I have been evaluating the Beta 2 version of Windows Vista. Frankly, I'm underwhelmed.
My impression of Microsoft's newest offering is that for all practical purposes Vista amounts to little more than a gel skin for XP Service Pack 2. Sure, there are some much needed security upgrades and desktop search improvements, but these features are already available in XP SP2, Google Desktop Search, or even MSN's desktop search offering. Absolutely, the human interface is imminently usable, but so is OSX. Yes, IE7 has tabs and integrated an RSS reader, but those have been available for a year in Firefox, Safari, and Opera (not to mention the fact that IE7 will be available to XP SP2 users). In other words, I can find no single cornerstone feature in Vista that hasn't already been commercially available in other forms for the past year or will not be available on XP by the time Vista ships.
I approached Vista with an open mind. Not only am I interested in evaluating Vista from a professional developer's point of view, I am a tech enthusiast. It has to be said that Microsoft's PR campaign has been masterful. PC magazine covers provided blanket coverage of the imminent launch with each "new" feature described in detail. The reality has not lived up to the hype, and it is interesting to note that the number of such glowing articles has declined in recent months. My impression is that the mainstream press is getting the same impression the rest of us are: the emperor has no clothes.
To be fair, I am not saying that Vista is not a much-needed update. The new OS certainly looks and feels shiny. Installation went smoothly for the 32-bit version (less so for the 64-bit version), and the security updates were a welcome improvement. Once the OS was installed, everything was more or less worked as expected. If you know your way around XP, you will feel instantly familiar with Vista.
However, in my exploration of Vista, I have yet to have that Grand Moment—the moment in which I feel I am experiencing something truly great, innovative, and useful. Not to sound jaded, but it just feels like Vista finally caught up to its competition circa 2005. Too bad it won't ship until 2007.
The fact that Vista will not be commercially available for six, nine, or even twelve months by some estimates means that by the competition will have surpassed Vista by one or more product generations. By the time Vista ships, OSX will be at 10.5. Firefox will be at version 2, and Opera 9 will be getting tired. Who knows what Google and the Open Source community have up their sleeves.
Microsoft faces a massive challenge to convince users to upgrade. I recall the challenge they faced when convicning us to upgrade to Windows ME. However, the competitive landscape has changed dramatically since 2000. Microsoft is competing in an environment where virtualization means you can run multiple OSes side by side, Apple is running on Intel chips, and compelling free offerings keep pouring in from all directions. This is a whole different game; one where more than adequacy is required.
In the end, Vista is an anemic upgrade that will be a generation or more behind its competition by the time it ships. Will it matter? No, of course not. Microsoft is too big and Vista will be adopted by sheer force of marketing saturation, OEM bundles, and dominance in the marketplace. However, I for one will not be rushing to stores to upgrade, nor will I be recommending Vista to anyone who is not buying a new computer.