The last seven days have been busy ones for Microsoft. In a single week beginning last Friday, the company gave Longhorn its new name, took the wraps off Beta 1 of the new OS (but couldnt ship it), implemented a mandatory version of the Genuine Advantage verification program and met with the financial analyst community. So how did Microsoft do?
The official name for Longhorn—Microsoft Windows Vista—is a good one only because everything else I could think of was worse. Mary Jo Foley suggested Windows HD, which I like more than Vista. HD, however, is so obvious that Microsoft must have rejected it for some reason.
Microsoft also rejected names that project strength and security, choosing instead something that reflects improved data access and the user interface improvements built into the new OS.
Since Bill Gates told the financial analysts that security remains Job 1 at Microsoft, Id have expected the new name might have reflected this. This makes me wonder whether Microsoft isnt confident that the changes its baking into Windows Vista will actually change the security landscape. Or did Microsoft just want to avoid stirring up a hornets nest as hackers would surely try to make a fool out of the company for its claims? They will, of course, try to do that regardless of the name Microsoft chose.
Naming is often a no-win game, but at least by choosing Vista Microsoft accomplished one thing: It made me think Windows XP was a bona-fide inspiration.
A Genuine Challenge for Hackers?
Speaking of hackers taking on all-things-Microsoft: It didnt take long for the dark forces to claim they can spoof the Genuine Advantage license verification program.
If you visited Windows Update this week, you probably ran into Genuine Advantage, designed to alert users to pirated copies of Windows XP and then keep them from downloading anything more than security fixes from the Update site.
When I first encountered the Genuine Advantage program during its trial back in January, it didnt like my major-brand desktop and had me climbing under my desk to find the Microsoft serial number printed on the hologram label stuck on one of the corners of the system unit in order to prove I owned a legal copy of XP. As you would imagine, I was a little miffed by this experience.
I am happy to report that Microsoft no longer wants me to crawl and the Genuine Advantage verification process ran without problems on the three PCs in my office that have experienced it thus far.
As for the hackers, Microsoft probably doesnt care terribly if this first version of license verification can be spoofed. What they are looking for arent the professional pirates, but the people they sell to. These customers purchased hardware or the operating system separately and believe they have a legit copy.
Or maybe they understand they got a “good deal” and didnt ask any questions. Catching these users may lead Microsoft to some big-time pirates it hasnt been able to find. It may also encourage customers to demand legitimate copies of the OS with their hardware.
If the Genuine Advantage verification software really can be hacked, which I am betting it already has been, we should expect pirates to start distributing GA spoofing software with their machines, which will run without the user ever being aware of it. And the piracy game will continue.
Something from the analyst meeting struck me as odd: Microsoft crowing about the success of the limited-functionality version of Windows being sold as part of its war against Linux in the developing world. Windows XP Starter Edition is available in six languages and has been introduced in 22 countries.
Given that much reach, I have to wonder why Will Poole, SVP of the Windows client group, was so happy about having sold 100,000 copies. Thats less than 5,000 units per country, hardly what Id imagine to be a big success. But, if Will says it is, I am sure its true.
With all the other news, Microsofts supposed plot, er, plan to buy spyware distributor Claria has sunk below the headlines. But, reading the coverage of the analyst briefing, where Microsoft talks about a new “best-in-class ad platform,” made me think the half-billion-dollar check may already be in the mail.
When Will Vista Get a Break?
There must have been a lot of backstage fretting at Microsoft in the days and hours leading up to the Windows Vista announcements. The name announcement came pretty much out of the blue, or at least I was surprised by its timing.
I can now tell you that on July 15, Microsoft held a workshop for about 20 media folks in San Francisco. The 4-hour briefing gave us a solid overview of Beta 1 of Vista, and we left with copies of a pre-Beta 1 release that we couldnt talk about until Microsoft said it was OK to do so. Hints were given that it would be on the July 27 and that the actual beta would be available at that time.
During the workshop I asked if a name had been selected for the new OS and, if so, when it would be announced. The assembled MS team, including the head of Longhorn/Vista development, Brad Goldberg, looked like theyd been caught with their hands in the cookie jar when they responded that an announcement would be made “sometime soon.”
Several people left the meeting believing no name had been selected, but it was obvious to me they had been trying hard not to accidentally blurt it out prematurely.
I think Microsoft had hoped to get the announcement of the name, the release of Beta 1 and the analyst briefing to line up better. As it turned out, last Friday saw the announcement of the name and a promise that Beta 1 would ship before Aug. 3.
David Coursey takes readers on a tour of Windows Vista.
to view the slideshow.
This week, we had the lifting of our embargo on Wednesday, explaining all the stories that day, and the analyst briefing on Thursday. We still dont have Beta 1, however.
With its many delays and setbacks and now the difficulty getting fairly simple things (like announcements and a shippable beta) lined up, I wonder what else must be in store for this operating system. Vista really deserves a break, but so far doesnt seem to have found one.
The Best Is Yet to Come
I didnt make it up to Redmond, though I probably should have, for this years financial analyst briefing. This is the one time each year when Microsoft trots out its big names essentially all at once for an audience likely to ask tough questions.
We had good coverage of the event, though I am not sure I share Microsofts optimism that it can create big new markets for products and services. The problem, which is too big for the remainder of this column, is that Microsoft has a hard time creating products and services that people will actually pay money for. Upgrades are harder to sell, and its likely the only way Windows Vista will enter the market in quantity is on new hardware shipments.
I believe Microsoft has the ability to do some really great things, but its having a hard time creating products that are compelling enough to lead customers into tomorrow. Microsofts biggest competitor may be its inability to make the next versions of products so wonderful that customers will happily invest in them. You see anything in Microsofts plans that is an easy-to-implement deliverable that you really must have?
Neither have I, though Vista could be it. Have to wait and see.
Contributing editor David Coursey has spent two decades writing about hardware, software and communications for business customers. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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