Maybe they're smarter than I thought

Maybe they're smarter than I thought

Summary: Microsoft, what were you thinking when you released a lame Windows Vista Home Basic? Could it be that you were beating the antitrust wolves at their own game?


About three weeks ago I railed against Microsoft for publicly announcing so many 'flavors' of Windows Vista (see What was Microsoft thinking?) -- a total of SIX, although two of them (Starter Edition and Enterprise Edition) are not even available to consumers anywhere in the industrialized world. 

But what I was most perplexed by was the fact that Microsoft has put many millions of dollars into the promotion of the AERO interface and then left it out of their entry-level product -- namely Vista Home Basic.  Why would they DO this? 

Having spent many years in IT -- starting out using IBM mainframes, and even doing a stint in UNIX systems administration and support, I have come to appreciate the Windows environment, not for its technical superiority (in my mind, UNIX still reigns supreme) but for its accessibility to everyone.  It truly is the the operating system for the everyman

This title should have belonged to the Apple Macintosh, but Apple took a different path into the hearts and minds of its customers.  MacOSX continues to do everything that Windows does and, even with Vista on the scene, it does it as well if not better -- and it has UNIX under the hood.  This proves that UNIX can be accessible to the consumer -- and by analogy, that Linux too could be an operating system for the masses as well, if it left behind those obscure mnemonics that leave UNIX where it is today -- relegated to the machine room because it is only understood by the very few.  (See Five crucial things the Linux community doesn’t understand about the average computer user.)  But let's get back to Microsoft, and their decision to release Windows Vista Home Basic...

In my mind, Home Basic is flawed in one very important way -- it lacks the AERO interface.  This interface is the cornerstone of Microsoft's advertising to those of us who throw all sensibility aside and choose to upgrade just for the eye-candy!  And there are a lot of us!

Admittedly, part of my beef is that consumers are being led to believe that they have no choice but to put Home Basic on any computer with only 512MB of RAM.  This simply isn't true.  AERO runs very nicely with only 512MB of RAM.  Is it better with 1GB of RAM?  Sure, but a fast thumb drive will fix that problem for less money than the cost of more RAM.  In the end, available RAM has very little to do with AERO functionality. 

The second part of this conspiracy to sell consumers more hardware than they need is that OEMs suggest that entry-level machines do not have the graphics capability to run AERO unless the consumer also upgrades the graphics card.  This is another myth as nearly all of the entry-level machines on the market today are using graphics chipsets which are AERO capable. 

In effect, Microsoft has given OEMs license to lie to consumers about the true capabilities of their new systems in order to step them up to Home Premium just to get the eye-candy that Microsoft has been pushing for nearly a year now! 

In Microsoft's defense (an unpopular position, I know), there is one very good reason that Microsoft has Windows Vista Home Basic in its product line... 

For years, Microsoft has been under attack by its competition, and under the scrutiny of the Department of Justice, and the European Union (which seemly takes their cues from Microsoft's competition) because they believe that Microsoft uses anti-competitive practices in their dealings with OEMs and competitors. 

The cornerstone of the argument that led the courts (in the USA and in Europe) to declare Microsoft guilty of said practices is that Microsoft integrates tools into their operating system to the exclusion of competitor's products. 

Of course this is also why Windows is so popular for consumers.  Not only is it cost-effective, its a one-stop solution which requires very little special knowledge to use.  Macintosh is less cost-effective, and even today, Linux is far less consumer-friendly than Windows (although it is getting more so.)

Microsoft's solution was simple ...

By introducing Windows Vista Home Basic, Microsoft avoids the inconvenience of having to introduce a "stripped down" version of Vista to a limited market (as they did upon EU insistence for Windows XP, and which nobody in Europe really wanted!) 

Allowing OEMs throughout the world sell this lame version of Windows Vista in otherwise capable entry-level systems gave them the opportunity to place a more full-function product at a higher price-point and to provide consumers an easy upgrade path called Anytime Upgrade which cuts out the OEM and the reseller while making a little more money for Microsoft.  The consumer is happier because they don't have to leave home to upgrade their Vista Home Basic system, and guess what?

Microsoft's competitors cannot complain to the DoJ or the EU when consumer who could have chosen Vista Home Basic for their new computer but choose Vista Home Premium instead. 

  • OEMs are happy because most consumers upgrade to Vista Home Premium (adding unneeded RAM, and over-powered graphics),
  • the EU and DoJ are happy because Vista Home Basic opens the door for competitors selling custom graphics, multimedia, backup, and firewall solutions,
  • Microsoft is happy because it costs them next to nothing to upgrade users disenchanted with Vista Home Basic, and it keeps the anti-trust hounds at bay, and finally ...
  • Sophisticated consumers who know what they want and need are ahppy because they do not want to be encumbered with Microsoft tools which they don't want and won't use.

