People are polarized about Windows Vista. Very polarized. While some cannot wait for the final version to be pressed onto DVDs so they can install away to their heart's content, others are very worried about the impact this new operating system will have on the PC landscape.
One recurring theme is that the increased hardware requirements Vista demands will cause a huge spike in PC prices as manufacturers cram more into a PC in order to get the operating system to run smoothly. The thinking is that because Vista demands more computing power and system resources than XP it will mean prices will have to go up dramatically (we could go back to the "Vista won't run on a $1,000 PC" debate a while back).
Let's get some things into perspective here. First, Vista is still four months away, and things can change a lot over that time. Certainly the prices of some components will fall over this period (especially graphics cards, hard drives and probably RAM too), so this will mean that come Jan 2007 $X will buy a better PC than you can get for the same money now.
Secondly, there seems to be a belief that Microsoft pulls system requirements out of the air. This isn't how it happens. When developing an operating system, Microsoft developers work very closely with hardware manufacturers and OEMs at all stages in the development process. You don't get to hear much about this process because the whole thing is carried out under a veil of NDAs, but it happens. What would be the logic in coming out with an OS that OEMs couldn't support?
Finally though, I think that the increased system requirements are, ultimately, a good thing and will benefit customers. I say this because for too many years PC manufacturers have got away with selling PCs that barely run Windows and leave little room for other applications, especially resource-hogging applications. Gaming, for example, is one area where a lot of customers who buy at the low end get short-changed by OEMs. From January next year, anyone buying a "Vista Premium Ready" PC will have a PC that has a good chance of being able to play many of the popular games, and play them reasonably well. The spec Microsoft has issued for Windows Vista PCs doesn't represent the minimum required to run Vista (you can run Vista on some really meager system resources, as I've discovered using VMware), the system requirements represent a minimum level of hardware needed to give the user a good experience.
Hopefully this will be a good thing because it will decrease the number of people who become disappointed by their PC when they try to use it for demanding applications like gaming, photo or video editing. OK, perhaps they should have done some research and spent a little more before buying a PC, but for those folks who just went on the advice of the sales assistant in the store, Microsoft is giving them a safety net of sorts. Yes, it might be a little hard on people who want to upgrade an old machine, but to be honest, if your machine is not up to Windows Vista spec, you're better off spending the money on hardware rather than on a new OS. Remember, there's no rush to upgrade to Vista - in the words of fellow ZDNet blogger Ed Bott, "Under Microsoft's published guidelines, consumers will have more than four years to safely say no to Windows Vista, and business users will be able to hold out until at least 2014". XP is going to be around for a long time!
But what about PCs that will never see a game installed nor see a digital photo or video that needs editing? Then that's where the "Windows Vista Capable" PC comes in. This will not be capable of running the Aero interface (along with a few other differences) but this will otherwise be able to run Vista well and again give the end user a good computing experience.