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Microsoft's Vista: Last big PC release?

The update to its ubiquitous Windows operating system could be the end of an era, some experts say.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / December 21, 2006

It beckons buyers with translucent Aero Glass 3-D window displays, the promise of faster boot ups, more reliability, and stouter protection against viruses and spam. But is the new Windows Vista operating system (OS), a great leap forward or the last big splash as computing migrates to the Internet and away from PC-based software? Either way, one study predicts the software will be installed on as many as 90 million computers worldwide by the end of 2007.

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Five years in the planning, Vista promises to turn older PCs (if they can handle the heavy technical specs) and new ones into sleek, slick user-friendly environments. Versions for business use are now on the market. Basic and premium versions for consumers will be available at the end of January.

Realizing that they would miss the lucrative Christmas selling season this year, Microsoft and computermakers are offering holiday buyers coupons giving them a free upgrade to Vista when it hits the market.

But retailers seem to have put selling "Vista ready" machines and the coupon program on a back burner and are concentrating on slashing PC prices to rack up December sales, says Toni Duboise, a senior analyst at Current Analysis, a tech research firm in Sterling, Va. Ironically, Ms. Duboise says, "Most consumers really didn't know about Vista until [Microsoft] announced that it wasn't going to come [before Christmas]."

Vista has had a higher profile with tech-savvy, high-end buyers who want the latest. But even some of them are likely to give in to holiday bargains and buy now, waiting to "deal with Vista when it comes out," Duboise says.

With Vista almost certain to become the dominant OS inside the world's PCs well into the next decade, missing the Christmas sales season this year is an "almost insignificant" part of its overall impact, says Michael Gartenberg, a senior analyst at JupiterResearch in New York, which follows consumer technology trends.

"This is a major, major upgrade," Mr. Gartenberg says, "Microsoft's best work to date in terms of an operating system." Users will find that in the Vista environment, "Things flow much more naturally," he says. "It feels like a much more holistic and polished experience."

According to Forrester Research in Cambridge, Mass., the OS that Vista is replacing, Windows XP (introduced in 2001), took more than four years to be installed on a majority of PCs. Today it still occupies only 76 percent of the PC market. Older versions of Windows, such as Windows 2000, make up most of the rest.

Forrester predicts Vista will be adopted at a similar or slightly faster rate than was XP. Twelve million American households will have Vista by the end of 2007, Forrester says, and 73 million by the end of 2011.

Vista's impact is bound to reverberate throughout the world of PCs as new hardware and software takes advantage of its capabilities, analysts say. Every dollar that businesses and consumers spend on Vista is expected to create $18 in revenue for related products and services, predicts a Microsoft-sponsored report from tech research firm IDC.