Microsoft dropped a bomb late in the day, announcing it would push back widespread availability of the new operating system until January. The software company said the delay was being made for the benefit of computer makers, retailers and other partners, but many people took issue with Microsoft's assessment.
"This is not good for the whole industry," said Richard Doherty, an analyst at Envisioneering Group in Seaford, N.Y. "Not for peripherals makers, not for graphics makers, not for notebook makers and not for desktop makers. Everybody was counting on upgrades to Vista."
Microsoft has said it doesn't expect the delay of Vista to dent fourth-quarter PC sales. However, Doherty and others disagreed.
"We essentially are giving up holiday 2006, and for notebook makers that is going to impact their bottom line quite a bit," Doherty said. "The first quarter is the slowest quarter of the year for any PC (sales)."
Rob Enderle, an analyst with the Enderle Group in San Jose, Calif., agreed that Microsoft's decision would be hard on computer makers. "The consumer market is largely a fourth-quarter market nowadays, and this will severely damage the market. There is no way around it," he said.
PC buyers won't be as eager to buy a new computer with Vista in January, Enderle predicted.
"A lot of the sales are permanently lost, not just deferred," Enderle said. "Consumers don't like shifting from fourth to first. It really does shift out buying behavior a year, and by that time the product is real old, so it won't have the same cachet."
The PC industry, despite the abrupt change dealt to its holiday season plans, stood by Microsoft's decision in public statements.
"As Microsoft is one of HP's most valued and trusted partners, we support them in determining the most appropriate schedule for the Windows Vista launch. We continue to work together closely to ensure that we jointly deliver to customers the best total technology experience available, and look forward to an exciting postholiday launch of the new operating system," HP said in an e-mailed statement.
Dell, whose direct sales model might have allowed it to still get Vista on holiday machines, was a little more reserved. "We remain ready and excited to offer (Vista) when it is available," Dell said in a statement.
Listen upDuring a Tuesday conference call, Windows chief Jim Allchin speaks to reporters and analysts about the Vista delay.
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Gateway seemed almost relieved by the decision. "This allows us to prepare for the holidays in a more orderly fashion. And regardless of the actual timing, our PCs will be fully Vista-ready well in advance of Microsoft's introduction," a company representative said in a statement.
Chipmaker Intel declined to comment on the delay. Advanced Micro Devices had no public statement prepared when contacted by CNET News.com.
"Microsoft really dropped the ball on this one," said Sam Bhavnani, a principal analyst with Current Analysis, in an e-mail interview. "There are significant negative ripples that will be felt throughout the personal computer industry."
With the postponement, the next big retail push for Vista PCs will be six months or so after the holiday season, with back-to-school sales, Doherty said. "Now the first (selling) window becomes the educational window of the spring and summer of 2007," he said.
One question is the effect the delay will have on computer sales--whether consumers will buy now in the hopes of adding Vista later, or whether they will hold off to purchase a system with it loaded.
Doherty expects people will wait if they want Vista, rather than buying now and upgrading later. "Vista is very demanding on the graphics system....It is not as attractive to buy a consumer upgrade for that in, let's say, 12 months, because it won't have the graphics acceleration to take advantage of Vista."
Microsoft would not say if it had any plans to help cushion the blow, say by offering Vista upgrades to those who buy PCs this year.
"We'll provide more later," Allchin said. "More details."
In the mix
Attendees at the expressed surprise that Microsoft pushed the date out for Windows Vista.
Microsoft partner BT, for example, was planning on starting to create prototype applications using Windows Vista for its clients in the late summer. Now that plan has to be pushed back, said Steve Konya, project director at the British telecommunications company.
"I am surprised. Particularly with the stuff they're showing here, which is real impressive, people got really excited with what can be done, and it made me think it was close to being here," Konya said.
Others said that with the delays Microsoft has already had with Vista, one more change to the schedule is perhaps not unexpected.
Randy McClure, development engineer at consulting firm Telligent, said his company uses Web-based desktop systems, so the delay won't affect it significantly. But he said he was disappointed.
"It's a little disconcerting. But better that they have it right than they rush it," said McClure. "That's always the problem with these guys--if they're late, we beat them up over it."
Though the delay is a big deal for consumers, Gartner analyst Michael Silver said a slight push-back should not affect businesses, which are likely to take their time moving to the new OS.
"For most enterprises, it will take them 18 months for testing and planning before they can start deploying Windows Vista anyway, so this delay won't affect their plans all that much," Silver said in an e-mail.
Ironically, under Microsoft's new plan, businesses will get access to the code this year, while consumers will have to wait.
Silver said he doesn't think many businesses will start to look at alternatives, but Linux sellers will certainly try and use the delay as a marketing opportunity.
"Novell is showing a beta of their new desktop Linux OS at BrainShare this week," Silver said. "It has some of Vista's look and will now beat Windows Vista out the door."
CNET News.com's Joris Evers, Ina Fried, Tom Krazit and Martin LaMonica contributed to this report.