Vista: MS still owns the desktop

By the time Vista is released, it will have been seven years since Microsoft made a meaningful OS release with Windows 2000. Linux developers have missed that gaping opportunity. Vista shows Redmond on top of its game.

When you are looking for an operating system to run your mission critical systems on, you look for an OS that is stable, manageable, secure, scalable, and that can perform when called upon. That being the case, there is little mystery as to why Linux has made inroads into the server rooms of many organizations.

The desktop, however, is an entirely different matter altogether. People define a good desktop OS as one that is attractive, easy to use, and runs their favorite applications. This has been where Linux has struggled. Even with Gnome and KDE and the various other flavors of GUI that have been placed on top of Linux, it has had to work hard to get to the point where it was comparable to a Windows XP desktop.

Over time, though, the work was beginning to pay off. Companies like Red Hat and Novell were driving things forward as Microsoft made only incremental changes to its flagship OS. Most of these changes were not ground-breaking, and if the desktop OS space were a horse race, you could feel Linux beginning to close on the frontrunner in terms of features and functionality.

But as Microsoft has watched Linux creep into the server room (mostly supplanting UNIX rather than Windows) someone at MS must have decided that they were not going to give an inch in the desktop space without a fight. Thus, we have the impending release of Windows Vista.

From a sneak peak demonstration and hands-on with Microsoft Vista last week, all I have to say is that if MS comes through- and all the functions and features that were shown and described to me turn out to be reliable - Microsoft has raised the bar in desktop computing. The session I had with Vista was the first time in a very long time that I have left an MS OS demo with the feeling that I want that OS running on my desktop.

If you have read my columns long enough, you know that, to a certain degree, it pains me to say this. I have always felt that competition is a good thing, and I have been a Linux advocate for quite some time. But the desktop Linux community will really have its work cut out for it after Vista debuts.

So what is so great about Vista? The look and feel of the OS, its new security model, additional group policy objects, new ability to deploy a single OS image over a variety of hardware, the ability to take advantage of existing hardware in new ways, and many other features. It is not your old XP with a new face. Because I saw a build that has not been released to the public yet, I can’t go into many specifics, but suffice it to say that it is definitely an improvement over XP and 2000.

So is there anything that troubles me about the new OS? Of course! The new scripting system has me worried. While it may prove to be a very powerful tool, I am still gun-shy about malicious scripts that may get unleashed on my OS. While MS states that this is the most secure Windows ever and it has been built with security in mind, history tells me to be cautious here. Again, any conclusions can’t be drawn until the OS is released and adopted by the masses to find out its true strengths and weaknesses. I hope this won’t be a weakness, but it is the first place I might expect to see problems.

The other thing that bothers me a little is not technical in nature at all, but it’s about innovation. The new SideBar and Gadgets and search functionality of Vista (at least to me) scream Google Desktop. Yes, it is a little slicker than Google Desktop, but clearly it seems to be inspired by it. This always leads me back to the whole argument about taking third-party products and implementing them in the OS. Wasn’t there a lawsuit about that? Something about antitrust? Silly me, I thought that it might have meant something.

Despite all that, I believe Microsoft has a winner on its hands with Vista, and unlike XP, where organizations had to be convinced that the upgrade from Windows 2000 was worth the trouble, I see organizations moving to Vista fairly quickly.

So for those predicting that this was to be the year where Linux makes some inroads at the corporate desktop level, I say the opportunity has been missed and the bar has been raised. In my opinion, MS is making a statement with Vista that it owns the desktop and plans to keep it that way for quite some time. Only time will tell if Vista is all that it is cracked up to be, but if it comes close, it will find a home on my machines.