One Vista to rule them all?

Does the world need five versions of the one operating system?

Does the world need five versions of the one operating system?

Over the past 2 weeks I’ve fielded many questions from friends and family about the launch of Microsoft’s Vista operating system. The conversations have gone something like this:

Friend: ...So Brendon, you work with computers, right? What is this new Microsoft Vista thing? Is Vista the new version of Windows XP?

Me: That’s right, it’s Microsoft’s new operating system after XP. It’s pretty cool.

Friend: Is it faster than XP? My computer is so slow these days...

Me: Well that depends what sort of computer you’ve got and what version of Vista you want to buy.

Friend: It’s a Dell and I want the new version of Vista.

Me: There are 5 new versions of Vista and 3 that you would most likely be interested in buying I think.

Friend: Oh. What’s the difference?

Me: [Roughly explains the 3 versions while watching friend’s eyes glaze over...]

Friend: So what makes it better than XP?

Me: Well the killer feature for me is the new search functionality which makes things a lot easier. It also looks better and it’s easier to find things. The Media Center integration in the Ultimate version is pretty cool too.

Friend: Sounds like it’s easiest to just get the Ultimate Edition. How much is it?

Me: $751 brand new or $495 for an upgrade if you have a legitimate version of XP.

Friend: Ouch. How much for the other versions?

Me: [Long explanation about the different versions at different prices and what features are turned off and on. Friend is starting to look around the room and is bored and confused.]

Friend: Okay, will Microsoft make me upgrade?

Me: No, but support for XP will eventually disappear from Microsoft and 3rd party applications that run on it. Most probably you’ll need a new computer before that happens though.

Friend: Oh okay. What do you think I should do?...

....And cut.

It’s clear that Microsoft have made the road to Vista too confusing to users thinking of making the switch. While the operating system is a step up from XP and other client operating systems Microsoft have gone backwards and made upgrading an OS harder than before. The average punter is still reaching for geeks, or worse, computer store clerks who work on commission, to look for help when upgrading a device most Australians use every day.

By offering 5 different versions of one operating systems Microsoft are putting users into a pigeon hole. The fact is that there are many different types of users even on one computer – say for example a family who might have a range of computer expertise and usage in the one household.

Microsoft might understand the different types of users they have and have developed Vista features accordingly. The problem is that most end-users don’t really know where they fit in. The extra layer of complexity is isolating an audience from computing who just want things to work and not feel any more technically illiterate than they already admit to be.