If MS had designed Vista to run on a very highly controlled set of hardware specs produced by a few preferred manufacturers, then it would have been much easier to make the thing run stable right from first release. Only computers would be three times as expensive. In reality, the huge diversity in hardware and software in the marketplace means that a new MS OS will take at least a year of use in the field to fix and it will also take at least a year for all third party vendors to get drivers etc to work properly. The Vista that went on sale in January was Vista RC1. Vista SP1 is RC2, and Vista SP2 will be Vista stable release.
In this light, the huge PR disaster that has been Vista RC1 could have been largely avoided. Firstly, MS should never have had such a short overlap between XP support and Vista release. I suggest an OS life span of at least ten years (or fifteen, or even twenty), with at least a three year overlap with the old OS. Secondly, MS should never have acted as if Vista was in perfect working order – this, more than anything, is what has annoyed everyone. I suggest that MS should use incentives to encourage a small percentage of computer users to test-drive the initial release of a new OS and cut out RC2 (SP1) entirely. Perhaps a discount could be given for the first two or three years of an OS release, or RC1 could be given away for free to testers and then give a discount to the testers when the RC1 licence expires upon release of the first stable version. This way the technophiles (even the cynical ones) will all give it a go, as will the more able users who want to save money. Rather than feel that the new OS is forced upon us before it is ready, we will feel like we are getting something back for putting up with the bugs and incompatability issues. It would also mean that there is no market for illegal copies of the new OS for the first few years of its use.
Everybody wins here – geeks get rewarded to play with a new toy two years ahead of the majority of the population, whilst MS gets time to test its software properly before it goes global. The rest of the population gets an OS that actually works on official release, and thanks to the natural replacement cycle of PC hardware, consumers will have plenty of time to get a higher spec PC. Slowing the rate of OS development will also ease the pressure that forced hardware upgrading places on the environment. The only big downside to this is that MS shareholders will make less money… but considering the unjustifiable mark-up on MS products, this is a bearable change. Microsoft will still retain its market dominance and will suffer from much less bad publicity and bad-mouthing.
Basically, the current model MS follows will change at some point - can anyone seriously see us going though this palava every five years for ever? Time for MS to be pro-active!