Vista: The longer view

Michael Hartmann, Microsoft EMEA’s director for Business Group Windows Group, reveals the thinking behind the software giant’s eagerly-awaited new operating system. Matthew Wade reports

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By  Ali Masud Published  April 2, 2006

|~||~||~|If a week is a long time in politics, it can seem a lifetime away in the IT industry. Last month saw the visit to the region of Michael Hartmann, Microsoft’s EMEA director for Business Group, Windows Client, to discuss the future of Windows Vista, the next-generation version of the firm’s flagship operating system product. Within hours of his interview with ITP on the company’s strategy for Windows Vista, Microsoft’s global PR team announced the company was delaying the rollout of Vista to consumer customers until January 2007. For many, this was a bombshell announcement — the company had repeatedly said that it would definitely launch Vista (previously code-named Longhorn) without fail in 2006. By missing the all-important holiday period, this delay is likely to impact PC sales in Europe and the US, if not globally. The interview that follows is the clearest indication we have had to date at IT Weekly about just what we can expect to see in Vista. However, it is worth pointing out that Microsoft has previously dropped features from the OS to help it make revised release dates — so some of the information presented here may still be subject to change. What is it that you would say Windows Vista will deliver to customers? What are the key things that will change from Windows XP? Obviously we have a good installed base with Windows XP. You could say things are running fine — for people who have SP2 [Service Pack 2 for XP] there might be smaller complaints. But why are we doing this? I would structure the biggest pain points around four areas of feedback that we’ve had especially from corporate customers. First of all, security risks. Most people would say, “Well, with SP2 — most people had their firewall turned up and were using anti-virus software.” The world has become more secure. Also for consumers it’s a secure world to work in. The issues here are twofold: one — its still relatively expensive to keep security maintained; 5% or 6% of the IT budget is dedicated to security maintenance, which is a lot. It’s been spent on something that’s not productive. The other thing is that we’re seeing new forms of attack, like phishing. Even if you had the greatest security concept, you cannot protect your end users from going on to a phishing site and compromising their own security. So we have new things coming up. [Secondly] obviously we heard loud and clear that we need to reduce the cost of controlling and maintaining Windows. What’s interesting today is that we met 50 customers from Dubai and Abu Dhabi and Oman. I would say that 30 of them were using imaging as a way to deploy new PCs. They were saying that otherwise it’s too much cost. The third pain point is information overload, and I would say we all share that. It’s a paradoxical situation — on one hand people have way too much info (docs, e-mail and what have you), but at the same time they don’t find this. So it’s a real pain for consumers, for info workers and for the IT pro. The last thing is an interesting one — because it’s an opportunity as well as a challenge — and that’s the proliferation of form factors. Because people are using a smartphone or PDA — which is great because they’re connected and can access corporate data — but if you don’t want to compromise the security of your corporate network, we have those issues to look at. So those have been the key pain points. How will Vista ship to custo- mers? Will it be similar formats to what we have seen on XP? We’ve basically changed a bit of our key lineup. In the past we did this around hardware: a Media Centre version, the Tablet PC version and so on. We’ve changed that to better meet customer needs. For instance, now we have a version for emerging markets —Starter Edition — which is tailored to the needs of first- time users. XP Starter Edition arrived in the Middle East just weeks ago. Within what timescale can we expect Vista Starter — will the gap be smaller between the OS’ launch and Starter arriving? It’s not the same gap, but there will be a gap, anywhere between three-to-six months. It depends upon our capacity to do the localisation. Sometimes we want to ship languages that are in a language interface pack called LIP. These are probably not the most demanded languages. Secondly, we also make that dependent on any governments having PC programmes within that country. Is Starter Edition only run out with such PC for Homes programmes then? We tend to launch it with government-led programmes. Once launched, we’re not tying it to these. The starter edition of XP has nothing to do with just providing a cheap version of Windows; the intent is to give access to underserved audiences. We cannot do that just ourselves, because we’re just delivering the OS. We have to have hardware partners and governments to help us distribute those PCs. This is why we always wait until we have the government to endorse the programme. And you’re working with Saudi Arabia on its forthcoming initiative? We’re still working with the Saudi government so we have — if you will — a bit already. There’s nothing stopping us doing that. We’re working with the Saudi government to get the partners. ||**||

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