Hapless Vista turns 6, shuffles toward obscurity

Six years after its long-delayed but well-publicized release, Windows Vista now accounts for less than 6% of all Windows machines, a metrics company said earlier this month.

According to Net Applications, Vista's usage share of all Windows PCs in January was 5.7%. That's less than a third of the share Vista enjoyed at its peak in the fall of 2009—about the time its successor debuted—when it had a 20.3% share of all Windows machines.

By comparison, the even-older Windows XP held a 43.1% share of all Windows systems in January, or more than seven times Vista's share.

Since its 2009 peak, Vista has been shedding share, dropping 5.6 percentage points in 2010, 4.1 points in 2011, and 2.7 points in 2012. Presumably, most if not all of those Vista machines were replaced by ones running Windows 7, or the OS itself was upgraded to the 2009 edition.

In January, Windows 7 accounted for 48.5% of all Windows systems.

Windows Vista peaked in Oct. 2009 at nearly 21% of all Windows PCs, but has since slipped to under 6%. (Data: Net Applications.)

Vista's other problems

Vista is flagged as one of Microsoft's rare flops for the simple reason that it never caught on with large numbers of users, even though it was meant to replace the then-aging Windows XP, which had a stranglehold on the PC industry.

But Vista suffered from other problems that may have doomed it even before release.

It was late, for one thing, because although Microsoft initially promised to release it in 2004—three years after Windows XP—in the middle of that year it abandoned work on what had been codenamed "Longhorn" and rebooted the project by switching the codebase from XP to Windows Server 2003.

Deadlines came and went and, even with no XP replacement on the horizon, Microsoft executives continued to promise an impending release as they stayed positive about the work. Co-founder Bill Gates, at the time the company's chief software architect, said in July 2004, "We've made really good progress in the last year."

The repeated missing of previously-announced release dates built up a backlash even before Vista's launch, as did decisions to dump features—most notably the new WinFS file system—in the hope that would speed up development.

Bad reviews

Things did not improve once Vista launched on Jan. 30, 2007. Reviews of the operating system were largely negative, with many citing poor performance on that day's hardware. And users complained that Vista's move to a new driver model had crippled a wide range of components and peripherals.

Even several top Windows executives—including Stephen Sinofsky, who had taken charge of Windows development the day after Vista's retail release—complained about missing drivers in emails made public during a court case accusing Microsoft of deceptive practices when it launched a "Vista Capable" marketing program in the launch run-up.

Other complaints ranged from Vista's new, intrusive anti-exploit technology—User Account Control, or UAC—to more stringent licensing and anti-piracy features.

Windows 7 arrives

But Vista, for all its flaws, real or imagined, was not a wash-out, as Windows 7 was essentially a reworked Vista that relied on the same code base.

Windows 7, of course, was a wild success, because by the time it was released in 2009, hardware capabilities had caught up to its demands, and vendors had had years to craft reliable drivers. Last month, Microsoft boasted that more than 60% of the world's enterprise desktops were running Windows 7.

Microsoft has put Vista behind it: It hasn't breathed the name for years; it stopped selling the OS in the fall of 2010, 12 months after the debut of Windows 7; and it stopped serving OEMs with the code in the fall of 2011.

Even so, Microsoft will continue to support Vista with security fixes until April 2017. The company stopped delivering non-security bug fixes for Vista in April 2012.

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