Will Vista Beta Stall Hardware Sales?

Opinion: Microsoft hopes we'll all act like grownups and continue buying computers while we wait to see what the hardware requirements are for Windows Vista.

Isnt it nice that Microsoft is treating us like grownups? After all, confronted with a warning that the hardware we buy today might not run Windows Vista, it would be childish of us to stop buying computers. Indeed, since were adults, well keep right on buying. We have enterprise upgrade plans and were sticking to them, regardless of whether todays machines will properly display tomorrows cool user interface.

Thats what Microsoft must be hoping. What they may get, however, are at least occasional bouts with childish customers. Such as this one:

"Like hell I will," was the reaction of an IT manager friend of mine, asked if hed keep on buying while the world waits for Microsoft to release the Vista hardware requirements. My friend doesnt like the thought of buying a system today and not having the Windows Vista "Aero" UI appear on it if he decides to upgrade the OS after Vista ships.

Microsoft is dodgy on what hardware will be required to take advantage of the glasslike Aero interface. Best guess is that todays integrated graphics might not have the requisite oomph to run the new graphics-intensive GUI. Those systems would still run Windows Vista, but with a scaled-back "Classic" interface, Microsoft says.

/zimages/5/28571.gifWill your PC run Windows Vista? Click here to read more.

When will the Windows Vista hardware spec be available? Microsoft says next summer, hinting at a Vista release date nearer to Christmas than the official mantra of "second half of 2006" might suggest. My guess is we will have a hardware spec next spring or even sooner, though I fear that any spec released too soon will also be too optimistic.

As someone who hasnt bought a stand-alone graphics card in quite a while, I have no idea whether my machines support the high-end DirectX 9 graphics that Aero wants. My current Vista testbed, a year-old Gateway machine, shows the transparent parts of the Aero UI quite nicely. But what about my notebooks? Many portables are real slouches in the graphics department, so I guess I will just have to wait and hope.

That, or the next time a notebook succumbs to Windows Rot and has to be reimaged I can install the Windows Vista beta and see what happens before doing the system restore. This would then be the first time that Ive ever looked forward to having a Windows machine finally give up after too many installs/uninstalls of the software I write about.

Such upgrades, or any updates from XP to Vista, arent a big deal for Microsoft. The company will tell you that very few users—relatively speaking since this is Windows were talking about—actually upgrade the operating system on their machines. Most get the new OS when they purchase new computers. If you subscribe to this notion, then a user who is given a new PC now might wait two years or more after Vistas release for the normal replacement cycles to come round.

Another way to look at this, and this is how my friend sees it, is that theres no pressing need to upgrade a machine thats working fine right now, especially when you have to worry about next years operating system not running on it. Or at least not offering its cool new user interface until you add a high-powered graphic card. And what about notebooks, where graphics upgrades arent generally possible?

/zimages/5/28571.gifDavid Coursey takes readers on a tour of Windows Vista. Click here to view the slideshow.

"Better to keep my money in my pocket," he says, adding that the more interesting Windows Vista turns out to be, the happier hell be with his "wait-and-see" attitude.

Hardware vendors, of course, can be expected to feel differently, perhaps even a bit betrayed that Microsoft is making Beta 1 fairly widely available—and thus bringing Vista-wide attention—before a basic question like "What does it take to run it?" can be answered. Windows Vista may not stall PC sales, but concerns about future compatibility certainly cant help.

Microsoft has a bit of a conundrum here. It needs Vista to be out in the world, yet the operating system remains a developmental work-in-progress. At that level, its just fine that we dont have a hardware spec. But its bad for the hardware companies and their customers (who are you and me, after all). Microsoft must hope well all be adults, understand its situation, put down our money—and take our chances.

After all, not buying hardware until we know whether it will run Windows Vista would just be childish. Wouldnt it?

Contributing editor David Coursey has spent two decades writing about hardware, software and communications for business customers. He can be reached at david_coursey@ziffdavis.com.

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