Maybe they're smarter than I thought

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.