Several websites have reported in recent days that Microsoft are once again extending their period of official support for vendors offering Windows XP on new machines. The proposed deadline had already been extended to the end of January 2009, but appears now to have been prolonged to July 31, 2009.
For Microsoft, it is usual practice to have a period of change-over where sellers are allowed to bundle copies of an older OS with their machines. With Apple, however, the switch is made, more or less, immediately. A friend recently bought a new MacBook on the day Leopard was released and, while the operating system was not installed, a free upgrade copy was bundled with the purchase. Within literally a couple of weeks it was very difficult to purchase a Mac with anything other than the new operating system.
It’s all about confidence
There are two important things we can learn about Microsoft and Apple through this differing policy. Firstly, Apple have a much greater confidence in their software to push it out immediately with all new machines sold. It could be argued that it simply wouldn’t be possible for Microsoft to achieve this, as they have a much looser control on the licensing and sale of their software — they don’t make the hardware. If, however, Microsoft were confident that packaging Vista with all new sales would delight rather than upset consumers, pushing vendors to switch to the new software on a much shorter timescale wouldn’t be a problem.
With Vista, it appeared that Microsoft wanted to release the software fairly quietly so as to minimize the negative impact of early teething problems. They didn’t have the confidence one would expect from a company so heavily involved in the software market.
The software doesn’t cut it
It was undoubtedly a hope that, over time, Microsoft would be able to iron out the problems with Vista and create a product of which they could be proud. Each time the deadline for a full switch-over is pushed back, this goal seems to be moving further and further away. The reception Vista has received over the long term hasn’t differed dramatically from the negative press which it received originally.
In contrast, Leopard was adorned with great reviews from the outset. One particularly elegant paragraph is from David Pogue’s review:
Leopard is powerful, polished and carefully conceived. Happy surprises, and very few disappointments, lie around every corner. This Leopard has more than 300 new spots — and most of them are bright ones.
From the outset, Apple were able to minimize problems and bugs, creating an operating system worthy of immediate inclusion on every product in their line.
The good side
This must mean that an opposing view can be taken — that Microsoft should be applauded for creating such a long-lasting product in Windows XP. The fact that an operating system introduced over 7 years ago is still suitable in such a fast paced industry does illustrate a degree of fore-thinking and quality. The OS is still well suited to small form factor machines (‘netbooks’, if you will), and Microsoft are allowing the bundling of XP with this type of machine until 2010. Vista may have its problems, but XP is still providing Microsoft with a reliable and proven product to fall back upon.
With the next version of Windows (“Windows 7”) a few years away, Microsoft need to be thinking long and hard about how to avoid the same problems again. Many of the large customers who have chosen not to upgrade to Vista will be putting a great deal of importance on Windows 7 which, if it doesn’t deliver, could easily lead them to jump ship to Apple or Linux based systems.
If Microsoft want to lead the software industry for the next iteration of operating system technology, they need to throw Windows 7 out of the door oozing confidence that it will be a stable and reliable release for years to come. Apple are snapping at their heels, and won’t be giving up the fight.