Will Vista Really Ship This Year?

Opinion: Yes, Virginia, there will be a Windows Vista for Santa Claus. And here's how I know.

After my recent Jim Allchin column ran, I got an interesting call from an ex-Microsoft person: "What makes you think Vista will actually ship this year?" my friend demanded, then adding a list of hurdles the operating system faces before it can RTM—release to manufacturing—and, after that, spring upon the world at-large.

"Because Jim Allchin told me it would," I responded.

Now, I know that sounds naïve at first blush, especially considering Vistas history of missed targets and its reduced feature set. The latter, by the way, is perhaps the most important decision Windows czar Allchin made to get the operating system to ship at all.

While the Vista betas currently in circulation are clearly not ready to ship, they really arent that bad, either.

Further, what Microsoft really must ship this year is a Vista that will run on all the Media Centers and other PCs that will be sold next Christmas.

If the first Vista turns out to be a tad light on some enterprise functionality, that will line up with the expectations of customers who dont expect to widely adopt the new OS until after the first service pack ships and the code has had a chance to prove itself in the real world.

Though holiday shoppers will place Windows Vista under the tree, enterprise customers can be expected to specify Windows XP SP2 on their new hardware well into 2007.

This provides a bit of a time cushion for Vista development. It also allows Microsoft to meet its official ship target while still providing wiggle room.

Allchin is very proud of a chart he has that shows his release date predictions have, for the past year, all come true. Thats a good sign. So is the pending release of a feature complete beta, meaning all hands at Microsoft can be shifted to testing, fixing and tweaking.

/zimages/4/28571.gifClick here to read more from David Coursey about the prospects for Vista.

Theres something else at work here, too: Jim Allchin has already announced he will retire at the end of this year, after Vista ships.

I take that as a statement, not an either-or. Allchin is enough of a leader—make that well-liked leader—that the troops can be expected to pull out all the stops to ship Vista on Allchins watch.

This "win one for the Gipper" angle could all by itself be enough to get Vista out the door before year-end.

So yes, Virginia, there will be a Windows Vista for Santa Claus. Bet on it.

Now, for another question and an answer I dont know. My friend asked, "Do you think Vista will do anything about Windows Rot?"

Thats an excellent question—something Ive not considered, and now must worry about.

"Windows Rot" is the name someone gave the process by which a Windows machine becomes progressively slower the longer you use it and the more software you install on it.

This condition is generally ascribed to a deterioration of the Windows Registry, caused by applications that use it improperly and dont clean up after themselves.

My friend commented that since Vista will virtualize large parts of the registry as a security fix, that it may be even easier for applications to mess it up.

He thinks Windows Vista could deteriorate even more quickly than Windows XP. Before I hung up the phone, he said something about "getting one of those Intel-based Macs, just in case."

Indeed, Mac OS, and as far as I can tell all other Unix-based operating systems, suffer nothing like Windows Rot and remain much cleaner well into their useful lives.

Windows, on the other hand, at least if you do very much with it, seems to eventually slow to a point that reinstalling the OS and starting over seems the best course.

Ive never seen Microsoft officially admit that Windows Rot exists, perhaps because the people who could fix it have to rebuild their own machines so often for new OS releases and testing that they never actually suffer from it.

But, out in the real world, the syndrome definite exists, and its something Id love for Windows Vista to fix. Next time Jim Allchin comes by, Ill have to ask him.

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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