In a previous article I talked about some of the ways Microsoft might be able to learn from its mistakes with Windows Vista and deliver a winner with Windows 7. I also hit pretty close to home with a number of readers when I talked about the real world problems my own Mother-in-law has been having with her Vista machine -- and how I may have to eventually downgrade her to XP. So the question is -- how do we get past this? How do we end the negative sentiments that people have about Vista? Clearly, this is not just a perception is reality thing. Many, many industry pundits, analysts and experts alike have noted that Vista has a large number of compatibility, performance and usability issues, this despite Microsoft's best efforts to patch the system with SP1. Some people arguably have experienced more of these Vista problems than others, which vary depending entirely on the hardware they have and the software they actually run.
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My own Mother-In-Law is having a horrible time with Vista because she uses a critical vertical application for the Real Estate industry that runs on a web site that was never designed to run on Vista and Internet Explorer 7, and is experiencing constant bugs with the latest Vista updates to AOL Instant Messenger. I can't run Vista on my own laptop because none of my company's internal applications and support stack are certified to work with it and Office 2007 and Visio 2007 works just fine on XP. This situation is extremely common, as many large companies have standardized builds of Windows with a specific stack of stuff that needs to be deployed to many thousands of people.
(Click on left photo for video) Other people have problems running specific applications and utilities that are deal breakers for Vista, such as VPN clients and home-grown legacy applications that were built for older versions of Windows and won't function correctly in Vista due to its security model or other quirks. At the end of the day, most people that are running the new OS have problems with SOMETHING on Vista, be it an actual incompatibility or usability annoyances and it doesn't seem to matter if it's on new systems that have it preloaded or on upgraded machines. This is not a mountains-out-of-a-molehill-don't-worry-we'll-get-past-this-soon problem. These are real problems, they are documented all over the industry and in test labs in every major IT department in large corporations, and all signs have led to the sad truth that its the most painful Windows transition we've ever had to make. The Vista apologists can flame the hell out of me, I don't care, because I'm telling it like it is. I wear asbestos-lined underwear and I'm from New Jersey. I can handle the abuse, trust me.
So with Vista being what it is, what do we do? Clearly, for consumers who buy new PCs, there isn't much choice in the matter. Those folks are are getting Vista by default (well, okay, unless they buy a Dell or Lenovo machine and can get Linux as an installable option) unless their OEM can offer them some sort of downgrade certificate at extra cost. This is only a realistic option until April of 2009, when the entitlements run out for OEMs.
Corporations with Enterprise Agreements can continue to use XP until 2014, so they can continue to wait things out a bit -- at least until their current crop of PC's has to be replaced and the new systems absolutely won't run XP bare-metal anymore. They could also decide to get creative and go with a virtual infrastructure with centralized virtualized desktops and thin clients -- a real alternative that CIOs are actually considering now.
Given these challenges, what can Microsoft itself do to entice people now to go out and get new Vista systems or upgrade their existing systems given all the bad press?
As I suggested with a possible design strategy for Windows 7, I still think virtualization is the answer. Yeah, I know, I think virtualization is the answer to everything -- it will deliver world peace and end world hunger and the energy crisis -- but bear with me for a moment. What if Microsoft were to offer a free download of an XP SP3 Virtual Machine image that any Vista user can use to run their legacy apps on, in a mature environment? This way, they'd be able to take advantage of all of Vista's new features, plus have the safety of a "sandboxed" XP environment to run those sticky apps that break Vista.
And although Microsoft has said they aren't going to port Hyper-V to Vista in a "lite" version (which would be my preference, since we now know the basic technology works well) they could partner with a company like Sun -- who they already have a technology sharing alliance with -- and provide xVM VirtualBox 1.6 as a free download with the pre-baked XP3 VM, which could be stripped down and optimized so it doesn't eat up a ton of memory. (EDIT: They could certainly use their own Virtual PC 2007 as well, but its not as versatile or as high performance as VirtualBox.) And to sweeten the pot even further, I'd partner with a major memory vendor like Crucial/Micron or Kingston to offer RAM upgrades at a discounted price for anyone with a legit Vista license.
What else can Microsoft do to make lemonade out of lemons? Talk Back and let me know.
The postings and opinions on this blog are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.