Microsoft puts up more roadblocks to Vista

* The path to Vista is not so smooth

Microsoft seems to be working overtime to find reasons why you don’t want to move to Vista as a desktop operating system. I’d thought that we’d already covered the major issues, but now another one has arisen.

Last week (see “Microsoft’s latest licensing limitations could further drive users to Linux”) we talked about Microsoft’s decision to make you buy new licenses for Vista rather than move the OS to a new platform, or upgrade the hardware it was installed on. Just before that (see “Microsoft aims to keep software piracy at bay with 'time bombs'”) we heard how Redmond would booby trap Vista in an attempt to prevent piracy – which could blow up in your face if it’s anything like previous piracy prevention measures.

Note that Microsoft attempted to "clarify" the licensing limitations last week, but as this story by the IDG News Service shows, nothing much has changed.

The latest flap has to do with upgrades from recently purchased Windows XP installations.

Major and minor hardware vendors won’t be shipping new equipment with Vista pre-installed until early next year. Buyers will be reluctant to purchase new hardware with the soon-to-be-replaced Windows XP installed. Traditionally, the operating system vendors will protect purchasers by giving them a no-cost way to upgrade once the new operating system ships. This is a practice that goes back many years, and is usually supported by Microsoft.

Like all Microsoft licensing issues, though, this one needs the services of a trained international treaty negotiator to understand.

Start with the fact that there are two broad paths between Microsoft and the ultimate user: major hardware vendors (HP, Dell, Lenovo, IBM, Acer, Sony, Toshiba – pretty much all brand-name vendors) and system integrators that build either no-name boxes or specialized PCs. The no-name producers have the easier path, but most of you probably buy from the name brand vendors and that path is full of potholes.

Microsoft will issue coupons to the vendors. In turn, the vendors will issue coupons to their customers. That’s the easy part.

First, not all computers sold between now and March 15, 2007 (the announced dates for the “promotion”) are eligible. Even if the machines have XP installed and even if they are “Vista capable.” Each vendor will determine which of their boxes are eligible for the free or reduced price (and we’ll get to THAT can o’ worms in a second) upgrade. Common sense says that the cheapest boxes and those with little purchased support won’t be eligible.

Next, the price of the upgrade will be determined by the hardware vendor! It might be totally free, only a shipping and handling fee or a reduced price ($50 to $75) offering. The same upgrade could involve different pricing from different vendors – just something else to consider when making purchasing decisions.

Next, the price of the upgrade will be determined by the hardware vendor! It might be totally free, only a shipping and handling fee or a reduced price (perhaps $50 to $75) offering. The same upgrade could involve different pricing from different vendors - just something else to consider when making purchasing decisions.

<aside> Actually, there’s also XP Starter and Vista Starter (only available in so-called “emerging” countries and “N” versions of each edition which lack an installed media player (because of anti-trust actions in places such as the European Union) but we won’t get into those here!</aside>

Unfortunately, the five XP editions don’t map directly to the five Vista versions. And the announced plan by Microsoft doesn’t seem to allow an upgrade from anything to either Vista Home Basic or Vista Ultimate. That will probably simplify the paperwork (reducing the documentation for the upgrades from novel size to novella size) but doesn’t particularly simplify your decisions. Plus, vendors can make changes to the Microsoft suggestions on their own.

Add to all of this confusion the technological roadblocks we’ve already explored (in the links at the beginning of this issue) then consider that at least one major consulting agency (Gartner) is advising that you not rollout Vista without at least 12 to 18 months of testing and that Vista won’t be ready to even consider before late 2007. What you end up with is more reasons to just keep doing what you’re currently doing and ignore Vista until you see a compelling reason (e.g., an application that requires it) to consider a change.

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