Week in review: Vista on the horizon

Operating-system debut might not spark "midnight madness," but Microsoft has a couple of things going for it.

As Microsoft readies for the launch on Tuesday of its first new operating system in more than five years, questions remain over how big of a splash the event will be.

While retailers are indeed gearing up for the Windows Vista consumer debut, it appears that "midnight madness" will be kept to a minimum. CompUSA plans to keep its stores open past midnight on Tuesday so shoppers can get the new operating system as soon as it goes on sale. Best Buy and Circuit City each plan to keep a handful of stores open late, but most of their stores and those of other retailers are planning normal hours.

Releases of new operating systems may not draw quite the crowds they did in years past, but Microsoft has a couple of things going for it this time around. First of all, a new version of Office--Office 2007--is being released at the same time. Vista is also hitting store shelves at the same time it lands on new PCs.

As Vista begins its mainstream launch, much of the attention will be on what users can expect out of the box. But perhaps more important to its ultimate success are new technologies built into Vista but that come alive only once applications are written that take advantage of them.

Included in this camp are a new peer-to-peer file-sharing service, a new graphics technology, and a built-in system for searching and tagging information. Some early programs offer a hint of these abilities, but many applications that really will harness Vista are still in the early development stages or have yet to be written.

Among the first programs to get a full Vista makeover is one of the oldest consumer titles, The Print Shop. Its developer, Riverdeep Interactive Learning, has spent the last year completely rewriting the more than 20-year-old program to be based on Vista's new graphics engine.

As CNET News.com readers debated the value of the forthcoming operating system, some wondered if it is worth switching to Vista.

"You can be dead certain that many businesses, faced with the prospect of a major rewrite of their applications for .Net and Vista, will consider moving to another platform altogether," one reader wrote in News.com's TalkBack forum.

Before Vista is fully out the door, Redmond is laying the groundwork for its first service pack release of bug fixes and other enhancements for the operating system. The software maker has put out a call for businesses that want to be early testers of the software.

"Interested customers should contact their technical-account manager at Microsoft to get nominated," a company representative said in an e-mail. The company has not finalized what it will deliver in the first service pack, though it outlined an update that is more similar to Windows XP Service Pack 1 and other minor updates than to Windows XP Service Pack 2.

The great server shift
The Sun also rises for Intel--and Google follows suit.

Sun Microsystems announced that it will resume selling servers with Intel's Xeon processor, restoring a hardware partnership and extending it to software collaboration. Sun plans to begin selling dual-processor Xeon servers in the first half of the year, and Intel plans to provide engineering resources to optimize Sun's Solaris operating system. With the move, Sun becomes the last of the four top-tier server sellers to jointly use x86 processors from Intel and Advanced Micro Devices.

The alliance means that AMD no longer enjoys its exclusive status as the supplier that Sun relies on to back its relatively recent foray into the x86 server market. Sun stepped away from Xeon in late 2004, but now there's reason to come back: "Woodcrest and Clovertown are substantially improved technology," John Fowler, Sun's executive vice president for servers, said in reference to the dual-core and quad-core Xeon processors geared for dual-processor servers.

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