Does anybody lose here? 

A few.  Mostly entry-level consumers who are being duped by OEMs into spending an extra $120 or more for RAM and a graphics card they don't need in order to have the privilege of spending an extra $30-$50 on Vista Home Premium so they too can have the AERO eye-candy! 

People in IT either love or hate Microsoft but no matter which camp you happend to be in, they are shrewd when it comes to making sound business decisions. 

Topics: Microsoft, Hardware, Windows

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  • recommend that you atleast know little bit before you speak like authority

    "I have come to appreciate the Windows environment, not for its technical superiority (in my mind, UNIX still reigns supreme) but for its accessibility to everyone."

    I'd recommend that you atleast read 'Inside Windows 2000' by Russinovich and Mark Solomon before you state that Windows is not technically superior to Unix.
    If you have programming and OS internals background, you should be able to comprehend everything in the book and on reading you'll realize how well designed, well crafted, Windows is.
    • I take it you know all about UNIX internals then. NT

    • In some ways, yes.

      I don't doubt what you say is true but their are some very obvious things that UNIX does very well that Windows does not do well. In other areas, Windows is superior.
      M Wagner
    • Authority

      he may or may not be, but his conclusion is quite reasonable. All the 'well-crafted' features you mention are why Linux has an 'edge', not a blowout, in that environment. Those ex-VMS programmers did a pretty good job on the underpinnings of Windows.

      Are you an 'internals authority'?
  • There's more to Home Premium than just eye candy

    I got a laptop with Home Premium because I have an DVB tuner and I wanted a good Windows solution to go along with it (WinTV's DVB tuner never worked out of the box, and the GPLed MediaPortal, while not horrible, crashes too much). And I wound up upgrading the memory it came with anyway, so it's not like that entered into my decision.

    I do use Aero because it looks okay, but it's very weak compared to the existing compiz and Beryl themes out there for Linux, and it's not that much better than the other themes, so it's not like I would have resisted Home Basic just the lack of Aero. And anyway there's still plenty of weaknesses in Vista's overall appearance (you can't even customize the clock for pete's sake, much less have transparent panels/taskbars) to make the minor interface advantages a reason to upgrade.

    Vista's still not enough to convince this 7 year Linux veteran to switch back, but it will probably be enough to convince those who were looking to switch to hold off switching for at least one more cycle, and I'm sure MS will be happy with that.
    Michael Kelly
    • Of course there is ...

      ... but most users will never use those extra features! If AERO weren't "missing" most consumers would be completely happy with Home Basic.

      You are not a typical consumer, however. You are in a position to start with Home Basic (or Linux) and pick and chose what features you want and either buy them commercially or hunt down an open-source solution which you find acceptable. Most consumers have neitehr the time nor the expertise to do that.

      Microsoft is the dominant market leader because they cater to entry-level consumers, not geeks like us.
      M Wagner
  • Graphics Comparison

    I'd like to see some more info on a comparison between graphics capabilities between these base systems with no graphics card running AERO and those with a graphics card running AERO. Do you have a link to real-world data or are you just claiming that AERO runs as well on integrated video as it does on a video card??
    • I am certainly NOT claiming ...

      ... that integrated graphics with shared memory will perform as well as a video card with its own memory and dedicated GPU. What I am claiming is that most entry-level desktop systems with integrated graphics chipsets will run AERO. Nothing more.

      Consumers shopping for entry-level systems don't need to buy more that 512MB of RAM or an upgraded graphics card to run AERO. But, thanks to Microsoft's decision to leave AERO out of Home Basic, consumers DO have to buy Home Premium to get AERO and most OEMs will not sell Home Premium without forcing consumers to buy more memory and pushing them to buy a graphics card upgrade as well.

      Bottom line? If you are a typical consumer shopping for an entry-level system, Vista Home Basic and 512MB of RAM will do everything that XP Home did for you with 128MB of RAM and it will do it MUCH BETTER and at a lower cost.

      If you are an experienced user, you do not need my advice. You know the benefits of running with 1GB+ of RAM and 128MB+ of dedicated graphics RAM.
      M Wagner
  • vista ripoff more than just aero. multimedia defects more important than

    the way over-hyped aero.

    when i put a dvd into the drive, windows promply informed me that basic needs a codec to play the dvd and suggested i upgrade to premium or buy a third party codec certified for vista.

    so i installed my oem supplied dvd-player software.

    then windows says this program has compatibility issues with vista and the only "solution" is to upgrade the software.

    and the oem supplied dvd-burner software won't install. says my version of windows is not supported.

    well, vista and M$ can take a flying leap for all i care.

    not gonna pay over a hundred dollars for an OS just to play and record cd/dvd discs.

    not gonna upgrade if it means buying all new software to do what i now do with win2k, especially if i can get Linux to work for me.

    an OS that offers a closed options list like the cable companies is not for me.



