Microsoft trashes Windows XP

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

It's like politics. You start out by focusing on your ideas, how you want to improve things, maybe change the world a bit. But as the campaign slogs on, or as the legislation stalls, or the opinion polls begin to dip, you lash out. First at the media - for their "unfair, biased coverage" - then at your opponent. Until finally your "talking points" become little more than a laundry list of the "other guy's" faults and why you think he/she is "unsuitable" for public office.
Such is the case with Microsoft's campaign to win the IT community over to Vista. What started out as a positive effort to promote Vista's many benefits - the "wow starts now" - has devolved into kind of character assassination of its predecessor, Windows XP. At least that's how I'm reading the new white paper being circulated by the folks from Redmond: A classic political hit piece, one designed to cut the "other guy" (XP) off at the knees.
It's also sign of desperation. Microsoft tried the above-board route with Vista. It failed. Now it's time to get down into the mud and really pummel the opponent. No more mister nice guy. It's time to dig up every dirty little flaw and parade them through the mire in the hope that the Vista fence-sitters will finally see just how desperately they need "change."
Unfortunately for Microsoft, the version of XP they're attacking - with the missing features and incomplete security model - is a bit of a straw man. By focusing exclusively on the bare OS (up until and including the Service Pack 3 bits), they effectively strip XP of the robust ecosystem of supporting tools and workarounds that has evolved during its 5 year reign as King of the Desktop. As a result, the product they cite in their white paper bares little resemblance to the OS that enterprises deploy today.
For example, the white paper runs through a laundry list of new Vista "features" that are "missing" from XP. However, the majority of these have been addressed already by third parties (e.g. configuration management, mage-based deployment). Others are more like "bolt-on" components than features of the core OS (e.g. Sync Center, Mobility Center). And, of course, there are the myriad XP security and management "holes," which seem daunting until you realize that virtually none of them apply to the locked-down, tightly-controlled, corporate firewall-protected world of an enterprise Windows XP desktop.
Microsoft knows it can't win if the battle is between Vista and Windows XP as it exists today in the real world. So instead of attacking XP fairly, it slips in a sucker punch in the hope that someone further up the corporate management chain (and thus sufficiently removed from the IT trenches to know any better) will buy into the whole smear campaign and start pushing for a Vista migration.
The IT community may eventually forgive Microsoft for trying to hoodwink customers into a forced XP-to-Vista migration. However, with Windows 7 just around the corner, and with desktop Linux looking more polished every quarter, the company would do well to pull a few of its punches before that same, forgiving IT "electorate" decides to sit out yet another OS "election cycle" - or worse still, starts exploring one of those "3rd party candidate" options.

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