Foley on Microsoft

2007: All About Windows Vista

Vista's debut year had mixed results.

Looking back on 2007, I'm struck by how much Windows Vista was the story of the year -- and not always in a positive way.

I'm working on my annual round up of "Top 10" Microsoft happenings from the past year. Almost everything on my short list involves Vista in some way. Sure, Redmond also made its biggest acquisition ever with aQuantive, cleaned house on the search side of its business, launched a "big-ass table" (aka: Microsoft Surface) and lost its European Union (EU) antitrust decision appeal.

To me, none of those things had anywhere near the impact that the launch, fumbling and partial recovery of Vista had in 2007, and will continue to have in the next year and beyond. So here's my list of Microsoft watershed announcements from 2007 (in chronological order):

  1. Vista and Office 2007 launched.
  2. Live Search severed from the rest of Windows Live and put under new management.
  3. The Common Language Runtime (CLR) becomes cross-platform.
  4. Microsoft "PlayTable" (Surface) tabletop unveiled as an innovation "proof point."
  5. Microsoft accuses open source software of infringing on 235 of its patents and starts convincing more Linux vendors they need to sign "patent protection" deals.
  6. Microsoft buys aQuantive for $6 billion; sets its sights on being No. 2 in online advertising in the next couple of years.
  7. Xbox console hardware failures lead to a $1 billion charge.
  8. Vista Service Pack (SP) 1 -- after months of unacknowledged trials -- goes to 12,000 testers. Delivery date for final SP1 (and Windows Server 2008) set for Q1 2008.
  9. Microsoft unveils Office Live Workspace, its answer to Google Docs.
  10. Microsoft loses its appeal of the European Union's 2004 antitrust decision.

Some of these events that seem to have little or nothing to do with Vista or Windows actually still point back to Microsoft's largest cash cow. Windows Live services, for instance, are increasingly positioned as vehicles for Microsoft to add new Windows features and functionality independent of whole new OS releases. The EU decision, while aimed specifically at Windows XP, could open the door for more scrutiny of Vista going forward, Microsoft watchers and company officials have speculated.

Microsoft launched Vista and Office 2007 worldwide on Jan. 30. By the end of the first 100 days of availability, Microsoft was crowing that it had sold 40 million copies of Vista. By July, the Vista-sold count hit 60 million. By October, it was 88 million copies sold. (By the way, "sold" here means sold to the channel, not to customers.)

While it appeared to be reaching impressive milestones, Microsoft execs spent a good part of the year fighting public perceptions that Vista was an abysmal failure. Reports of driver and application incompatibilities flooded newsgroups and blogs. Marketing and advertising for Vista floundered.

Microsoft added insult to injury by refusing to talk turkey about Windows Vista SP1 -- a collection of much-needed fixes and patches for Vista -- until late summer. When it finally did start talking about SP1, it proclaimed it a nicety, not a necessity, saying users should just sit back and let Microsoft send them automatic updates on a regular basis to boost Vista's reliability, performance and compatibility.

Customers who wanted to know anything about Microsoft's post-Vista plans were out of luck. Windows 7 is coming in 2010 and will be built on the "MinWin" modular kernel. That's all the 'softies would say. Don't expect to hear more -- from an "official" standpoint, at least -- until there's a beta that needs testing. (Then expect to sign non-disclosure agreements galore in order to be deigned worthy of possible tester consideration.)

When Microsoft watchers look back at 2007, I think the year's events would make good fodder for a Harvard Business School case study. Vista came out of the gate with a bang, but not because of what Microsoft did right. New PC pre-loads kept the Vista momentum going more than good marketing, business or disclosure policies. What do you think? Was 2007 really all about Vista? What will Microsoft's focus be for 2008?

About the Author

Mary Jo Foley is editor of the ZDNet "All About Microsoft" blog and has been covering Microsoft for about two decades. She has a new book out, Microsoft 2.0 (John Wiley & Sons, May 2008), about what's next for Microsoft in the post-Gates era.

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