    • More likely than not ...

      ... the provider of your original DVD drive and CODEC will have on their web site the Vista drivers that you need that you can download for free.
      M Wagner
      • Or more likely still

        they will be there, for a fee. Been burned that way before.....
        • YOU ARE SO RIGHT. my friend. the web site has the patch. but it won't

          intall on the oem version of the player and wants me to upgrade.

          the burner software problem is with the installer itself.
          since it has no license key i can't just download the new installer.

          burned at both ends.

          vista can go hang.


          • It's not Microsoft's fault ...

            ... that vendors took shortcuts on their code. Vista conforms to Windows XP certification standards. If their code met Windows XP, it would work under Vista.
            M Wagner
    • I upgraded to Home Basic also and . . .

      the DVD player software from the OEM that worked in XP Home did not run in Vista, and the OEM upgrade package falsely led me to believe they were providing an upgrade to the program. When I tried to install the upgrade, it reported that it could not upgrade because no previous version was installed. Anyway, I was able to run the old version of the DVD player in Vista by setting it to run in XP SP2 compatibility mode, even though Vista reports compatibility issues with the program.
  • Tell me why,

    if those responsible for the plethora of [b]Vista[/b] editions/flavours are as ?smart? as you are beginning to suspect, only the [b]Enterprise[/b] and [b]Ultimate[/b] editions allow users to freely add language support and [b]IME[/b]'s to the default language(s) (usually US English and one other, for users in other countries) supported. Given the name of the edition and the fact that business today is very often international in scope, I expected that at the very least, the [b]Business[/b] edition would have provided support for those using a multiplicity of languages with widely varying orthographies. After installing this OS on my computer, however, I discovered that my expectations were naive - when one attempts to add new languages to the list of those supported, the OK button is greyed out, making it impossible to carry out the procedure. Not much skin off my particular nose, it is true - I can easily make use of [b]Ubuntu 7.04[/b] and [b]SCIM[/b] to input CJK languages from my keyboard - but is that really what [b]Windows[/b] gurus want their customers to do ?...

    • Enterprise edition ...

      ... is really just Business Edition for those companies big enough to take advantage of volume licensing. Ultimate offers all the bells and whistles because MS can get a premium price for it -- especially in mutliple-computer enrivonments.
      M Wagner
  • How does a thumb drive speed up Vista?

    Could someone explain how can a thumb drive speed up this bloatware??
    • The reason why VISTA looks like ...

      ... 'bloatware' to many people unfamiliar with the technology is that it wastes no RAM. If VISTA doesn't need RAM for the the 'resident' portion of the OS, it will turn that disk space into a write-through cache. Windows Vista could't do this so you always saw lots of free physical RAM.

      On a 512MB machine, VISTA's RAM 'footprint' is about 360MB but there is 0 MB of physical RAM availabile. The rest of that RAM is used as a write-through cache to speed disk I/O. On a 1GB system, the RAM 'footprint' jumps to about 550MB but free physical RAM is still less than 5MB becaise the rest of RAM is being used as a disk cache.

      Only in RAM configurations over 1GB does phsycial RAM begin to free up.

      High-speed thumb drives speed up 512MB systems by using the thumb drive as a write-through cache. This frees up RAM for resident code.

      Thumb drives will speed up 1GB systems to a lesser degree but systems with 2GB of RAM or more gain little, or anythign drom having a thumb drive used for disk caching.
      M Wagner
  • A thought to this matter.

    My humble opinion on this story encompasses the idea that Microsoft probably felt that the budget-driven consumer would shell out enough money to buy the basic version of Windows Vista for the home since they surely felt, like myself, that I could live without the aero interface. As far as the costs involved in upgrading in prol of more powerful video graphic adapters and random access memory, the entry level users lose out if they do not educate them on the concept of purchasing a newer computer to replace the "clunker" they own. I know this from experience of six years in the computer repair field. There is only so much ceiling to go through until you reach it, and upgrading can only take you too far before it becomes prohibitive.
  • UNIX mnemonics == productivity

    You state that "Linux too could be an operating system for the masses as well, if it left behind those obscure mnemonics that leave UNIX where it is today"

    Actually I yesterday took a leap and on a meeting with some users I "educated" them about three or four windows or application shortcut keys, and all five cheered by realizing how something trivial as "ctrl+k" in outlook to complete the email address being typed in could increase their productivity.

    In Linux desktops, the ubiquity of keyboard shortcuts to perform a task is a key feature (pun intended). The concise UNIX command names, which I guess are what you refer to as obscure mnemonics, are the equivalent for the non-graphical environment.
    I'm not going to argue that any windows users jump right into the Linux/UNIX cli; but they would be better off when made to realize that these features would improve their experience rather than be a burden to learn.