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The Vista Fear Factor and Leopard

Editorial - The Vista Fear Factor and Leopard

by , 4:35 PM EDT, October 18th, 2007

Reports that Vista is selling poorly relate primarily to off the shelf sales compared to XP. New computers that have Vista pre-installed seem to be doing well, and Microsoft has logged at least 60 million Vista licenses. The conclusion has to be that home PC customers are overwhelmed and intimidated by the prospect of installing Vista on a PC that already has XP.

My take on all this is something that I've been saying all along. It's one thing for a corporation to carefully build a "spin" of an OS, push it out to their users, and clamp it down. It's another matter entirely for a mere mortal, an every day person who just wants to gets some tasks done, to cope with an OS that has more than 50 million lines of code.

I remember when I was at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee in the 1990s. Many of my colleagues had a DEC Alpha, and they routinely reinstalled or updated the OS in a mind numbing and frightening sequence that only a very seasoned UNIX veteran would engage in. As for me, I had a lowly SGI Indy. I could manage occasional Irix updates, but they too were scary. Once I tried to move major sections of the OS to an external drive. I wrote the Perl script and a UNIX guru and I went over it character by character. We decided it was okay. But it wasn't. One misplaced comma destroyed the hard disk data structure, and the poor Indy quietly died.

The upgrade of a major UNIX operating system, in earlier times, was a major undertaking. The fact that Apple has made it possible for grade school kids to upgrade from Tiger to Leopard and not skip a beat has to be one of the most inspiring and stunning computer science accomplishments of the 21st century. It's something we often overlook.

If PC home users elect to only upgrade their OS when they buy a new computer, something is seriously wrong with the fundamentals of Windows Vista for the home user. In fact, if Microsoft doesn't figure out why so few customers are buying Vista off the shelves, running home with excitement, and upgrading their PCs, Vista might be the last desktop OS before PC users are forced to move over to simpler handhelds and tablets with touch screens.

When we evaluate OSes, it's a complicated affair. Some inexperienced writers just look at the two GUIs and shrug. They can't see the difference. Others, professionals, know what major OSes can do, and select the right one for the job in a corporate environment. However, home users are just terrified and they just want to get something done without worrying about losing their life's accumulation of data, pictures, movies, correspondence, and taxes.

The iPhone is the beginning of a new era in handheld computing. I believe that someday, we'll be carrying around small slate-computers, smaller than a MacBook and larger than a Newton. Time Machine will back it all up, and updates by Apple will be painless.

Microsoft is going down a dangerous path by putting an OS on PCs that terrifies its users and intimidates them from buying it off the shelf to install themselves. The Leopard release next week, with some minor glitches to be sure, will nevertheless punctuate Apple's superb handling of this whole affair and set the stage for a whole new personal, portable computing experience here in the early part of the 21st century that Microsoft will have extreme difficulty duplicating.

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