Why Windows Vista should not be viewed as a failure

This content is 16 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

Many people expect Windows Vista SP1 to be a turning point for deployment of Microsoft’s latest desktop operating system. Critics have derided Vista, citing it as a disaster for Microsoft, suggesting that it has suffered from adoption rates. Others say that the desktop operating system model is a thing of the past – to be replaced by a “webtop” of cloud-based services. I don’t think that day is here yet – and anyway, we’ve been here before – weren’t thin clients supposed to have taken over by now?

But has Vista really done that badly?

Journalist Paul Thurrott used an interesting comparison in a recent podcast (Windows Weekly episode 48). In a market where 260 million PCs were sold worldwide, Microsoft sold 100 million copies of Vista. Some of those would have been downgraded to Windows XP but what about the 160 million PCs sold without Vista? What were these running? A few Linux machines, some Mac OS X, but mostly Windows XP – and this is what some people are highlighting as a failure to sell Vista.

Thurrott was unable to locate global PC shipment figures for the same period after the Windows XP launch, but he used another method to compare the adoption rates of the two operating systems:

  • At the time of the Windows XP launch, the global installed base of PCs was around 250 million and Microsoft sold 23 million copies of XP in the first year. That equates to an adoption rate of around 9.2%.
  • Looking at the figures for Vista, on an installed base of around a billion PCs, Microsoft shipped 100 million copies – an adoption rate of around 10%.

So, Vista has had a greater adoption rate than XP in its first year and, however you look at it, Microsoft sold 100 million copies. To my mind, that’s not stunning – but not bad either – and it seems that Windows Vista adoption is on the increase. CDW’s Windows Vista Tracking Poll (January 2008) suggests that:

  • The number of organizations evaluating and testing Windows Vista has increased to 48% in January 2008 (up from 29% in February 2007 and 21% in October 2006).
  • 30% of organizations are currently implementing or have implemented Windows Vista.
  • Windows Vista is delivering on expected benefits, with nearly 50% of evaluators/implementers reporting performance above expectation on key features.
  • And, although not part of Windows Vista, but of equal significance whilst examining adoption of Microsoft’s core technologies, 24% of organizations have implemented the Office 2007 System, up from 6% in February 2007.

All of this suggests that Vista (and Office 2007) are already pretty successful. So why the perception that Vista is not ready for the enterprise?

The first barrier is the “wait for the first service pack” mentality. Regardless of its validity, this view certainly exists and the release of SP1 may allow some organisations to start their preparations.

Other perceived barriers are the hardware and software requirements for the operating system but the reality is that any system purchased in the last few years should be capable of running Vista. And, when it comes to device drivers and application support, Microsoft is caught up in a vicious circle where vendors are reluctant to invest in updating their product to work with Windows Vista and customers will not deploy the new operating system unless their hardware and application software requirements can be met. This is the reason that, according to Paul Thurrott, Microsoft worked to ensure that SP1 will resolve issues for 150 enterprise applications that were blocking large-scale customer deployments.

The third issue that I see is that of cost. In the late-1990s, we saw organisations perform technical refreshes every three years or so, fuelled by a combination of technology advances and preparations for avoidance of the “millennium bug”. In recent years, however, the need to roll out the latest and greatest has been tempered somewhat. Rolling out separate hardware and operating system upgrades is often seen as double the trouble, and, unless there is a business benefit that exceeds the disruption and cost of a new desktop environment, organisations are slow to make changes.

Instead, many organisations are considering a system of managed diversity – running Windows Vista on new (and recently purchased) systems but sticking with XP on older machines that do not yet warrant replacement, or where applications do not yet support Vista. This was what Gartner recommended back at the time of the Vista launch and it’s for exactly this reason that I have been critical of Microsoft for taking so long to develop a third service pack for XP – by the time SP3 arrives it will have been almost four years since the last one.

Finally, there is the issue of new features. Windows, like Mac OS X, and any other mature operating system has reached a point where some think it has too many features and others say it needs more. Microsoft has a particularly difficult battle, whereby if it bundles software with the operating system it falls foul of competition laws. It seems to me that many of the Windows Vista improvements are incremental – and that makes a wholesale migration difficult to justify. Perhaps the strongest argument to date has been productivity improvements but these may be offset by people needing to learn new methods of working. With the release of Windows Server 2008 this will start to change – new technologies like network access protection and some of the networking enhancements require a new server infrastructure and that’s when we will start to see a stronger case for adoption of new technology.

Microsoft’s problem is persuading customers to make the move from its own legacy and even when Windows XP is withdrawn from sale in June 2008 (although system builders will still be able to provide XP pre-installed until January 2009), extended support will continue until 2014. Interestingly, Gartner, the same organisation that advised customers to wait before moving to Vista is reported in IT Week as warning firms to start the introduction of Vista no later than 2009 because software vendors are likely to start phasing out Windows XP support after this.

Service pack 1 for Windows Vista is now available for customer download (with some restrictions). It won’t be released on Windows Update for a few months, due to issues with certain hardware devices for which new device drivers will need to be released first, but for those 48% of organisations that are evaluating Vista, SP1 will play a major part. Further details of Vista SP1 and its release schedule may be found in Paul Thurrott’s Vista SP1 FAQ.

Windows Vista may not be perfect (no desktop operating system that I am aware of is) but it does offer improvements over its predecessor and is reaching the mainstream business market. SP1 will accelerate the adoption rate but the main change is that, for many organisations, the move to Vista may be a gradual one and strategies for managing co-existence with legacy operating systems will be crucial.

3 thoughts on “Why Windows Vista should not be viewed as a failure

  1. Surely a lot (perhaps most) of those “sales” are just people who bought new PC’s in the last year or so and got Vista whether they wanted it or not?

    And corporates are always very slow to move; the costs and the logistic nightmares make it very very difficult to plan and – more importantly – to justify to management.

    And XP is certainly good enough.

    I think the days of rapid takeup for new Windows OS’s are probably over.

  2. @Andrew. In business terms, a sale is a sale, regardless of the version that is actually being used – and whilst many will have exercised downgrade rights, there will be others (like me) who upgraded PCs that are not included in the 260 million PCs shipped last year.

    The whole point of this article is twofold: that Vista is not really selling badly compared with Microsoft’s previous client OS release; and that in today’s climate, managed diversity is a reality and we should not expect people to change their entire infrastructure overnight just because something is new – but we should still expect some forwards movement.

    As for XP being good enough. Well, maybe it is today, but it almost certainly won’t be in a couple of years’ time, as third party support begins to wain and Microsoft drop even the lacklustre development for the product that they provide today (4 years for a service pack indeed). As you rightly point out, corporates move slowly and, for the majority, if they haven’t already started to prepare for migration (albeit a piecemeal one) then now is a good time. There will also be a long tail of customers that think XP is good enough for a long time to come (just like those with NT and 2000 systems today).

  3. If you consider Windows Vista as a stepping stone on the way to other things, then Yes I dont think it was a failure. It was definately a learning experience for microsoft. I don’t think it was a polished product at all, and maybe they should not of released it when they did.

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