Slow start for Vista? So what else is new?

Businesses don't want to upgrade. Hardware makers are dragging their feet producing compatible drivers. Windows users are sticking with the old version because the new one isn't all that different. Sound familiar? This month's Vista predictions are ripped straight from the headlines in the late 1990s.

As part of a consulting contract, I've been reading up on the history of Windows in the mid-1990s. Given the criticisms of Windows Vista I've been seeing lately, I thought this article from InfoWorld in March 18, 1996 (seven months after the launch of Windows 95) was interesting:

"I'm finding it difficult to convince my clients to look at 32-bit Windows. Most of them are choosing to stay in 16-bit Windows-land, at least until [1997], they tell me," [one consultant] says.

Gee, people took their own sweet time to upgrade to the single most hyped Windows version ever? Imagine that.

And would you believe it? A bunch of hardware makers were slow to release working drivers for the new operating system, even though it had been released to manufacturing eight months earlier. This snippet from the same story sounds familiar, doesn't it?

[T]he holdup is caused by the slow adoption rate of Plug and Play by add-in board, card, and other peripheral manufacturers. When hardware manufacturers are producing Plug and Play devices, the accompanying drivers often don't work correctly. And many vendors haven't bothered yet to produce drivers for legacy equipment.

And then there's the business market, which doesn't seem to be stampeding to Vista. Exactly as they didn't stampede to Windows 95 or Windows 98 or any other new version of Windows ever.

In July 1999, a year after the launch of Windows 98, Stephanie Miles and Joe Wilcox reported on CNET that the four-year-old Windows 95 was continuing to outsell the shiny new Windows 98. Here's their bold-faced lead:

Despite the hoopla and expectations that accompanied the launch of the Windows 98 operating system, research shows that its predecessor remains the popular choice.

The same story snagged these quotes from a pair of prominent analysts:


"Windows 95 didn't cease to ship just because Windows 98 was launched," said Dan Kusnetzky, an IDC analyst. "Windows 95 did the work a lot of people wanted done, so why change? There wasn't sufficient new technology that was evident from the sidelines to make people want to change."


"This is not terribly surprising," said Dwight Davis, an analyst with Summit Strategies. "Many people noted at the time that Windows 98 wasn't a stunningly different operating system, to put it kindly. There was no real major reason to shift over to Windows 98 if they were already on Windows 95."

Substitute "Windows XP" and "Windows Vista" for "Windows 95" and "Windows 98" and bump the numbers by an order of magnitude and you could recycle that story this summer, eight years later.

Of course, one could argue that the Mac OS and Linux are much stronger competitors today. For the Mac, the comparison with 1999 is certainly an improvement. But the chart on that CNET piece showed Macs with a 5% market share in 1998 and Linux with a 2.1% share. As of last month, Macs had a combined share (Intel and non-Intel designs) of 6.3% according to Net Applications, with Linux weighing in at 0.38%. No, I don't believe that Linux number either, but the best recent estimate I can find is IDC's "around 2% of market share for the past three years," with a projection of 2.8% by 2009.

Somehow, Windows 95 and its successors managed to win a few converts over the long haul, despite slow beginnings. Perhaps there's a lesson here for those who are making premature predictions about Vista.