Was Windows Vista An Innocent Victim?

Microsoft learned many tough lessons from Vista and appears to have applied these well in Windows 7. But there are still Microsoft employees and partners who feel that Vista just got a bad rap, and that the industry may one day come to realize just how unfair the criticism of Vista has been. In the opinion of many solution providers, Vista simply became a lightning rod for the general frustration that exists around doing business with Microsoft.

Throughout much of the year, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has been frank in acknowledging Vista's shortcomings. But earlier this year, Steve Guggenheimer, vice president of the OEM division at Microsoft, told Channelweb.com that he believes a successful Windows 7 will help polish Vista's legacy, particularly since the two are built upon much of the same code.

"I think people will look back on Vista after the Windows 7 release and realize that there were actually a bunch of good things there," Guggenheimer said at Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference in July. "So it'll actually be interesting to see in two years what the perception is of Vista."

Microsoft solution providers that deployed Vista for their customers early after its release are still smarting from the experience. There's no denying that Vista, before Service Pack 1, was a miasma of application and hardware compatibility difficulties, and a near-unanimous opinion exists within the channel that Microsoft didn't make it sufficiently clear that Vista would need more powerful hardware.

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Although Vista SP1 fixed most of the problems, the damage to Vista's image was already done. Vista's other main problem was that Windows XP, which Microsoft launched in 2001, was stable and powerful enough to meet most businesses' needs, so much so that many customers bought new Vista PCs just so they could downgrade them to XP.

As a result, Microsoft VARs have long since pronounced Vista dead in terms of its potential business impact.

"I'm not saying I agree with it, and I'm not saying that customers are making the right choice, but bottom line is that on the street, very few of our SMB customers have gone to Vista," said one solution provider, who requested anonymity. "I'm sure the same is true in customers of all sizes. There is still a huge install base of XP out there."

It's tough to find anyone to praise Vista on the record at this point, as solution providers appear content to let that sleeping zombie lie and focus on driving Windows 7 demand. There's little to suggest that Windows 7 won't be a commercial success, but it's far less likely that this will translate into a kinder historical view of Vista.