Is Vista’s ubiquity inevitable?

A few weeks ago I had my first encounter with Microsoft’s Vista operating system. As sometimes happens at the reference desk a student came up to us and said they could not connect their laptop to the school’s wireless network.

She said it was a new computer and when she showed it to me I could see it was running the new OS. I was pleasantly surprised that when I took a look at the screen, Vista appeared to be providing the user with a fairly clear path to resolving the problem. The problem the user was having was that she needed to navigate Vista’s many layers of security permissions in order to connect to the wireless network. This new feature, intended to address the security concerns about previous Microsoft OS’s, was poked fun at in one of the Mac vs. Windows ads.

To Vista’s credit after going through the steps, she was able to connect to the network, and this encounter got me thinking about what other new features of Vista we will need to get familiar with in the library. But after reading a lot of articles since Vista’s release, I am starting to think that Vista’s eventual takeover of our school computers may not be inevitable.

As a backgrounder, my computer ownership life began with the Windows 3.1 computer I went off to university with. To be generous, 3.1 had its share of weaknesses so along with most average computers users I looked forward to news of new Microsoft operating systems with their promises of greater ease of use, fewer crashes, etc. In the back of mind I had been assuming that the move from XP to Vista would follow the similar Microsoft OS adoption patterns, with organizations large and small quickly choosing to get on-board with the newer versions since they were clearly superior to the ones they were replacing. These two article, Windows Vista – Broken by Design & Vista – Arrogance & Stupidity point out some of the major features of Vista that should be of concern to any organizations considering deploying Vista based machines.

Issues like all of the DRM built in to Vista (the costs of which are discussed here) makes me think that there will be some forward thinking/brave schools (this does not appear to include the University of Arizona) will take the leap to platforms like Linux. This article from the WSJ discusses the possibilities of Linux making its way to more desktops.

In a sign that schools are becoming less tolerant of cumbersome DRM, MIT chose to cancel access to a database over the issue. And when it comes to their computer hardware, why should schools accept that the software they install on their machines can impede their ultimate control of how they choose to use it?

Of course particular programs in colleges and universities will necessitate providing access to computers with Apple and Microsoft operating systems, but for the vast majority of staff machines, general computer labs and terminals in libraries other options are becoming more attractive. At the same time as Microsoft is making their marquee product more restrictive and bloated, the growth in web-based applications continues to explode.

One interesting project is Adobe’s Apollo. Applications like this one, built on standard web technology, can provide an ease of use that is familiar to the average computer user, making the underlying OS irrelevant to the work they need to do.

If I had to guess, 95 percent of the work done on the computers in our library is on the web or involves word processing. How does having Vista installed on computers being used in this way make any sense?

Microsoft is not dumb and they must be aware of some of these concerns. The author of the Vista – Arrogance & Stupidity article is not confident about them changing their approach:

What should Microsoft do? Their most basic mistake is “one size fits all”, holding that an entertainment device is equally suited for business. This is now obviously and painfully false. Microsoft should immediately develop a version of Vista for business with DRM completely stripped out. Perhaps they could disable playing of “premium content” entirely if they could do it cleanly – “premium content” has no place on business computers anyway.

Will Microsoft do this? No. Instead they will “stay the course”, increasing PR expenditures, working on ways to kill Windows XP to force Vista adoption, and ramping up their misinformation and FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) attacks on Linux to “full rabid” shrillness.

April 2 updated link about Desktop on Demand