Tech Transfer

Giving them what they want

News sites have been ablaze with stories on Microsoft Vista of late, proclaiming everything from severe hardware requirements to confusing SKUs being announced. But have any of them bothered to speak to Microsoft?
1 November 2005
Microsoft`s Jonathan Hatchuel says their product development is driven by three essential elements – customer feedback, innovation and quality.

Microsoft has a similar problem to McDonalds; no matter what the fast-food giant does to their menu, they will probably always be accused of producing plastic.

The online news carriers were recently ablaze with stories of Windows Vista.

The first one proclaimed that Vista had ridiculously high hardware requirements and that users would have to buy new computers just to run it. They claimed that Vista would require 2 gigabytes of RAM to run smoothly and a PCI-Express graphics adaptor due to the new system of rendering vectors as opposed to the traditional bitmap-rendering of the Window`s graphical user interface (GUI).

The second story we stumbled upon claimed that Vista would include digital rights management (DRM) systems that would require new monitors to display high definition (HD) quality media, even DVDs, correctly as most existing CRT and flat-panel monitors were incapable of handling the new technology.

And finally, a couple of generally reputable members of the international IT press claimed that Windows Vista would be released in seven different SKUs, making it very confusing for the public to choose the correct Windows for their requirements.

Strangely, none of the writers of these stories had included comment from Microsoft. So we decided to ask the software giant for comment on these claims.

“It`s a difficult situation,” says Microsoft`s Jonathan Hatchuel. “Because we try to keep journalists abreast of the facts, but they seem to prefer reporting on speculation.”

He goes to work dispelling the first notion; that Windows Vista will require serious system upgrades.

“We are a year away from release at the moment,” explains Hatchuel, “and the requirements we are working with at the moment might change a little, but right now there is nothing to suggest that Vista will not run on any of the machines running Windows XP right now.”

Cool features

He explains that Windows Vista will have some cool features that will require some hardware beef, but these will be optional and will not affect the actual operating system functionality.

But what of the PCI-Express graphics that the press is preaching as a must-have graphics bus for Vista? “Our beta testers are being recommended that they use a graphics card with a minimum of 128 megabytes of video RAM,” says Hatchuel.

“Whether PCI, AGP or PCI-Express interfaces. Cards of this level are fairly common place right now.”

Optional eye candy

Vista will have demanding eye candy, but this will all be optional.

“Again,” insists Hatchuel, “we are not sure exactly what will be required at launch a year from now, but it is fairly certain that Windows Vista will perform very well on lesser graphics adaptors. But for the associated eye-candy – be it transparency, 3D flips or detailed previews that will require better graphics cards. The eye candy is optional and not having it turned on will in no way effect the functionality of the operating system.”

OK, so much for the demanding hardware story. What of the digital rights management that will render all our monitors useless for viewing media? “Let me start by stating that our product development is driven by three main elements;” says Hatchuel, “the first of which is customer feedback, then innovation and finally quality. We became more preoccupied with what our customers wanted some time ago and this is why we identified security as one of their biggest demands and prioritised this is in the development of Windows XP, which is why XP has become very secure if kept up to date.

“Now,” he continues, “if we were presented with a DRM system that would render most of our customers displays as useless, we would definitely not include it as a requirement for viewing media in Vista. We may test it as a feature, but it would be bad business to turn it on by default.

“We are testing Vista with the public more than we have ever tested a Microsoft product before,” he adds. “And the final release will be based on their feedback. In this way we will ensure that the market is happy with the product before it is released.”

The future of HD in its use for television and the much talked of new HD DVD format is completely undecided right now. It would be foolish to speculate on what the requirements will be for the end user just yet and the key players are still arguing over which technologies to employ.

Blame Hollywood

So it looks like we may be able to keep our monitors, if not, it certainly won`t be Microsoft`s fault – blame Hollywood when you have to chuck out your monitor and buy a new one for viewing movies in the future, since they`re driving the DRM industry.

That leaves the story of seven Vista SKUs, which is leading to market confusion.

“Again,” he continues, “the range of Vista SKUs available is a suggestions, now as we move into product testing with the public, we will find out what the general opinion is from our customers before making a final decision.”

Once again – much ado about nothing…

By all accounts, Windows Vista, as a result of the most extensive beta testing stage ever, may just be the first Microsoft product that we struggle to find blatant problems with.

This new care for the customer may, or may not, be the result of more competition in the market from the likes of Linux. Whatever the reasons, it seems that Microsoft are actually listening to the market and taking notes in the interests of what the public really wants.

A decade of serving plastic disguised as hamburgers may have created a difficult reputation to break though... we wait in anticipation for the last quarter of 2006 when Vista is currently scheduled for release.