Vista: The Long-Term View

Europe’s top antitrust regulator in Brussels may soon be squaring up against Microsoft one more time in a battle over what it believes could be unfair competition strategies relative to Vista, the software giant’s new operating system. Two years ago, the European Commission demonstrated that it certainly isn’t in awe of Microsoft when the Commission fined the software firm e487million for abusing its dominant market position.

Obviously, the whole software business is watching the launch of Vista like a hawk, and is looking for any indications that the new system will prompt an EU backlash. The Commission clearly stated that it will react if it feels product features, such as the bundling of a new search engine with new security software with new document readers, could unfairly hit those companies that sell such software separately.

But the European Commission isn’t the only one holding Vista under the magnifying glass. Companies like IBM, Nokia, and Oracle have all lobbied the Brussels regulators to scrutinise Vista because of its potential to further consolidate Microsoft’s dominant position.

Needless to say, Microsoft has been resisting any demands put forth by the European Commission to modify its new system, citing potential security risks. Modifications inevitably mean a delay in product launch, and Vista is already running about two years behind the launch date that Microsoft envisioned five years ago.

Despite all that, though, just a few weeks ago Microsoft announced changes to Vista that unsurprisingly could go some way toward alleviating the concerns of the European Commission.

But Microsoft has to satisfy more that just the Brussels bureaucrats. It also must leap over other market hurdles in order to achieve a smooth global launch for Vista.

To start, two clearly identified issues must be resolved. Microsoft first has to convince large corporations to make the change to its new system. This takes time, however, as companies cautiously wait for the bugs that new software can carry to be eradicated. The second challenge will be to get private users of PCs to buy into the new software. Many are apt to resist, feeling that their existing packages do a good enough job for them. In other words, “If it ain’t broke, why fix it?”

Personally, I feel we’ve heard a lot of this stuff before, and Microsoft will jump all of these hurdles given some time. The only question is... how much time?

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