Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Windows Vista: DOA?

I have used Microsoft products since DOS 2.0. Yes, I have bitched about them. Probably more than my fair share. But I have always recognized what Microsoft did to the PC industry: they made computers affordable. Most people around today do not remember when $10,000 was considered to be a reasonable price for something vastly inferior to Intuit's Quickbooks, or the annual "maintenance agreement" on your operating system.

Gates and Company also felt that getting something out the door that was less than perfect was better than delaying releases. I remember an outfit called Brown Bag Software that sold a stand-alone outline generator. Unbelievable stuff at the time: small and fast because it was written in hand-optimized assembler. Microsoft had nothing like it until automatic outlining was added to Word (which even now does not work as well). But Brown Bag was so particular about writing perfect code that the pace of the industry just swamped them. Gates is more than willing to ship something that is barely adequate and rely on updates, patches and faster hardware to bail him out. That sounds horrible, but it worked.

That is until now. The fix-on-failure policy may have worked for DOS or even Windows up through version 3.11. but it all seems to be crashing down on Uncle Bill now. For the first time in over 20 years, I'm 100% certain my next computer will not be running a Microsoft OS nor will it be running any Microsoft products. I'm looking seriously at the new Intel-based Mac notebooks, or possibly giving Xandros another try when 4.0 is released. But whatever I do, I won't be running Windows XP. I can't be alone in thinking that by the time Microsoft gets Vista out the door in early 2007, both Mac and Linux will have left them in the dust.

However, I wouldn't write off Bill Gates or Microsoft yet: the history of the PC industry is littered with the corpses of companies that did. But I can't shake the feeling that there is a convergence going on that will, maybe not kill Microsoft outright, but more likely make them irrelevant. When all I need is a browser for my word processor, photo album, web content creation, e-mail, taxes, and personal finances, what possible difference does the OS make? At this point, about the only thing missing is a way for iTunes to store my music library online and a web-based Excel-like spreadsheet. (Both of which may have already happened and I'm just not aware of it.)

I doubt Microsoft will crash and burn overnight. Instead, I would expect a long slow decline punctuated by brief bright spots. But I would expect the over-all trend to be downward until no one cares anymore.


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