Vista's Rolling Start is Now Official
- By Scott Bekker
The five-year run-up to Windows Vista culminated on Tuesday with the official consumer general availability of Vista and Microsoft Office 2007. The event was the second-step in the two-tier release, which included the volume licensing release in Nov. 30.
The stepped release and the global launch gave the "launch eve" festivities in New York on Monday an arbitrary feel, as Bill Gates handed "first" copies of the operating system to a family that helped in testing the operating system, and special copies to top executives of key launch partners AMD, Dell, HP, Intel and Toshiba.
About 12 hours earlier, the first PC loaded with Windows Vista had sold in Auckland, New Zealand, as it became Jan. 30 in that country.
There was plenty of the orchestrated hoopla that consumers have come to expect from a major Windows release. Microsoft executives made the rounds of major morning news shows, such as "Today," and the marketing blitz was intense. In Manhattan, billboards sported Vista and Office logos and entertainers staged live outdoor events. Worldwide, Microsoft held a beach festival in Brazil, fireworks at the Eiffel Tower in Paris and arranged for ice sculpture displays in Sweden and Canada.
Vista was officially available in 19 languages and 70 countries on Jan. 30. By the end of the year, the OS is to have been released in 99 languages, covering 90 percent of the world's population, according to Microsoft.
At a lunchtime event with partners in Manhattan, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer called the event "the biggest launch in Microsoft history" and emphasized the momentum that the Vista operating system will generate in the technology industry.
In its first three months on the market, Vista will sell five times as many copies as Windows 95 and twice as many copies as Windows XP did over the same period, Ballmer predicted.
"I hope your forecasts are right," chimed in Todd Bradley, executive vice president of the Personal Systems Group at HP, adding that the first system to sell in New Zealand had been on an HP computer.
Kevin Rollins, CEO of Dell, said his company saw a 20 percent bounce in Web traffic over the weekend as the company began taking advance orders for Vista systems that it would begin to ship for delivery Tuesday.
In a Q&A session after the lunch, Ballmer acknowledged that most sales of Vista, which has much steeper hardware requirements than Windows XP did, would come with sales of new PCs. Over the years, Windows sales have closely tracked PC sales, which increase every year, either because of, or in spite of, what Microsoft does. In meetings with financial analysts, Microsoft regularly portrays its Windows growth as being at the mercy of the growth of PC sales in general.
Analyst Al Gillen, a research vice president at IDC, said Monday that indications are that the PC growth trend should continue. Averaged over the course of the year, Gillen said, Microsoft's failure to hit its goal of delivering Vista for Christmas, will make little difference in overall shipments. Conversely, Gillen said, Vista itself probably won't drive a huge increase in PC shipments on its own.
"We're not expecting any explicit surge to come out of this product," Gillen said.
Gates somewhat reinforced Gillen's point at a Monday evening launch event. Drawing historic parallels to Windows 95, Gates said, "There were a fifth as many PCs as there are today." Gates comment that there were a fifth as many PCs on the market in 1995, dovetail with Ballmer's prediction earlier in the day that Vista will ship at five times the rate that Windows 95 did.
New consumer PC shipments will immediately be 100 percent on Vista, Gillen said. While enterprises will generally get the rights to Windows Vista as they buy new PCs, he predicted that many corporate IT departments will exercise downgrade right options to load Windows XP. New enterprise systems running Vista will only outpace new systems running Windows XP sometime in 2008, Gillen said.
The huge increase in the size of the PC industry since 1995, though, support a comment by Sean Maloney, executive vice president of Intel Corp. "The PC has never been more important than it is [now]," Maloney said during the partner session with Ballmer. Being the consumer launch, much of the focus of Ballmer and other executives was on ways that Vista could help make the PC even more important as the main way to coordinate among various home entertainment devices in the household. The executives talked about scenarios in which the PC feeds content from the Web or digital camera to wide-screen, high-definition TVs in a living room. The opportunity has been billed as a potential business area for home system integrators partners and Microsoft recently announced a related plan for a home server.
Many of the most highly touted features of Vista relate to the OS as an application platform. Ballmer made a reference to the Times Reader application by the New York Times as an example of the type of new applications that Vista will inspire. In launch materials for the press, Microsoft noted that more than 5,000 hardware and software products have been Certified for Windows or have a Works with Windows Vista logo. The company did not show off any surprise, next-generation, third-party applications at the launch, however.
Meanwhile, Ballmer deflected a suggestion that he is disappointed that the product was late and missing several promised features, such as the Windows Future Storage (WinFS). "I'm tremendously excited about what we're delivering," he said.
In addition to the end of a development process lasting more than five years, the Vista release also marked a personal milestone for one of Microsoft's highest-profile executives. Windows chief Jim Allchin had announced more than a year ago that he planned to retire when Vista shipped. Although Allchin was not on hand for the New York launch events, Gates singled him out for special praise as he was thanking all of the Microsoft employees who worked on Vista.
Given the importance of Microsoft products due to their ubiquity, attention inevitably turned to the future even on the day Vista officially went out the door. In the short term, Ballmer denied that there is a date planned for a Windows Vista Service Pack 1. "The goal is not to need one," he said. "If we need one, we'll do one."
Further out, a recurring question among technology pundits is whether Vista will be the last major client operating system release from Microsoft – a question supported by the difficulty Microsoft had in releasing Vista and the growing prevalence of broadband Internet connections that make Web-based applications richer and more practical. Without saying "no" directly, Ballmer said there was too much work left to do on operating systems for there not to be a next Windows release.
"We've got a very long list of stuff our engineers want us to do. We've got an awful lot of stuff that these guys [the major partners on stage] want to do," Ballmer said.
Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner, a sister publication of ADTmag.com.