Windows Vista = Windows Me II?

Is Windows Vista going to be a repeat of the Windows Me marketing and sales disaster that Microsoft experienced back on 2000?

Is Windows Vista going to be a repeat of the Windows Me marketing and sales disaster that Microsoft experienced back in 2000?

Over the past few weeks I've come across a number of articles on tech sites that are putting Windows Vista and Windows Me in the same sentence.  Not good.  Others are more blatant and are directly comparing Vista to Me.  That's really bad and not the kind of comparison that is going to fuel sales.

Pointing out that you've fixed the flaws of the previous version hardly inspires people to part with money a second time around.  When Windows Me was released by Microsoft back in 2000 it was a total debacle. The operating system offered the consumer very little in the way of new technology (a new interface that looked like Windows 2000 and features such as System Restore, UPnP and automatic Windows Updates).  It was tricky to install, trickier still to get running, buggy, tough to get hardware working, even tougher to get legacy hardware running because Microsoft decided to remove non-PnP drivers from the installation CD, had compatibility issues with software, and quite often it just didn’t want to shut down properly. It truly deserved its #4 spot in “The 25 Worst Tech Products of All Time” list. On the plus side … it didn’t have any form of Product Activation.

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I was lucky and I managed to avoid spending too much time with Windows Me (I went from Windows NT 4 to Windows 2000 – both solid operating systems, although NT 4 was limited by hardware and software support) but I know people whose lives were plagued by Windows Me problems.  It was ugly.

Is Vista another Me? I have to say that I think it's a case of yes and no. True, Vista is nowhere near as buggy as Windows Me was and it does offer broad support for hardware. It’s also fast, very reliable (certainly in my experience) and actually quite nice to use (we'll come to whether it's worth the money in a minute). However, Vista does have trouble with quite a lot of legacy hardware and software, something which is quite rightly making people nervous of making the leap. But the area where Windows Vista and Windows Me are too similar is in what they offer in terms of benefits to the end user. If I think back to the marketing material for Windows Me and I remember being told about the new TCP/IP stack, UPnP, System Restore, Image Preview, a whole lot of new games and so on. Now we have Windows Vista and this OS has Aero, Windows Sidebar, Instant Search, improved security, Windows Mail, Media Center support, shadow copy, parental controls and so on. What was the new killer Me feature? I couldn’t see one at the time and if there was one, it still eludes me. Where’s the new killer Vista feature? Hmmm. Again, one just doesn’t stand out.

Microsoft makes a big deal of the new security features present in Vista, but let’s face it, while security is an important aspect of an OS, it’s not very compelling. Security is hardly a “Wow” feature, instead it's just something we expect from our software nowadays.  Pointing out that you've fixed the flaws in the previous version does nothing to inspire customers to hand over their money a second time around.

To be fair, Windows Vista does contain improvements that are geared towards the volume and type of files that users have nowadays. Back when Windows XP was being developed digital cameras and portable media players weren’t as widespread as they are now and as such the average PC user today has far more digital photos, music and videos than they did back in 2000. Windows Vista does make it much easier to navigate through large media collections, but again, this isn’t very “Wow!” is it?

I think there are three issues that are negatively affecting the reception that Vista is getting.

  • First, it’s been 7 years in the making. After that amount of work people expect something special and no matter how pleased you are with Vista (and, overall, I’m pretty pleased with it), it just doesn’t blow you away (the problem here is that Microsoft spent a lot of time working on security, and while this is a good thing in the long run, it just doesn’t blow your hair back).
  • Secondly, Vista has an identity crisis. There are too many versions and too many choices - Home Basic, Home Premium, Ultimate, with Aero, without Aero... I think that consumers would have been happier if Home Basic had been binned and there were only two choices (but then again, OEMs wanted a way to sell low-spec Vista PCs).
  • Finally, price. I just can’t shake the feeling that Vista is too expensive, especially when it comes to Vista Ultimate.

If Vista is perceived by consumers as “Me II” or just another upgrade that they can pass up on, then this will certainly have an adverse effect on PC sales over the next couple of years. If this happens, the upside will be that we’re going to see the PC market become even more cut-throat and competitive. The downsides will be that there could be OEM casualties.