I've covered every release since Windows 95 and the path to launching this one is starting to have a much more familiar ring. I've been in production with Vista RTM for a few days and am really starting to like it. It's the little things that have me missing Windows XP less and less. This week, let's chat about your timing for Vista and make sure you have thought through the things you need to do before you make the switch.
The Windows OS didn't appear until Windows 95. Before that, it was just a GUI upgrade to DOS. When launched, Windows 95 was reserved for the general desktop and Windows NT, basically a clean room version of OS/2, was aimed at servers and workstations, which was why most didn't care much about Windows NT.
This changed in the late 90s when Windows NT was targeted at the corporate desktop and Windows 98/ME became a consumer only platform. Windows 2000 blurred the lines, but it wasn't until Windows XP that both consumer and corporate markets became the "consumers of one" platform - even if there were two versions: one for the home PC (Home Edition) and one for business (Professional Edition).
Windows 95 and its successors were supposed to follow the major/minor/major release cycle, but NT messed that up and we basically had three minor releases after Windows 95. Those releases were Windows 98, Windows 98 Second Edition (SE), and Windows Millennium Edition (ME).
Windows XP RTM discs from August 2001
Now the corporate market has had several major releases to deal with over the last decade. There were Windows 95, Windows NT, and Windows 2000. For consumers, there was basically just Windows 95. The others were all minor releases.
Let me just stress that there is a big difference between a major and a minor release. In a minor release, often called either a "point release" or a "maintenance release," there really isn't much changed. It's more of a roll up of all of the patches and some additional features or enhancements. A major release is a top to bottom redesign and it is in these releases where you see a major change in functionality. Major releases are very difficult to do well. And Windows Vista is a major release.
Things are going to break
With a major release, things are going to break. While Vista appears to be much more mature than any other major release I've tested, including Apple's operating systems, it will have problems with hardware that isn't certified as "Vista ready" and particularly with hardware that is more than a year old. Remembering its predecessor, Windows XP was designed when memory was expensive, processors were relatively slow and viruses mainly came on floppies (if you don't remember what a floppy was you are in surprisingly good company now). In contrast, Vista likes lots of fast memory, both system memory and graphics memory, and the software is vastly more capable when it comes to defending itself against hackers, worms, viruses and other malicious attacks.
The Flip 3D feature in Windows Vista
It is beyond me why, given how inexpensive hardware is these days, anyone would want to spend hours trying to get a major new OS to work on old hardware that underperforms new entry-level Vista systems. Such computers can be had already for about $450 (typically with printers and monitors.) But people do this and a lot of these people will probably not be particularly happy with the result.
If you have hardware older than a year, stay on XP until you are ready to buy new hardware and you'll avoid being upset with the result. The key to a good experience with any new operating system is to wait and only move when you are ready.
There are people who like things to be new and exclusive. I'm one of those folks myself, and if you just bought some new hardware, you've enjoyed showing off then you part of a customer group that is most likely to upgrade to Vista right away. In addition, you are probably much more tolerant of the kinds of problems any brand new product has when it hits the market. No matter how good the beta program, testers simply cannot anticipate the level of stress and diversity that can exist in a market. Put in perspective, if IDC's projections hold, then Vista should pass the installed base of all of Apple within six months of release. These are big numbers and if just a fraction has problems, and they will, these will be big numbers as well. 1% of a million is 10,000 and 1% failures are typically not bad with a complex software offering. 10,000 people having problems is still a very large number to deal with and we are talking 90 times that, if IDC's numbers hold up.
One interesting thing about the Vista upgrade is that there is little difference, in terms of the quality of the result, from overwriting the existing OS and upgrading from within Windows. For once it will not move any questionable applications. The result is a relatively stable installation, when compared to past Windows versions.
As a side note, moving to new hardware is much easier than it was with Windows XP. The new "Files and Settings transfer wizard" is light years ahead of what we've had to work with before. While it still won't move applications, it does a vastly better job of moving settings. Overall, it makes the migration, in general, a very pleasant experience.
Windows XP was introduced on October 25, 2001 across the U.S.: This picture shows Microsoft's then-CFO John Connors during the Windows XP launch keynote.
All that being said, if you don't have the drive to be the first on things, you'll want to wait a bit before migrating to Windows Vista. Third party support often comes along relatively slow. And the initial drivers and applications written for a new OS typically take a while to mature. This alone is a good reason to wait a few months. Before you go, make sure you have versions of the applications and drivers that will run on Vista. You can scan for these if you like before you buy Vista.
This is a good time for house cleaning as well, so you may want to take the migration opportunity to swap out vendors you no longer trust or use.
Impression so far
I'm a heavy Windows/Office user and I have to admit that like Vista a lot. It's been a long time since such an upgrade was released and the new Windows has been long overdue. I've just started taking Vista on road trips with me on an HP, AMD powered DV9000 and started testing the first >ReadyBoost drive. With the ReadyBoost, the hard drive appears to be working less often and I am seeing a slight performance boost. This system already has 2 GB of memory and the extra 2 GB ReadyBoost drive effectively doubles that. However, in a system with 1 GB of memory, these extra 2 GB would offer a massive boost in performance.
The sidebar in Windows Vista
Vista loves multi-core and apparently screams on both Intel quad-core and AMD Quad FX (which are also favored by early adopters) enabling what is being called "true Megatasking" or the ability to do a lot of resource intensive things at once. I'll be loading this on some quad-core systems later this month and will write let you know about my first impressions. Now, be aware, Vista is still pre-release until the end of January and that means for a couple of months a lot of stuff won't work with it: It takes a while for third party vendors to migrate to the new platform and even some of Microsoft's stuff won't be ready for Vista until Vista is ready to be sold.
For most of you Vista is a wait and see. That clearly is the best path, but for those few brave souls that like the newest and most interesting, you'll probably have as big a ball with Vista as I am having. The part I like the most is how easily it goes in and out of suspend, like flipping a switch. Now this is how it always should have been. Sometimes it takes just little things to make us smile.
Rob Enderle is principal analyst for the Enderle Group. He can be reached at email@example.com.