Does Vista's stunted growth hint at the death of the desktop?

Is the desktop metaphor dead? Or is Vista just really bad?

Is the desktop metaphor dead, replaced by Web services like Google and Facebook? Or is Vista so bad that it's not worth buying?

New data points to the latter suggestion, leaving Microsoft with two options. It can either view its sagging Vista sales as a testament to the incredible work of art that is Windows XP (gag). Or it can concede that Vista is a pile of potty.

Or perhaps, just perhaps, this isn't a Windows thing at all but simply a recognition that we may have tapped out the "must-have" innovations on the fat-client desktop leading people to wait out upgrades until a hardware refresh makes the choice a no-brainer.

Regardless of how Microsoft chooses to view its Vista numbers, it clearly has a problem. Though it's only one dataset, PCWorld's users aren't jumping up and down for Vista. PCWorld measured Web traffic on its site, and found that adoption of Vista is tepid (14 percent), and is crawling compared with how fast XP came out of the gate:

How much of an accomplishment is it for a new version of Windows to get to 14 percent usage in 11 months? The logical benchmark is to compare it to the first 11 months of Windows XP, back in 2001 and 2002.

In that period, that operating system went from nothing to 36 percent usage on PCWorld.com--more than 250 percent of the usage that Vista has mustered so far. In fact, it only took 11 months for XP...to surpass Windows 98...and become the most-used version of Windows among users of the site.

It's possible that the numbers aren't as bad as they are made to appear or, rather, that there's a good reason for how bad they are. Some Slashdot commentary points out that Vista has a tougher battle ahead of it because it's meant to replace a strong product (XP) when XP replaced a terrible product (ME).

Fine. But that doesn't change the fact that 42.3 percent of Windows OS sales are XP today. Microsoft depends on new license sales to fuel its growth. With a subscription model, it arguably would be OK. But with a huge swath of its user base not injecting new cash into the Microsoft ecosystem? Well, let's just say it's time to push Sharepoint a little harder as a way to suck people into upgrading.

It's not just Vista that is wheezing, however. PCWorld's numbers show Firefox jumping from 25 percent of its site visitors to 36 percent by the year end. As comparison, 70 percent of the visitors to this blog use Windows (of various flavors)...but 54 percent use Firefox. Only 31 percent choose Internet Explorer.

Microsoft seems to have lost the "Wow" in its products, and it already covered "cheap and easy" in its last release. There doesn't appear to be much reason to move to Microsoft right now, while the Mac's ease of use and integration with the iPod is paving the way for more Mac usage (and Ubuntu is carving out fans within the Linux crowd).

Crisis time for Microsoft? Probably not. But certainly time to worry.

The real question is, "Worry about what?" Worry about Vista's problems or worry about the problems with the desktop metaphor. Is it dead? Or does Vista just stink? Thoughts?

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About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.

     

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