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Thu 1 Feb 2007 04:36 PM

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World says hello to Vista

But will Microsoft's much-hyped new operating system be worth the wait?

It may not have had quite the drama of previous product launches, but Vista's release to consumers this week has still made headlines around the world. The latest version of the Windows operating system - along with the release of Office 2007, the latest edition of Microsoft's office productivity software suite - has been heralded as Microsoft's most significant product launch for at least five years.

"Windows Vista and Microsoft Office 2007 will transform the way people work and play," said Bill Gates, chairman of Microsoft. "Personal computers have become a key part of the daily lives of almost a billion people worldwide. Millions of consumers had a hand in helping us design, test and create the most exciting versions of Windows and Office we've ever released. Windows Vista and Microsoft Office 2007 squarely address the needs and aspirations of people around the globe."

While the formal launch of the consumer version of Vista is still a couple of weeks away here in the Middle East, it was already available in some locations, Microsoft Gulf executives stated this week.

"Consumers across the region will start to see Windows Vista and Office 2007 from January 31," said Adriana Rangel, Microsoft Gulf Windows Client business lead, in a statement. "Microsoft Gulf Channel Partners will be the first in the region to offer consumers the chance to experience the best of personal computing. The launch celebration events - a milestone we intend to commemorate in style - will start on February 15, with a focus on academic events, mall promotions and much more."

In an earlier interview with Windows Middle East, sister title to
IT Weekly

, Rangel however acknowledged that Microsoft Gulf does not have "complete control" over which stores would be selling Vista straightaway, with some retailers waiting until the February 15 date. "We don't control who sells it straight away; this depends on the channel," she said.

A straw poll of retailers in Dubai this week found that most seem to be waiting for the February 15 launch celebrations to begin selling Vista, with firms such as Carrefour and Plug-ins having no plans to sell it before then.

For business customers, Vista has been officially available since November 30 last year, with some customers here in the region deploying it even before that.

Guests at Dubai's seven-star Burj Al Arab hotel, for instance, were able to use Vista even before the official business launch date, as it piloted the first implementations in the region. The hotel, part of the Jumeirah Group, provided Vista on laptops in its guest suites, following four months of testing the system.

While the prospect of getting to grips with Vista early on may well have made a stay at the Burj Al Arab even more enticing, most customers will probably wait to deploy the OS - regardless of when the launch date is.

While stores in the US and other locations were taking orders for Vista at midnight on the January 30 launch date, crowd numbers were fairly small - and certainly much less than for the previous launches of XP and Windows 95.

Part of this could be simply down to those launches being in the summer and customers proving reluctant to brave winter weather, but even before the launch analysts had been predicting that people wouldn't rush out to buy - regardless of whether they needed a sweater or not.

While XP was widely welcomed by customers as it fixed many of the weaknesses of the previous releases, Windows 95 and 98, Vista doesn't offer the same compelling reasons to upgrade, analysts argue.

"When I look at Windows Vista, I see a technology that is relevant but to some extent is evolutionary," Al Gillen, an analyst at research group IDC, told Business Week. "I do not believe it will create a lot of motivation for people to rush out and get a new operating system."

Here, Microsoft can be said to be facing a large installed base of XP users who are fairly happy with their operating system - and have not seen anything in Vista that will convince them to upgrade immediately.

Would-be Vista buyers can also of course buy the OS online - an option not available for Windows 95, 98 or XP. Even that route however is not likely to prove compelling; Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer admitted in an interview that most consumers will only switch to Vista when they buy new machines. With very few home computer models that are much older than a year expected to actually be capable of running Vista, that is hardly surprising.

For business customers, uptake is also likely to be slow. Analyst firm Gartner estimates that it will be 2008 before we see significant deployments of Vista happening on a wide scale, with large firms needing 12 to 18 months to test the OS.

Nonetheless, some customers have already begun buying into Vista, with Dell's US web site reporting a 20% increase in traffic after it began taking orders for Vista-based machines.

On Microsoft's part, the firm contends that those customers who get to actually see Vista will realise that it is a huge improvement over previous Windows versions; Gates has talked enthusiastically of a "wow factor" that users experience.

The operating system offers a radically redesigned graphical user interface (GUI), beefed up security features and the addition of desktop search functionality. In addition to these, Microsoft has also included improvements in user account control, as well as built-in self-diagnostic tools, encryption capabilities, and virtual collaboration environments. As a consequence of the enhancements, the cost of computers is also set to increase.

More memory, faster processors and more powerful graphics chips will all be needed to get the full Vista experience. According to market intelligence firm iSuppli, the cost of components for PC makers is set to jump almost 20% from US$500 to US$600. The firm said the cost to end-users would be significantly more than this due to the manufacturers' mark up.

While PC makers may not be too concerned about selling more expensive machines, security firms have been rather more cautious in their welcome to Vista - not least because Microsoft is increasingly moving in on their turf with initiatives such as its OneCare package.

The good news on the security front is that all major security software firms had products ready this week to work with Vista - unlike for the November business launch, when only McAfee was ready.

While questions about just how secure Vista is will dog Microsoft in the coming weeks, it remains to be seen just how quickly the firm can get customers to adopt the operating system.

“Windows Vista and Microsoft Office 2007 will transform the way people work and play. Personal computers have become a key part of the daily lives of almost a billion people worldwide.”

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