As we roll to the end of the year, events continue to take place that are changing dramatically the technologies and environments we live in. Last week, Microsoft had a coming-out party for Vista — but only for the business market.
While most feel it can’t ramp up in business until 2008, there is clearly massive pressure building to accelerate adoption in 2007, and we probably should discuss that. In addition, Sony had a massive executive shake-up right after some of us — well me, actually — started talking about Blu-ray losing out to HD DVD.
Finally, both AMD and Intel stepped up their efforts to explain why we all will shortly need quad-core or better systems to deal with an increasingly complex world. In some strange way, all of these developments are not only potential world changers, but also somewhat connected.
Why Vista Could Ramp Up Early
Microsoft projects Vista will sell 90 million units the first year. That prediction flies in the face of what appears to be rather massive apathy for the product and its sister offering, Office 2007. But we must pause and point out that there has been virtually no demand generation done on either product yet, so this would be much like calling the success or failure of the original iPod before Apple actually started to sell it. Recall that many thought the original iPod wasn’t going to move either.
Of course, there is a lot of difference between a consumer hardware product and a new version of Windows — and part of that difference is we do get really good early indicators for Windows that we don’t get for consumer products.
The early indicators have to do with the size of the budgets IT departments set for deployment and when they set them. Generally, these budgets are set the year before the deployment; IT shops call folks like me to help them set these budgets accurately.
If lots of big budgets are set, then we see a large rollout the following year. If they aren’t, we typically don’t. Budgets weren’t set this year, which would support the conventional wisdom that Vista will not — at least for the corporate market — hit record numbers.
However, about a third to a half — depending on how you make the cut — of the current PC market consists of consumers and SMBs, and the behavior of these segments is similar to the way folks buy other types of consumer electronics. In other words, they don’t consult analysts — and they don’t set budgets in the previous year. These people can be motivated to move if they see a big benefit or if they become convinced there is a huge problem to be solved.
In addition, the big competition for Vista isn’t Linux or Apple, simply because the migration cost remains too high. (Otherwise, we would see more successful deployments.) It is Windows XP, and Windows XP is in deep trouble. This is because the security — mostly antivirus — industry is beginning to admit it is losing the battle to secure the desktop, particularly in the SMB and consumer space, and the loss is decisive.
Wander over to a site calledSecurity Absurdity, and you will see a collection of credible posts asserting that security firms simply cannot keep up with the “innovation” demonstrated by virus writers at the current rate of attack.
In fact, they go on to say that even the best is only catching nine out of 10 attacks now, and most appear to have a hit rate closer to 50 percent. These numbers are trending down, not up. When the security industry itself is saying it needs massive help, the only thing that can be done is to change how the game is played.
While there are a number of compelling benefits to Vista — I’m actually writing this on a Vista laptop running Office 2007 — the big one is that it dramatically changes the security game and gives the security industry a chance to get ahead of the wave. More important, it gives the buyer peace of mind that Windows XP increasingly cannot provide.
As for Office 2007, if you are a heavy Office user, you have to try it. There is a long list of things that have annoyed me about Office since I started covering Microsoft over a decade and a half ago, starting with the lack of PowerPoint integration and ending with the fact that I virtually never can remember any of the new features.
When I got over the initial differences in this product — and old habits are incredibly hard to break — I suddenly realized that for once, Microsoft had actually made the product more intuitive and actually fixed most of the really annoying stuff that I work around with the older versions every day. If you are a power user like me, it is worth trying it out — but be aware that it is different, so you will need to set aside an hour or so to learn the differences.
In the end, I think the environment is ripe for both products to move ahead of expectations, but it will be up to Microsoft to execute — and that isn’t always a sure thing. Now, if Microsoft could market like Apple markets, then I’d be much more comfortable with an aggressive projection. For now, all I can say is the market is ripe, and it’s up to Microsoft to pick the fruit.
Did Sony Kill Blu-ray?
This is more of a short update, but if you are watching PS3 sales, you know that the company will have a hard time hitting 600,000 units sold by year end, and there are already rumors that it may have to recall some of the initial systems for problems.
This follows battery and camera recalls that have many questioning Sony’s ability to execute right now. Sony just experienced an executive shake-up that may put the company in better shape. When a company has as many problems as it had over the last 12 months, corporate should — and generally does — take the majority of the blame.
The interesting thing is that when Microsoft and Sony came down on opposite sides, many assumed that Microsoft wouldn’t even get a vote. No one anticipated that simply by creating a low cost HD DVD accessory, it could change that dynamic dramatically. It shouldn’t have been a surprise, given that those of us who thought Blu-ray would initially win believed it because of projected PS3 sales — and PS3 should have created a decisive win for Sony and Blu-ray.
Unfortunately, there were massive production problems and cost overruns, and Sony could only get a fraction of the systems into the market channel. As a result, Microsoft is projected to have 10 million Xbox 360s by the end of this year, against Sony’s 600,000 PS3s. If Microsoft has just a 20 percent attach rate for its US$200 drive — which is selling out, by the way — it will have nearly 4x the number of HD DVD drives in consumer hands.
If you think about it, Sony also ends the year behind Nintendo, which is expected to sell around 1 million Wii game systems. This suggests that while the PS3 should have assured the success of Blu-ray, Blu-ray may have assured the failure of the PS3 — at least for 2006. Now that is just weird.
Megatasking: The Future of the PC
Both Intel and AMD have started to showcase the advantages of multi-core systems. This is far from unusual, because vendors need to be able to sell their latest technologies. To do this, they have come up with a concept that we find intriguing: megatasking.
In a world where we are increasingly asked to expand our workday but also need to continue to find time to enjoy media and gaming, more of us find ourselves doing both things at once. From RSS (really simple syndication) feeds to job-focused software, we increasingly have to run multiple resource-intensive applications at the same time.
The threat of external attack continues to increase, requiring more and more resources for protection.
Realistically, at least for those of us in the power-user class — and I’m a card carrying member, myself — multi-core is the new Mhz. This shouldn’t be a surprise. Connecting back to the beginning of this column, Windows Vista loves — and I do mean loves — multi-core.
While Windows 2000, the core of Windows XP, simply didn’t anticipate (how could it?) the move to quad-core systems, Vista anticipates the proliferation of cores. For those of us who are bored with the limitations of a single core system, multi-core, megatasking and, yes, even Windows Vista will probably become much more important going forward.
Rob Enderle is a TechNewsWorld columnist and the Principal Analyst for the Enderle Group, a consultancy that focuses on personal technology products and trends.