Getting a Good Look at Vista

Clint BoultonReporter’s Notebook: It’s been more than a year and a half since HP CEO Mark Hurd took the helm at HP , and the company has been humming along nicely.

A string of purchases and a few events to celebrate the company’s new technology have put some vigor back into the company.

This was apparent in the company’s trip to New York this week, where it turned on the fire hose for a stream of PC-oriented product launches under a “Taking Care of Business” slogan.

HP trotted out new business PCs and enhanced laptops, along with a workstation, monitors and a battery pack that can hold a 16-hour charge for laptops — 16 hours!

But the machines are only as good as their software. And I saw some cool software on Wednesday: Windows Vista from Microsoft.

There’s been a lot of hype about this oft-delayed operating system. I know because I’m writing some right now. But I don’t care.

Until this week, it’s been hard for me to really get excited about a product that may or may not appear in early 2007 as the folks in Redmond would have me believe.

But I got a peek at it at HP’s event, seeing a handful of features that Microsoft  expects to pack into the monster OS.

And it’s pretty darn exciting from a usability standpoint. The graphics alone may be worth the wait.

Dave Fester, general manager of the OEM division at Microsoft, spent the day explaining to anyone who would listen why Vista is good for business users.

“Using a PC isn’t as easy as it should be,” Fester told a small gathering of media.

“If you look at what we’ve done from Windows 3.0, even out to Windows XP, they were designed so the person had to learn the computer instead of the computer working in a natural way for the person.

“We really thought about that in Windows Vista: How do we do things that allow users to be at the center of the experience?”

That marketing messaging is nothing new. From the BitLocker encryption to SideShow for alternate displays, Microsoft has been spelling out and touting the features in Vista for a couple of years.

But I have to tell you: for one stinging moment, I wanted his laptop even though it was as thick and cumbersome-looking as a high-school history textbook.

Fester stressed the forthcoming platform’s new search, mobility, security and policy management perks, but he actually showed us some of the new search tools.

Whereas the hardware was clumsy looking, Vista is in a parallel universe by comparison; using a business version of Vista and Office 2007, Fester was able to do searches on it in seconds that would take me minutes on my XP SP2-based machine.

Usually, when you want to find something in Windows, you mouse click on the start button and scroll through lists of options.

Not with Vista.

Need to do a keyword search for files? Fester merely clicked on the “Start” button, typed in a word and was presented with choices that included references to the word in files and e-mails.

In almost any Vista-ready application, there will be a consistent search box, as if the OS itself is the browser, Fester explained.

Of course, there is also a singular search portal where you can find anything on the computer. You can also tag documents with Vista to narrow down searches even more.

Fester also showed us that, if you have Office 2007, you can turn on a “reading pane” to read and even edit a word processing document or spreadsheet without actually opening up the application and engulfing the entire page.

The executive also showed us how the search utilities in Vista bridge the gap between desktop and server. Documents saved on a server will also appear on the desktop, so users have updated information.

Microsoft engineers did all of this by integrating search at the core of the OS, boosting the usability. Pretty cool.

With the enhanced graphics capabilities of the new user interface, you also get a thumbnail view of minimized “live” icons; when your cursor moves from one icon to another, you get a broader view of what’s behind the image.

So, here’s to hoping, in the wake of the recent RC1 candidate release, that Vista hits its latest deadline: January 2007.

Vista Start
A Vista Start snapshot to search.
Source: Microsoft

Am I crazy to be wowed six months before the OS hits the streets? I don’t think so,

It seems Vista is wielding some interesting, albeit fluctuating influences over corporate buyers.

Forrester Research analyst Simon Yates, who gave a lunch presentation on the state of the corporate PC market, said corporate purchasing plans have swung like a pendulum for the last two years based on Vista.

Currently, the analyst said that 24 percent of corporate PC users surveyed said they will migrate to Vista within 2 years, with 29 percent moving to the new OS within a year of its release.

Interestingly, Yates said Forrester asked the same question in 2005 and those figures were a lot lower; the research firm asked the same question in 2004, and the number of those who planned to jump to Vista within one to two years was a lot higher.

A head-scratcher, huh? Not really when you remember the avalanche of bad press Microsoft weathered in 2005.

Remember how Microsoft tantalized folks with super storage file system Win FS, then withdrew it from Vista?

“In the middle of 2005, there was a trough of disillusionment. They’d taken some pieces of it out, and people didn’t know when this thing would be released,” Yates explained.

Yates said the doubt vanished when IT departments got to playing with the beta release earlier this year.

“Clearly they’re seeing enough value to put it back on their radar screens and start pushing it,” Yates said.

“Based on the way it’s going now, we see more and more enthusiasm. It seems the companies have gotten over ‘No WinFS’ and those other concerns. The PC industry and corporate space has a lot riding on that.”

Hey, I wasn’t surveyed, but I did get to see what it does. My vote is with Vista. Let’s get it in and running ASAP.

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