Beyond Windows Vista: Microsoft Prepping 'Vienna' For 2009

Microsoft customers and business partners should expect to have Vienna in their hands in two to two-and-a-half years, said Ben Fathi, VP of development in Microsoft's operating system group, according to a story published Friday by the IDG News Service. But what will be included is still very much an open question.

To date, Microsoft has said little about Vienna, which is the code name for its next operating system, or what benefits it might offer to consumers and business users. But there are some clues. At a Vista launch event last month , Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer provided a glimpse into the types functions where Microsoft would like to see more built-in support at the operating system level.

Ballmer said the continued convergence of communications and information technologies and consumer demand for ever more sophisticated forms of digital entertainment will require operating systems with capabilities well beyond those offered by Vista. "All these things will evolve, and the operating system will need to evolve with them," said Ballmer.

Indeed, Roger Kay, analyst and founder of Endpoint Technologies, says that despite Microsoft's "Wow Starts Now" marketing push for Vista, the operating system lacks the wow factor required to drive a significant increase in sales of new business or consumer PCs. "It's still the same basic graphical user interface" that hasn't changed significantly since Microsoft introduced Windows, Kay said.

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For that reason, Microsoft may need to add features to Vienna or another future operating system that go beyond more efficient pointing and clicking -- features such as standard support for touch-screen and voice-activated computing, said Kay.

It's also likely that Vienna will be designed to act in less of a client-centric manner than its predecessors and more like a conduit between the desktop and a host of services that Microsoft plans to deliver over the Web under its Windows Live initiatives. Those services include search, e-mail, and social networking tools.

It's a direction that Microsoft needs to take to fend off competition from Google and other Web 2.0 players that are offering so-called Webtop applications. "Moving forward we must frame all our products and services from an online-connected, end-user perspective," Microsoft chief software architect Ray Ozzie said at a conference last June. In other words, Vienna, not Vista, may represent Microsoft's real break from the Windows sausage factory.