Vista May Still Have Its Day
A Matter of Timing
Many companies had just finished or were still rolling out Windows 2000 when XP came along just 20 months after its predecessor. Few could get excited at the prospect of another upgrade, especially when the economy turned sour after the dot-com bust.
And although XP may seem svelte compared with Vista, at the time, it was considered by many to be a bulky resource hog that likely would bog down applications on older PCs.
As of March 2005, Windows 2000 was still running on almost half of business PCs in the U.S. and Canada, according to usage data compiled by asset-tracking vendor AssetMetrix prior to its acquisition by Microsoft.
"Vista really does parallel the situation with XP in a lot of ways," said Michael Cherry, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft.
Users loved Windows 2000, which was less than two years old when XP was released. And for many, XP didn't add enough to make them want to move up. "XP was really viewed as a glorified upgrade, not a new operating system in its own right," recalled Donnie Steward, CIO at ACH Foods Inc., a Memphis-based maker of processed foods.
Then there were all the security issues. XP now is considered to be highly secure, but that wasn't the case in 2002. That's when LifeTime Products Inc. upgraded to the operating system after Microsoft released Service Pack 1, its first bug-fix update. "We used to say XP was like Swiss cheese -- full of holes everywhere," said John Bowden, CIO at the Clearfield, Utah-based maker of recreational equipment.
To try to fix the security problems, Microsoft developed a second service pack, which it pushed customers to adopt. But SP2 was such a major change that it broke applications -- lots of them, especially enterprise ones. That caused many companies to block updates to SP2 on their PCs for months until they could prepare for the mammoth upgrade.
To try to fix the security problems, Microsoft developed a second service pack, which it pushed customers to adopt. But there were two problems. First, not everyone was convinced that SP2 would be a security cure-all -- a view that was partly vindicated by later developments.
And second, SP2 was such a major change that it broke applications -- lots of them, especially enterprise ones.
"We consider XP SP2 to be a major release because of the nature of the enhancements," one IT manager told Computerworld in 2004. Such opinions prompted many companies to block updates to SP2 on their PCs for months until they could prepare for the mammoth upgrade.
Another Forrester report, by a different analyst, cites a "new trend" of upgrades from XP to Vista -- and says that skipping Vista to wait for Windows 7 would be a mistake.
Some of the reasons cited for Vista's supposed doom are unique to the new operating system. There's the widespread exercising of downgrade rights by users who purchase PCs with Vista but then revert to running XP. Mac OS X has taken some market share away from Windows over the past year. Cloud computing technologies offer new competition. And the scheduled 2010 arrival of Vista's successor, which Microsoft is calling Windows 7, looms on the horizon. Both Steward and Bowden said they will likely skip Vista entirely and wait for Windows 7.
But other strikes against Vista are ones that XP has also faced and overcome, such as a tottering economy (the dot-com bust, in XP's case), the belief that it was a piece of "bloatware," accusations of price gouging by Microsoft, and apathy or revolt by end users.
For most users, "change is always bad," said Merrie Wales, information systems manager in the human resources department in Glenn County, Calif. Wales, who oversees 250 desktop PCs, said that only a tiny portion of her users welcomed a move to Vista this spring. But, she noted, a similar sliver of users was happy when the agency finally upgraded to XP in 2006.
And the Vista rollout "has turned out much better than we anticipated," Wales said. "It's not a bad OS. There are big improvements under the hood."