Microsoft to Release Pro Vista on Thurs.
Businesses get first crack at buying Microsoft's long-anticipated Windows upgrade.
For the first time in five years, Microsoft Corp. is
finally unveiling a new system for operating personal computers. Now the
company must persuade PC buyers that the launch really matters to them.
Beginning Thursday, businesses that buy Windows licenses in bulk have
first crack at the new operating system, called Vista. Consumers can get
Vista on home PCs beginning Jan. 30.
Microsoft and computer vendors contend that Vista will make Windows machines
more secure, powerful and graphically dynamic, especially when combined
with other products Microsoft is releasing simultaneously. Those include
new back-end server software for businesses, as well as Office 2007, which
brings sweeping changes to widely used programs such as Word, Outlook,
Excel and PowerPoint.
Much is at stake for Microsoft. Most of its revenue and almost all of
its profit comes from Windows and Office, funding the company's sexier
ventures in video games and music players.
But even with all the touted improvements, analysts expect Vista to only
gradually emerge, especially in big organizations where upgrading can
be a costly, complicated affair. Gartner Dataquest predicts that it will
be 2010 before Vista outnumbers the previous operating system, Windows
XP, on business computers.
A company with 10,000 employees, for example, likely has 1,000 business
applications, many of which need to be tested on Vista before a company
can switch its PCs to the new operating system, said Gartner analyst Michael
Silver. That process often takes 12 to 18 months and lots of labor by
the technology staff. (In other words, for a large business to implement
Vista right away would probably require it to have been an eager-beaver
type that experimented with Vista during its "beta" phase that
began in mid-2005).
In the meantime, the last operating system, Windows XP, works just fine
for most companies -- especially with a security-enhancing patch known
as Service Pack 2 that Microsoft released in 2004.
PC makers say Vista will enable computers to do things that previously
were difficult or costly. For example, Lenovo Group Ltd., the world's
No. 3 PC maker, says Vista greatly enhances data-backup tools it builds
into its machines.
"All those capabilities are going to be one step better with Vista,"
said Clain Anderson, Lenovo's director of software peripherals.
But many buyers want more dramatic reasons to change their PCs.
Kamal Anand, chief technology officer for TradeStone Software Inc., a
Gloucester, Mass.-based provider of supply-chain software, examined test
versions of Vista and Office and found "no compelling need"
to upgrade his company's 100 PCs and laptops anytime soon. Instead, Anand
expects Vista and Office to slowly permeate TradeStone as it buys new
PCs for employees in coming years.
"Nobody wants to go through the extra time and effort and money
to upgrade an existing, well-working system," he said.
The programs in Office 2007 have been overhauled in many ways. Generally
they can make it easier for people to collaborate on documents and to
manage information from multiple sources. Excel in particular packs a
wallop, with vastly increased number-crunching abilities. The Outlook
e-mail program performs noticeably faster searches for tidbits buried
Some Office programs also have scrapped their familiar menu structure
in favor of a "ribbon" atop the screen that reorders how command
choices are presented to the user. While that new interface unlocks many
features that were hard to find in previous generations of Office software,
it will require some time to get used to, which might give tech buyers
Another potential drag for Office is that the world has changed considerably
since the last major release in 2003. Inexpensive, open-source alternatives
to Office have gained traction. And rivals such as Google Inc. are increasingly
delivering spreadsheets, word processing and other tools for free over
the Internet, an attractive choice for smaller companies.
At Tabblo Inc., a Cambridge, Mass.-based startup that lets people assemble,
print and share online photo collections, CEO Antonio Rodriguez expects
to upgrade many, though not all, of the company's 25 PCs to Vista throughout
2007. Tabblo's staff expects Vista to make it easier to back up files
and synch data over multiple computers. Rodriguez and crew also have energetically
adopted Microsoft's latest Web browser, Internet Explorer 7.
But Office 2007 holds few such attractions for his company. Tabblo employees
have largely abandoned Excel and Word for free programs on the Web, praising
the flexibility that comes with having files stored online. Just about
the only Office program Rodriguez still uses is PowerPoint for presentations.
"To me, Office 2007 is a complete non-event. I have no interest
in an upgrade," he said. "Most of what I like about computing
now lives online."