This isn’t the first time Microsoft has screwed up a major product launch. It’s not even the first time Microsoft has been way behind schedule with Windows Vista.
At one time the company was promising to deliver its Longhorn (the earlier codename for Vista) operating system as early as 2004.
Then, Bill Gates told the world it would have to wait until late 2006.
But in order to meet that new, extended deadline, Microsoft also decided to remove some of the most important new features originally scheduled to be part of the product.
In particular, the company decided against including a full version of WinFS — a next-generation file system that would massively improve the way people could search, access and manage their documents.
So Vista was already in danger of delivering too little too late. Now it’s delivering too little even later.
In the past Microsoft could get away with tardiness. Money just kept on piling up in the bank as deadlines sailed carelessly past. It’s amazing what you can get away with when you have a monopoly. It’s amazing what you can get away with when you are relevant.
Microsoft still has a monopoly of sorts. It’s still kind of relevant. Thanks to Google, Yahoo and Linux, it doesn’t enjoy quite the monopoly it once had. Add Apple and the iPod to the list and you’ve a collection of rivals every bit as relevant as the 500lb gorilla from Redmond.
The news that PC sales won’t suffer much of a hit from Vista turning up late might be comforting to some of us. However, it could be interpreted as a further sign of Microsoft’s waning relevance.
Years ago, in computing’s Jurassic period, people used to say “when IBM sneezes the rest of the industry catches a cold”. For most of the 1990s and the first half of this decade, you could have said the same about Microsoft and the computer business.
Last week Microsoft sneezed and no one blinked.
This certainly isn’t the end for Microsoft. It isn’t even the beginning of the end. But it could be a high water mark.