Vista equals Edsel?

Imagine that you make cars. You are the biggest automaker in the world and you more or less own the market, particularly the corporate fleet segment. Because almost everyone has one of your cars, if you want them to keep paying you money you have to come up with a better car.

The answer, you think, is not to improve what you have but to spend a huge amount of money and time and roll out a new design. This design is based on the previous design (it still carries people and goods around) but it has a new dashboard layout, new tire design, new door mechanisms — pretty much everything has been upgraded or at least tweaked. You ramp up production and sell, sell, sell. This is the way forward, the future of your company.

Now you find you’ve got a huge number of drivers of the new model and they aren’t completely thrilled. Gas mileage is poor, they find it hard to use the new doors, hard to get in and out of the car, hard to add accessories and the dashboard’s new layout is kind of annoying because, while it has some cool new instruments, it is hard to find the old ones.

Doesn’t that sound like a bad place for you — the car manufacturer — to be? That’s an even worse place when there’s young car makers hot on your heels that have all sorts of cool vehicle designs based on a lower cost engine that gets better mileage!

This is the situation I believe Microsoft is finding itself in with respect to Windows Vista: if there’s one thing that stands out from what I’ve been reading and from the letters you send me, Vista isn’t cutting it. Underneath the glittering bodywork there’s a huge new engine that is hard to deal with. It is complex, counterintuitive, resource hungry and hard to work with in many areas such as security. In short, it isn’t a disaster but neither is it a real success.

Here’s the thing: Microsoft has invested gazillions of dollars in the development and promotion of Windows Vista and the sales and marketing train (to change metaphors) has not only left the station, but now it is rolling down the tracks at top speed and there’s no chance of Microsoft stopping it. It can’t go back and the track is starting to go up a hill that is getting steeper.

So what’s going to happen? Consider five years in the future. Vista hasn’t delivered what we hoped while Linux has gained a lot of ground. Both the Linux server and desktop markets have exploded with innovation. It is quite likely that there will even be a complete and solid Windows API for Linux so that existing Windows applications can be run painlessly.

The thing is that in five years big corporations such as yours will have a huge investment not only in Vista but also in the support and service infrastructure that is required to use it effectively. Should Vista start to be recognized as a less-effective option then what will it cost you to switch to a Linux infrastructure?

I wonder whether you should be starting to develop contingency plans to migrate because if it turns out that Vista becomes the operating system equivalent of an Edsel will you want to be seen driving it?

Gibbs only sees the open road from Ventura, Calif. Send him your route to backspin@gibbs.com

Learn more about this topic

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