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Goodbye, Mr. Gates, Hello Vista Woes

Looking Back at 2008
What went wrong? This was supposed to be the year of Windows Vista. Instead, it turned out to be another banner year for Windows XP in 2008.

The arrival of Vista Service Pack 1 (SP1) last spring was, by the conventional wisdom, supposed to kick off large scale corporate adoptions of the new operating system.

However, instead XP saw another year of solid sales, demonstrating that it is still alive and kicking – thank you very much. In fact, XP got its own new service pack dubbed SP3 last spring as well.

Even though Microsoft drastically limited access to XP, corporate customers especially continued to line up to get it. They did that even at the added expense, in some cases, of a "downgrade fee" from PC makers, who sold new PCs with Vista but then actually shipped them with XP preinstalled. The company says it has sold more than 180 million licenses for Windows since Vista shipped, but many of those, critics say, are XP units – not Vista.

Additionally, ultra low-cost PCs, often referred to as "netbooks" turned out to be another market for XP. Despite Microsoft's desire to kill XP off, it couldn't turn its back on hard cash waiting to be scooped up.

Introducing Windows 7

Microsoft delivered the public beta of the second service pack for Vista in late November. However, company officials have already begun promoting Vista's successor, Windows 7. That's right, even while Microsoft is still promoting Vista, it's already psyching up customers to buy what it bills as Vista's more stable, less complex, better performing sibling – so-called 'Vista done right,'

In fact, Windows 7 is set to start public beta testing in mid-January with release planned in time to make it onto new PCs in time for the 2009 holiday sales season. (However, the official party line is that Windows 7 will ship by the third anniversary of Vista's debut, which was January 30, 2007.)

Noted in passing, November heralded the 25th anniversary of Microsoft's original announcement that it would have something it called Windows. With Windows 1.0, in fact, the company began the pattern that it has often inadvertently followed through the years – Windows 1 was more than a year late to market. Ding.

Ozzie as the New Gates

This was also the year for the unofficial passing of the baton from retiring chief software architect Bill Gates to his personally selected replacement, Ray Ozzie.

Although Ozzie, who created Lotus Notes, actually took on the CSA title as well as the mantel of chief visionary, two and a half years ago, 2008 was the year when he started to impart his own signature to Microsoft's plans. (Gates finally retired on June 30.)

Those plans include the company's growing "software-plus-services" strategy.

Azure in the Mesh

Ozzie kicked things off in April, when he debuted "Live Mesh." The idea is that all of a user's devices -- from mobile phones to game consoles to PCs and Web browsers –- should link with each other and all of the user's social activities, producing a seamless framework for both personal and business access anywhere, anytime, with connectivity produced by the computing "cloud."

Mesh is only a part of the overall vision, however. At Microsoft's Professional Developers Conference (PDC) in Los Angeles in late October, Ozzie introduced a key component of Microsoft's developing "cloud computing" initiative – the Windows Azure Development Platform.

Azure, which is currently available as a community technology preview, provides the infrastructure for developers who want to write cloud-based applications as well as all the components and services needed to scale those applications to be as small or as large as the customer needs, quickly. Azure is designed to run across entire datacenters – like the giant datacenters that Microsoft is building across the country and eventually across the world.

Near the end of the year, Microsoft also announced it is working on Web-based versions of its Office Suite of productivity applications. Although they would have fewer features than the shrink-wrapped Office suite, Office Web apps can be run from a browser, including Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Safari.

In mid-November, the company delivered the latest versions – so-called "wave three" of its Windows Live Services, a set of applications that provide users with services via the Web, and complement Microsoft's software offerings.

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