making it easy to move wherever you need to go.
It is also very attractive, and Vista really drives into the Windows market a concept that Apple folks have generally always had — the concept that PCs need to be attractive. You’ll see offerings and prototypes from Dell, HP and Gateway that really push the envelope with regard to being physically attractive as well.
In 2008, you’ll see a huge amount of progress on both the wireless and physical appearance front as vendors differentiate their offerings not just by price, service and features, but by how connected and attractive they are.
Applications will get facials and mimic the translucency and simplicity of Yahoo Messenger, and embrace the Aero user interface — and we’ll be doing things with media that we probably can’t really imagine now, because it will be vastly easier, and we’ll have had several years to learn how to abuse YouTube.
Games will be fabulous, based on what I’ve seen so far — much more realistic, much more visually exciting and, unfortunately, much more addictive. Given how slowly the game systems move, it will be hard not to start imagining that Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft may have to start refreshing their platforms more aggressively to keep up.
The OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) want Microsoft to allow them to run Xbox games on their ultimate platforms, and I can’t help but think Vista Ultimate Edition would be vastly more popular if this were the case.
Crunching the numbers suggests this path would both increase Microsoft’s revenue and its profitability — not to mention give the Xbox a competitive advantage that Sony and Nintendo would be hard-pressed to match. Think of being able to play “Gears of War” on your laptop using an Xbox controller — which works on Vista today.
Finally, we will actually be more secure. Not only does Vista close the door on a number of painful exploits we currently suffer through, products like the solid Norton Internet Security bundle for Vista are a huge step up in providing security without being a pain in the butt. I can honestly say I like this new security model offering from Symantec a lot, and not having to deal with the pain of earlier offerings will be a huge relief for most of us.
Finally, 2008 is when business is likely to roll to Vista — and for many, the only question will be, “Why did it take so long?”
Rob Enderle is a TechNewsWorld columnist and the Principal Analyst for the Enderle Group, a consultancy that focuses on personal technology products and trends.