Vista: A View of Desktop Computing 2007

The four-way battle for the desktop computing environment was escalated significantly by Microsoft’s recent introduction of the long-awaited Vista operating system and Office 2007 suite of products. Vista has been in the works for years and some analysts estimate that Microsoft spent as much as $7 billion on its development. Although opinions vary widely on the impact of Vista — from insignificant to tectonic — I believe it will soon be seen as somewhat closer to the latter. Microsoft may have been accused of copying or even stealing laurels, but it has rarely been accused of resting on its own. My assessment of the degree of innovation in Vista/Office 2007, particularly as part of a comprehensive computing strategy, is that it is a very significant development. How will Vista ultimately affect the four-way battle for the desktop? Let’s consider each of the competitors and their positions.

Linux is a relatively recent entrant to the desktop race. After making considerable inroads in the server market through partnerships with companies such as IBM, Linux also began to gain ground in the desktop market, largely from Microsoft. This is particularly true in developing countries with abundant labor to provide support for the OS. But as the realization began to take hold that open-source platforms such as Linux are hardly“free” after all, the advance began to lose some momentum. While many analysts now believe that Linux has surpassed the Macintosh and taken over second place in the desktop market, it is unlikely that the dearth of high-quality applications, combined with a growing realization of the total cost of ownership (TCO) for open-source products, will be able to erode Microsoft’s approximate 90 percent market share much further.

By any reckoning, the Macintosh is one of the most mystifying computer systems in history. After multiple near-death experiences and resuscitations, the Mac has benefited somewhat from Apple’s enormous success in digital entertainment with the iPod and iTunes. For most of 2002 and 2003, Apple stock was hovering near $7 per share. As of this writing, it is around $80 per share. Quite a turnaround. The problem, of course, is that this turnaround has relatively little to do with computers — which begs the question: whither the Mac? The Mac’s share of the PC market has risen from around two percent to as high by some accounts as five percent. Historically, two percent and five percent have marked the highs and lows of Apple’s portion of the market over the long term, with dramatic fluctuations in between. While Apple will likely remain a juggernaut in digital entertainment it is difficult to imagine that Macs will claim much more of the PC market, particularly in the face of stiffening competition. Perhaps Apple is adapting to this reality, based on their recent corporate name change from Apple Computer to Apple, Inc.

The other major player in the desktop business is more virtual in nature. Application Service Providers (ASP’s) and hosted applications have recently gained considerable notoriety. Led by Google, these entities offer word processors, spreadsheets, and similar software that runs virtually across the Internet rather than using software installed locally on the PC. Access to hosted applications, as well as hosted storage of data files and documents, is usually available at no charge. Reviews of the quality of these applications have been favorable. Hardware companies are producing stripped-down computers called“Internet appliances” designed specifically to use these Web-based applications. As powerful as Google’s search capabilities and as attractive as its name, there are two significant challenges. First is the very powerful paradigm of the home PC, which is fast becoming the media entertainment center of the home. Second, in a world in which domestic surveillance has become infamous, many users have no stomach for having their information processed and stored somewhere in “Web-land.”

In Vista, Microsoft has capitalized on the success of a comprehensive strategy involving Media Center PCs, the Xbox 360, excellent back-office server applications, and other vectors. Technologically, Vista is incrementally more secure and stable than any previous Microsoft OS. But the real benefit of Vista lies in increased user productivity. With a completely redesigned user interface and far greater functionality, the Vista/Office 2007 desktop is likely to become a very attractive upgrade. Microsoft is reportedly well into development of upgrades to Vista and the development of Vista’s eventual replacement.

In the broad scheme of desktop computing, Vista is clearly more evolutionary than revolutionary. But, now more than ever, in the battle for the desktop, the game is most certainly afoot.

David W. Dodd is vice president of Information Resources and CIO at Xavier University in Cincinnati. He can be reached at 513/745-2985 or [email protected]

About the Author

David W. Dodd is vice president of Information Technology and CIO at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, NJ. He can be reached at 201/216-5491 or [email protected]