Making sense of Vistas first year

While many of you enjoyed "the Mom test," clearly there are lots more ways to look at how Windows Vista is doing. Here are three measures I typically use when trying to assess the impact of Vista.

The "downgrade" / Stick with XP movement

The downgrade movement is an indicator of how the most disgruntled users feel about Vista. Most people buying a new PC will accept Vista because that's what nearly all computers come with at retail. So, the folks who are actively seeking out XP machines or downgrading their Vista machines represent a minority, to be sure. Still, it's a vocal and important minority worth some attention. What's more, this movement gained steam during the year, prompting Microsoft to make it easier for PC makers to include an XP disc in the box with Vista machines and extend Windows XP's stay on the market.

However, this effort is set to be further relegated to the fringes come June, when Microsoft plans to stop providing XP to large computer makers. Windows XP-based systems will still be available from smaller computer makers, known as system builders, and Microsoft has indicated the date might not be set in stone.

"No changes are planned at this point, but we continue to listen to our customers and partners about their needs," a Microsoft representative said in an e-mail interview.

Although computer makers will still be able to offer XP downgrades in the box, they'll have to buy those discs ahead of the June 30 deadline, according to the Microsoft rep.

Another option for those unhappy with Vista's performance, but not looking to make the dramatic step back to XP, is a little-known program called vLite, which strips out many of Vista's optional components. Microsoft, is of course making its own change to Vista, the Service Pack 1 release due out before the end of March.

Sales numbers
There are three sales figures that matter: business adoption rates, new PC sales figures, and retail boxed sales of the operating system.

New PC sales and boxed copies are easy to track, but don't necessarily provide a direct indication about enthusiasm for the operating system.

Boxed copy sales have not shown nearly the jump seen with past new versions of Windows. Typically, enthusiasts snap up copies of the new version to upgrade older machines. Less than robust sales of boxed copies could be an indicator that hard-core enthusiasts are less jazzed about Vista, but there are other factors that probably are playing a role as large or larger.

Software/hardware compatibility
Microsoft executives have conceded that software and hardware compatibility, while numerically higher than with XP, wasn't where it needed to be when Vista debuted. This story has improved as the year has gone on.

What strikes me, though, is that even with 100 million Vista licenses sold, there continue to be darn few applications written specifically for Windows Vista. Ahead of the launch, Microsoft was touting the fact that application developers were taking advantage of things like Vista's new presentation engine and other features to create Vista-specific software.


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