Vista is Microsoft’s newest version of Windows, yet I have not seen wide enthusiasm for it.
As I was walking through the rain this morning I pondered this question, and why this version of Windows is less of a breakthrough than other versions.
Typically, people don’t move to new technology because they want its features, but because it allows them to get rid of old cumbersome ways of working, or at least automate them. The new way of working needs to be better by an order of magnitude. A 10% improvement does not offset the migration costs in typical business cases I have seen.
The personal computer, for example, allowed end-users to circumvent sluggish and expensive IT departments.
Windows 3.1 allowed to automate the process of using different display hardware, and provided a common approach to better usability.
Windows 95 offered much improved installation of hardware (“plug and play”, but still sometimes “plug and pray”).
Windows 2000 and XP finally brought 32-bit process independence and thus fundamental better stability of the platform. This in turn reduced user frustration and desktop support cost.
I fail to see a breakthrough of this magnitude in Windows Vista. The user interface is a bit slicker, and there are more security features out of the box. Yet, these features currently only annoy people, and we have seen from the earlier examples that annoying computer users is not a successful sales strategy. For corporate installations, the same level of security was already possible with Windows XP.
So, what would be a breakthrough, killer, next version of Windows, or perhaps killer of Windows?
It needs to drastically reduce a major complexity in computer usage. What I see currently is people juggling their computer usage across different machines and localities: office, home office, living room, mobile. Yet, across these, they want to carry their digital assets (files etc) and digital identities with them. If Microsoft where to deliver this, it would mean abandoning their primary source of strength: the personal computer. If you carry your digital assets around with you, potentially with as little as a user name and password, the platform on which you access those assets is not necessarily personal anymore. It could be as impersonal as an Internet café seat.
Components of solutions that I see in this space are Windows Card Space, Microsoft’s approach for digital identity, and U3 smart technology, which allows you to carry your files and software on a portable memory stick. I can imagine extending this technology to cell-phones. You connect your cell-phone to the nearest PC, and you would have all your files at your finger tips.