In Don Reisinger’s case, it’s miss. I’m struck by the inanity of his recent article about Vista, even though I might agree with it in theory.

But I digress. Although Windows XP running Service Pack 3 is almost twice as fast as Windows Vista running SP1 and major hardware manufacturers are still selling XP machines out of desire for once, Microsoft wants to hold on to Vista regardless of where it takes the company. Will it force the company into a tailspin? I think it already has. Will it get worse? Possibly. But if Microsoft heeds my warnings and follows some of the tips I will outline below, Windows Vista may not be the utter failure I think it will be if nothing changes.

Of course Microsoft is going to hang onto Vista. Does he really think they’re going to just drop the product, say “Oh, sorry, guys, that one sucked. Check back in three years, and we’ll try to have gotten it right”? Here’s what no one seems to realize: Microsoft doesn’t live on the quality of it’s operating system. It lives on its entrenched market share and the breadth of software available for the platform. Vista can be as bad as it wants1, but most OEMs bundle it regardless; those that don’t will probably do so in the next year. Most software will work unmodified on Vista; newer hardware generally has drivers available. Vista won’t make or break Microsoft because most people are too lazy to bother switching. They’ll upgrade when the time comes or someone else upgrades for them. Eventually, Microsoft will force the issue, and that’ll be that. Perhaps Microsoft’s 90% grip on the market will lose a couple of percentage points to Apple or Linux, but they’ll still rake in the dough from people buying Office 2007 (regardless of the Ribbon UI) and the same corporate shills buying bulk licenses of Vista. It’s inevitable, and opining about a “tailspin” is both lazy and ridiculous.

But Don doesn’t leave it there. He offers handy “tips” to Microsoft that they’ll ignore at their peril.

Tip 1: Go open source

Yes, you read that correctly. As far as I can tell, the only real solution to fixing Windows’ slew of issues is to go open source. Now, contrary to popular belief, open-source software does not mean free software, so Microsoft can continue to sell the OS on an open-source platform without sacrificing its bottom line.

What will this achieve, you ask? It’s quite simple really: an open-source Vista will allow any and all people to fix the code as they see fit and (for once) create a solid and secure Windows OS. Even better, it’ll put Apple on notice and help create a possible marketing campaign surrounding the fact that Leopard is the only major OS that doesn’t allow users to do what they want with a product they have purchased.

Not a week goes by that some half-wit doesn’t talk about Windows going open source. It’s not going to happen. It will never happen, and at this point there is very little for Microsoft to gain by doing so.

  1. Microsoft licenses goodness-only-knows how many proprietary technologies and pays for patent indemnities for its OS. None of that could be open-sourced, and would have to be stripped out before the source could be released. You think that’s going to happen?
  2. Vista contains millions of lines of code. Even if every single bit of it were released under the GPL tomorrow, we wouldn’t see benefits for years while hackers tried to grok it. There’s no guarantee that the smartest programmers would be interested anyway—maybe they still want to hack on Linux or BSD instead. Remember that Windows hasn’t won on its technical merits, but on its market share and Microsoft’s deep pockets.
  3. Open-source software does not mean free-as-in-beer software, no, but Microsoft’s still going to have no revenue from Windows if they do that. Support’s a different thing, however. But their bottom line would change, for the worse. FOSS is a different business model, period.
  4. Open source isn’t a silver bullet that’s magically going to fix all the problems in Windows. Microsoft would still be the arbiter of the codebase, and we all know that trying to get patches accepted to projected headed by protective companies can be touch and go (at best). Again, it would be years before this new Microsoft/Community relationship would be productive.

Tip 2: Eliminate all of those versions and only sell Ultimate

Do we really need a slew of Vista iterations? I certainly don’t think so. In this realm, Apple has it right: release one version of the software and maintain simplicity. Sure, people like you and me may know what the differences between Vista Home Basic and Vista Ultimate are, but can the same be said for Grandma Jane?

You know why Microsoft sells so many versions of Windows? It’s a way to maximize profit. You and I might think it odious, but it’s basic economics: “price discrimination” extracts from customers the price they are willing to pay. Thus, someone who is willing to spend $300 for Vista will buy Ultimate, and those only willing to spend $200 will buy Home Premium. These are the exact same product, remember, bit-for-bit, with some thing simply disabled in the latter.

Again, it’s a rather sneaky and monopolistic thing to do, but most businesses do it. It’s the market. And while Microsoft may spend fractionally more time determining version, Vista for them is much easier since every version of Windows has the same bits. Their overhead is greatly reduced as opposed to XP. Thus, price discrimination makes perfect sense for Microsoft.

Tip 4: Ditch Windows 7 and bring Windows online

This industry is moving towards the online space. Period. And so far, most accounts out of Redmond have stated that the next version of Windows will improve on some of the issues with current iterations of the OS, but no mention has been made (or even rumors leaked) that Microsoft will create an online element for Windows.

And it’s for that reason that it should stop wasting its money on another desktop solution and use its endless supply of cash on something worthwhile–an online version of Windows. Can you imagine the surprise on the face of Steve Jobs if Microsoft hit the stage at CES in five years and said that Windows will be heading to the Internet? Even I would be excited to see that.

I become enraged every time I hear someone talk about Windows becoming entirely “online”. They seem to have forgotten what an operating system is; namely, it’s an abstraction layer between the userspace and the hardware. That’s it. Widgets are something entirely different, and if Microsoft wants to make people use an online version of Solitaire, then they can go ahead and maybe Don will get all moist.

What would an “online” Windows even consist of? I’ve seen so-called online operating systems and failed to be impressed.

Here’s the thing: network connectivity is all good and fine, but we don’t have the software infrastructure or the network infrastructure to offload everything to remote servers. And nobody wants it. As much as Don berates Vista for its poor performance, I’m surprised he thinks that thin clients have anything interesting to offer.

Maybe I’m a dinosaur, but I like having my programs installed locally. They’re faster and more responsive and they’re under my control. No one has yet to even speculate as to what an “online” Windows would even be, but it hasn’t stopped pundits like Don from sanctimoniously proclaiming that Microsoft will die unless it offloads Windows into the internet. In the words of Dilbert: “Goodbye paperless; hello clueless.”

  1. In my experience, Vista isn’t bad, just completely superfluous[]
§1937 · November 29, 2007 · Tags: , , , , , ·

1 Comment to “Tech punditry is hit or miss”

  1. Conor says:

    I agree that the online stuff is absolutely crackpot material, but I disagree with your statement that no benefit would be seen from open sourcing Vista until years down the line.

    Of course, it won’t happen, I’m just saying that I think what you think won’t happen about something that we both think won’t happen is…

    Fuck it. Linux rocks, OK?

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