It's not often that Microsoft makes unvarnished statements about Windows Vista, so it's refreshing to see a Microsoft executive tackle the real issues with the operating system that has become the IT industry's favorite punching bag.
In a Thursday keynote at the MVP Global Summit in Seattle, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer offered some frank analysis of the missteps Microsoft made with Vista and acknowledged the still-strong demand for Windows XP.
While Ballmer stopped short of saying that Microsoft will extend the June 30 deadline for OEM sales of Windows XP, he did say that Microsoft has a large number of users on both Vista and XP, "and as long as those are both important options, we will be sensitive, and we will listen, and we will hear that," he said.
"And I know we're going to continue to get feedback from people on how long XP should be available. We've got some opinions on that," added Ballmer.
Tim Ulmen, principal at Midwest IT Solutions Group, a Wichita, Kan.-based solution provider, says a majority of his customer base is content with XP, and that Microsoft would be making a "huge mistake" in discontinuing XP prematurely.
Ulmen also doesn't believe that extending the life cycle of Windows XP would be viewed in the channel as a sign that Microsoft is giving up on Vista. "It may be an admission that there is a little more tweaking to be done in the interim, but I think it also shows a consideration to the end customers' best interest," he said.
Steve Bohman, vice president of operations at Columbus Micro, a Columbus, Ohio-based system builder, says he wouldn't be surprised to see Microsoft extend the XP OEM deadline.
However, the downgrade rights Microsoft offers for Vista Business make this somewhat a moot issue, Bohman said. "Most customers are buying Vista Business and downgrading to XP Professional, and I think that'll continue," he said.
Ballmer also raised eyebrows by describing Vista "a work in progress," and admitting that Microsoft waited too long to release Vista after rolling out XP in 2001. "Certainly, you never want to let five years go between releases. And we just sort of kiss that stone and move on, because it turns out many things become problematic when you have those long release cycles," Ballmer said.
But one solution provider, who described himself as "a loyal partner for many years," took issue with this statement, claiming that Microsoft had plenty of time to learn from its mistakes with Windows Millennium Edition -- also referred to as 'Mistake Edition,' and 'Major Embarrassment' due to the mountain of technical issues that plagued the OS.
"With roughly five years of development [for Vista], it's hard to believe that there have been so many challenges with hardware vendors' drivers and software vendors' applications," said the source, who requested anonymity.
After five years, Vista was more of a revolutionary than evolutionary step forward by Microsoft, says Marc Harrison, president of Silicon East, a Manalapan, N.J.-based solution provider and Microsoft partner. "Perhaps what Microsoft failed to recognize is that there are people and businesses that prefer evolution rather than revolution," he said.
"We've seen this in our client base -- which is now roughly 50/50 Vista vs. XP for new orders," said Harrison.