If I might paraphrase Mark Twain, "It seems that the rumours about the death of Vista have been slightly exaggerated". Rather than being actually dead, for the last quarter, Vista has been undead. The last nightmarish creature to come out of the Redmond laboratory and by far the vilest miscreation since "Windows 95", has continued its shadowy half-life in a twilight zone around the shelves of discount stores. Vista seems to have comprehensively wrapped up the Mom and Pop market. It has, without doubt, captured the lion's share of the market amongst customers who don't know any better. However, although the bloated shambling monster has been knocking on the doors of the corporate sector for almost two years, it has found those doors firmly shut and locked. The corporate sector are loathe to "downgrade" their computing infrastructure with such bloated execrable software.
It now seems that Vista will be put out of its misery. The mercy killing will be made official soon. Microsoft are now trying to rush through an early release of Windows 7. The new operating system will feature a stripped down kernel, and applications will be added as needed. No doubt this decision has come about because the kernel is now crammed with so much crap that it has paralysed development and almost brought the latest generation of powerful new Intel computers to a complete halt. Vista may have reached an important software summit, known as Peak Bloat. Microsoft has been forced to pare down the operating system because bloat had become so severe that the addition of just one more "feature" might have frozen it permanently and irrevocably.
Security remains a major headache for Microsoft, who have always been more concerned about the security of their corporate distribution model than the security of their customers. Nevertheless, years of criticism and bad publicity have forced Microsoft to try to address the problems of their customers' security. The approach they took with Vista was to introduce "User Account Control", which they describe with the acronym UAC, another idea borrowed from Unix, and implemented in the shoddy, half-baked manner that they usually employ for security modifications.
The UAC has not been very popular with old time microsofties, many of whom complained bitterly, constantly and loudly about the constant carping about security. A large number of them switched it off. Which sorta defeated the whole purpose of UAC.
This has become a genuine conundrum for Microsoft, who had always promoted the idea that their computers are easy to use because the operating system is user friendly. Security can be many things. But friendly is not one of them. What should Microsoft do? Should they educate their customers? Try to instill the basics of computing? Perhaps even try to work with them? This could be risky! Microsoft prefer their customers to be dumb. Smart customers might leave the Microsoft paddock altogether. Smart customers might realise that Microsoft has always had a deep and abiding contempt for them.
It seems that Microsoft began to grapple with this conundrum early in the decade, when the Great Longhorn Project was still on the drawing board. A system architecture was designed that allowed Microsoft to control all programs and data on the computer. This approach would allow the issues of personal security and DRM (Digital Restrictions Management) to dovetail neatly. There were several problems with this approach, however. Among them:
Microsoft wanted all care but no responsibility. Over time the EULA has been carefully shaped and crafted to state that Microsoft accepted no responsibility for their product.
In order to sell this concept, customers would have to feel confident that Microsoft would do the right thing when they took control of all data and programs. The Trustworthy Computing initiative was mostly about assuring customers that Microsoft was a well-behaved ethical corporation and could be trusted with the task. Although this did raise some doubts. If they were such a nice corporation why should they reassure their customers that they could be trusted?
And there was also the potential for the product to swell and to slow down. This was the main contributor to bloat.
These problems eventually all came to fruition in Vista. Microsoft still faces the same dilemma. Should they work with their customers, or exploit them?
The long rambling EULA that denies all responsibility has arisen because Microsoft remain paranoid about Linux, even though it remains undiscovered by the vast consumer herds. Linux software arrives over the Internet with a Copyleft (as opposed to Copyright) license which states emphatically that there is no warranty and no responsibility assumed by the authors. After all the software is free! What do you expect? This might seem like a weakness, but it is in fact the greatest strength of open source software. It has allowed organisations like Ubuntu to deploy robust software rapidly and securely over the Internet.
Microsoft is trying to build a similar rapid deployment network. However for a proprietary product, which must be purchased, if there is no warranty and no responsibility, some customers might ask themselves what exactly are they paying for? The fact that not too many are asking this is a tribute to ignorance and marketing. Most customers don't even know what a EULA is, and those that do, don't know what software is.
To date, most of the attempts to deploy Ubuntu have been half-hearted. So there is a great business opportunity for any organisation that commits to a large scale deployment of Ubuntu. The cost advantage is unbeatable. And this may become significant in the newly changed landscape after the GFC (Global Financial Crisis -- or as some would have it -- Global Fried Capitalism). It's a pity that so many people who work with Open Source Software seem to lack the business skills to deploy it.
In the meantime, one thing is for sure. Without a coherent open source strategy, Windows 7 will probably prove just as big a failure as its predecessor. Words cannot express how distressed your humble blogger is to see such a fine corporation as Microsoft in such a quandary.
I haven't mentioned Azure or Cloud Computing, because I believe these are vapourware. If proved wrong, your humble blogger will humbly eat large slabs of humble pie.
For the time being if the consumer herds do not discover Ubuntu, it's light will continue to glow brilliantly and undiminished under the bush it has hidden itself. And if you have happened to stumble on my humble blog, looking for a new computer, might I humbly suggest you consider a new operating system from Ubuntu. In many cases that's all you require. It will breathe new life into your computer! ... Trust me! I'm a (humble) blogger!