Technology: Whither Windows...
If, like many people, you’ve been waiting for the next version of Microsoft’s Windows before buying new hardware, the long wait may soon be over. Vista, the new Windows operating system, finally has a shipping date, and Microsoft has expressed confidence that the regulatory scrutiny that still remains will not hinder a planned consumer launch in late January. The new system is slated to be available to large computer manufacturers in November.
As recently as September, Vista’s launch was still uncertain because certain antitrust problems remained that threatened its introduction in Europe and South Korea. In mid-October, Microsoft announced that Vista had been amended to satisfy regulatory concerns, and that the new version could be launched worldwide within a few months. A delay in one country or region would pose a serious problem, as it would have significant consequences for software developers, manufacturers, as well as retailers there.
At the heart of the most recent delay - Vista’s launch has been "imminent" for several years - are antitrust issues involving Microsoft’s plans to bundle an Internet search engine, security software and a document format similar to the one sold by Adobe. Symantec, an industry leader in the antivirus software sector, launched a major effort to combat what they saw as an attempt to shut it and other security software providers out of Vista. Microsoft addressed these concerns by:
- Allowing other security products access to the "heart" of the new operating system;
- Changing Vista to permit users to chose their preferred search engine and make it the default on their computers; and
- Subjecting XML Paper Specification (its new fixed-layout document format) to scrutiny by an independent standards-setting organization, and changing the licensing terms to make its format more available to other software developers.
Even if Vista’s launch proceeds smoothly, Microsoft’s challenges are not over. The company is trailing Google and others in some key consumer market areas. Google is way ahead in the Internet search segment, and Microsoft’s Zune music player is facing a big struggle to tackle Apple’s iPod’s leadership position.
But, there’s more competition ahead for Microsoft. With Google helping to lead the charge, Web-based software delivery is beginning to make its impact felt. As yet, nobody has turned Web-based software into a moneymaking proposition but all indications suggest that these applications are going to pose a big headache to traditional desktop software manufacturers. If you want to take a look at simple Web-based applications, take a look at the offerings from Ajax 13. You might try ajaxWrite, which offers basic word processing (with much fewer fancy features than Word, though it can open and save Word files), and a drawing application called ajaxSketch. More programs are under development. Because it is an industry standard, Ajax is available free of charge to its users. You probably won’t miss the fancy features it lacks, but note that it is only runs in the Firefox browser. For its part, Google offers a free Web-based spreadsheet program, and has more applications under development.
Some industry experts are predicting that Vista will be the last operating system of the current era - the last traditional monolithic software product - and that Web-based delivery will open the door to greater consumer choice. What seems certain is that change is on the horizon. Web-based word processing and spreadsheet applications may lack sophisticated features and have some limitations, but for individuals and small businesses, free Web-based applications may be the way of the future.