I was looking at screenshots of the new Vista service pack announced at Microsoft's Professional Developers' Conference yesterday, and it seemed like a good patch.
Apparently, it turns Vista into a speed demon, makes transferring files via Bluetooth easier, reduces the size of the Windows icon on the start menu, adds some system monitoring and generally makes the software less irritating. Sounds good so far.
Then I realised this isn't a service pack at all, but an entirely new version of the operating system, Windows 7. Is Microsoft seriously expecting Vista users to pay for this?
Yes, the touch-sensitive interface may turn out to be a bigger deal than it first seems (although it seems awfully similar to the doomed Tablet PC to me), but aside from that, what's the big deal?
The Windows product team seems to have forgotten that it's in a war with Apple. Sales of Vista against Mac OS X aren't looking too rosy, but more importantly, Microsoft is losing the battle for something called 'mind share'. It's a horrible term, I know, but it's used in this context by marketing types when they want to express how many consumers like their product.
There's no doubt in my mind that Apple is winning the battle for mind share. Apple's relentless assault on Windows, both as a technology and what it says about the people that own Windows computers, has really connected with trendy consumers. Apple has successfully positioned Windows in the minds of many potential Microsoft customers as nothing more than a boring tool, and a pretty crap one at that.
Personally, I love and hate Mac OS X and Vista in equal measure, but the point is that Microsoft has to address this perception problem it if it's to continue to dominate the desktop. Adverts such as the Mojave Experiment are a start, but what's really needed is a new version of Windows that actually gets people excited.
So far, Windows 7 isn't that product. But all is not necessarily lost -- more features are promised between now and its launch. Let's hope Microsoft comes up with something that's actually worth paying for in the meantime.