Vista slow to unfold

With Vista off to a slow start, the only things flowing freely are the Microsoft marketing dollars

How much does software cost? If you're Mark Shuttleworth, an initial investment of $10m creates Ubuntu. If you're Microsoft, then you spend 100 times as much over the lifetime of XP just in marketing, and 600 times as much building Vista — followed by half a billion more kick-starting the next five years of marketing. No wonder "Wow" is the word.

There's not much Wow elsewhere. Analysts are reporting that enterprise reaction is matching what our readers and our own experiences are telling us: with many reasons to delay adoption and virtually none to hasten it, wait and see is the order of the day. It demands new hardware and is less than tolerant of some old software, while the much-vaunted security has already seen its first flaws. Even companies with a vested interest in seeing Vista succeed are dragging their heels over using it themselves. It's unlikely much will change until the first service pack — scheduled for later this year. Then, say the pundits, it's a new game.

Perhaps. It's instructive to compare this hope to what happened with XP. There, Service Pack 1 didn't provoke much of a reaction for two reasons: the original software was seen as good enough to get those who needed to upgrade — and with Windows 98 in the frame, there were lots of those — but without having enough new features to excite those who had reliable systems running under Windows 2000. SP1 did nothing for either camp. SP2 was a different story: lots more features, including much better online and offline security, made XP a winning proposition even for the hold-outs. The chances are higher than Microsoft would like that Vista will have a similarly slow rate of acceptance, and for similar reasons.

Which makes Microsoft's investment of half a billion dollars in Vista marketing seem somewhat forlorn. The best the company can hope for is that we don't forget about the operating system until it heaves itself into relevance, in which case it may have got better value from a few blokes in sandwich boards. As it stands, it runs the risk that the only Wow Vista will bring to mind is as an acronym for "When oh when?". Better code, not larger adverts, next time please.