On the heels of the WinHEC conference May 23-25 in Seattle, Microsoft is poised at a critical juncture in its Vista rollout cycle. The company has just released specific hardware requirements for Vistas many flavors and, barring a sudden schedule change, will soon distribute Beta 2 to 2 million people as a prelude to the operating systems scheduled release in January.
At this point, Vista looks like a mixed blessing. It will contain some features likely to be welcome in many enterprises, including advanced security, better support for mobile computers, improved collaboration and workflow features, diagnostics, and fax and scanning support. However, those who have seen the Beta 2 release already say the code, particularly in networking support and drivers, does not look stable enough to guarantee Microsofts meeting its launch deadline.
Vista will require a lot more memory than Windows XP and more extensive graphics support for its Aero user interface, which many PCs currently in use wont be able to run, and many corporate users probably will not need. Some businesses may be in for a round of new, Vista-capable PCs. In addition, Microsoft intends to make support for the BitLocker encryption feature available only to customers that sign up for the Software Assurance plan.
Its worth asking whether the more-than-five-year exercise has been a triumph or train wreck for Microsoft and its loyal legion of corporate customers. Or, more to the point: Would Microsoft do it all over again? Will Microsoft continue with a similar approach as it works on the Windows release that will follow Vista, which is code-named Fiji and supposedly due in 2008?
Its clear from our vantage point there are lessons Microsoft ought to learn and changes it should make, both for the companys own sake and that of its customers. More than five years is too long for a major releases development cycle.
In addition, Microsofts shuffling of features in and out of the operating system—including the deletion of a major feature, WinFS, in 2004—kept customers in a state of uncertainty and necessitated a restart of the beta cycle. Microsoft confused customers by calling beta releases CTPs (Community Technology Previews) but then changed back to calling them betas, some of which were made up of several CTPs. Hardware requirements for the new operating system were left undefined for years.
In short, Vistas complexity has caused its development and release cycle to nearly veer out of control, despite the cries of Microsoft leaders for more disciplined development processes. In the future, Microsoft must finally make good on its resolutions of discipline. Shorter release cycles, a firmer feature set, clearer signals about hardware requirements and consistent terminology are no longer just a good idea: They are a requirement.
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