What Will Become of Windows Vista?

There's no question about it: Microsoft has a hit on its hands with Windows 7. Even in beta form, the company's new desktop OS is garnering accolades from all corners of the blogosphere. By most accounts, the product seems faster and more stable than even Vista with Service Pack 1. And veteran Windows users everywhere are singing the praises of "new" features like the more refined User Account Control (UAC) mechanism and funky, Mac OS X Dock-like Task Bar.

Things are definitely looking up for Microsoft's "Longhorn" successor. But as the positive press rolls in, I can't help but wonder: What will happen to Microsoft's current flagship OS when its newer, flashier -- and ostensibly better -- sibling arrives this summer?

As someone who has used both OSes extensively, I can't imagine anyone sticking with Vista. For starters, it's a much shorter jump from Vista to Windows 7 than it was from XP to Vista. The XP-to-Vista transition was a major leap of faith for the Windows community. It required you to believe Microsoft's sales pitch that the gross short-term pain of broken applications and overburdened PCs would translate in a net long-term gain of a better, more manageable Windows platform. By contrast, Windows 7 feels more like an extensive Service Pack. Certainly nothing that should give pause to the Vista faithful.

Then there's the issue of face-saving. Many of the original Vista "refuseniks" are now actively sweating their next move. After all, it's one thing to say you're going to bypass Microsoft's upgrade path and stick with a five-year-old OS (i.e., what the "Save XP" crowd was saying when Vista first shipped in late 2006), and quite another to keep repeating this same mantra about a now-eight-year-old OS, one that is looking extremely long in the tooth. For these folks, Windows 7 may seem like a viable third option, a way to embrace the Vista architecture without actually embracing Vista itself.

The real question then is: Will anyone still be running Windows Vista 18 months from now? And if so, why?

I'd break out this next generation of holdouts as follows:

  • Home users who don't have the technical skills to upgrade an OS. Their PCs work just fine with Vista, and they see no reason to fix what isn't broken. Eventually, they'll buy a new PC, at which point they'll be upgraded to Windows 7 -- whether they like it or not.
  • Enterprise IT shops that dictate their own upgrade cycles (as opposed to following Microsoft's cycles). These shops will eventually get around to upgrading, but not until their current investments in Vista-generation systems and applications is at least partially depreciated (think the 2011-12 time frame).
  • Hard-core Vista fans who think Windows "6" actually better than Windows 7 (actually, 6.1). I know, it's hard to imagine such an individual. But believe me, such people do exist. These Vista loyalists will resist Windows 7 because to embrace it will mean admitting that its predecessor, Windows Vista -- an OS they defended publicly and to which they've developed a deep emotional attachment -- was in fact fundamentally flawed.

I'd lump a good portion of the pro-Microsoft press into this latter category. In fact, I'm beginning to suspect that much of the resistance to Windows 7's most compelling new feature -- the revised Task Bar -- is the result of these individuals wrestling with their own inner refusenik. After cheerleading the unpopular (but architecturally identical) Vista for so long, it must be tough for them to see Windows 7 receiving so much praise.

It's sort of like the long-suffering followers of a local sports team griping about all the fair-weather fans who emerge when the wins finally start piling up: "I remember when they stunk up the place -- yet I still believed in them. Where were you?"

Or to put it another way: Vista = the New England Patriots circa 1999, while Windows 7 = those same Patriots circa 2004-05.

As for me, I'm a lifelong Pats fan. But even I can recognize that the team's a lot more fun to watch with Tom Brady at the helm than, say, Steve Grogan. Or Tony Eason. Or even Doug "Mr. Hail Mary" Flutie.

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