Vista versions are so last century

Microsoft's six versions of Vista show a lack of imagination and awareness that could critically limit the usefulness of the operating system

As more details of Vista are released, it is becoming clear that Microsoft has missed two great opportunities to develop the market

By bundling features into six discrete variants, Microsoft is forcing people to decide ahead of time exactly how they'll be using the operating system. It's making people pay for features they'll never use, and preventing them from buying just those features they want.

This is old-fashioned, cynical marketing of the worst sort, driven entirely by a revenue model that is stuck in an age where people bought things in shops and limits on distribution set limits on choice.

Like the music industry, Microsoft is either too scared or too unimaginative to recognise that those days have gone — and that clinging to outdated distribution models will be a fatal mistake.

Vista was a golden opportunity for Microsoft to show that its unfocussed, unclear Live proposition is more than just Googlephobia. If Vista had been made available with a single low-cost base release and a comprehensive menu of upgrades available online, Microsoft could have demonstrated its understanding of ecommerce — and faith in its own ability to deliver good value to its users. That's true choice.

Yet that's not the worst crime of omission. The single most important advance in computer technology this decade — ubiquitous virtualisation — has been restricted to just one version of Vista. Moreover, this is a version that you cannot buy in any shop: Windows Vista Enterprise, available only to organisations with enterprise-level licensing agreements. Microsoft proposes that they use virtualisation to run older, incompatible applications that won't run on Vista.

This is like inventing anti-gravity and using it to hold your trousers up. Virtualisation is not a fudge to compensate for incompatibilities, it is a fundamental component for the next generation of security and management tools — tools that are desperately needed at home as well as at work.

Properly deployed, virtualisation would have been the one big step forward that validated Vista as a true next-generation operating system. With a hypervisor in all versions, application developers would at last have had a stable, powerful and capable platform on which to build truly secure products.

But it is not to be. Far from producing an operating system fit for the twenty-first Century Microsoft is stuck, heart and mind, in the twentieth. You don't see much of a vista if you're constantly gazing at the past.