After five years and numerous delays, customers can now get their hands on the final version of the Windows Vista operating system.
Well, business customers can at least. Though Microsoft celebrated the launch of Vista -- as well as Office 2007 and Exchange 2007 -- at events across the globe on Thursday, both Vista and Office 2007 won't be generally available through retail in the US until 30 January. Thursday marked the day business customers could purchase those products through Microsoft's volume licensing program.
And though business customers can now begin ordering Exchange 2007, the new version of Microsoft's messaging server software won't be released to manufacturing until the end of December.
Not only was Thursday's launch party for all three products a bit premature and anticlimactic after so long a wait for Vista, it could also be the last of its kind, according to industry watchers. With more software being pushed out to customers over the web as services, launch parties for packaged software products may soon be a thing of the past, they say.
"This is a big launch for them but for everyone else it's ho-hum," says James McQuivey, a professor for Boston University's College of Communication who specialises in marketing research and business management. "It's the biggest wait-and-see event of the week. Customers are going to wait and see when they need [Vista] and if they need it."
These concerns aside, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer was on hand with his usual enthusiasm at the New York launch event to promote what is arguably the industry's most highly anticipated product launch of the year.
"It's an exciting thing to finally be here," Ballmer said. "That's all I'll say about the past." He had previously promised that Microsoft will never again have another lengthy gap between the major releases of its client operating system. The vendor debuted Windows XP, the previous version of its client OS, in 2001.
"This is the biggest launch in our company's history," Ballmer said. "These are frankly the most significant releases of these two products [Vista and Office] we've ever done."
Vista was the big star of Thursday's event, though Microsoft teamed the OS launch with Office 2007 and Exchange 2007 for several reasons. One is that the company is trying to promote the technology links between the products to show how they can bring better worker productivity and cost savings to business customers in the hopes companies will purchase and deploy all three at once.
The last time Microsoft released Windows and Office together was with Windows 95. But during that time in the heyday of Windows, customers would have flocked to the new OS release even without its tie to Office. "It's not nearly as exciting as it used to be in the old days," said McQuivey. "With Windows 95 and 98, you actually had people waiting in line at [retail store] Best Buy" to purchase the OS.
This certainly isn't the case now, as consumers can't purchase Vista until January. And it may not even be the case then, as consumers in addition to business customers have said they may hold off on purchasing Vista until they need a new PC.