Perspective: If Windows 8 = Vista, what's Microsoft's next move?

Microsoft, Vista and the bastard child problem

It's a low rumble here, there, like a thunderstorm barely heard because it's so far over the horizon that only the cloud tops can be seen, but the words "Windows 8 is Vista" are starting to leave lips and paint pixels.

And that has to scare the you-know-what out of Microsoft.

Because to Microsoft, Vista is the bastard child of the Windows family, the one who lost friends' savings in a Ponzi scheme, then fled to Bhutan and its mountains, beyond reach by extradition.

If Windows XP could be called the elderly uncle who worked most his life in the foundry to put his kids through college, if Windows 95 is a fondly-remembered grandmother who once danced with the Rockettes, if Windows 7 is the nephew with a shot at middle management, then Vista is the kin no one wants to talk about.

So to equate Windows 8, the newest member of the clan, with Vista, well, that makes Windows 8 junk, because Vista is the flop that even its closest competitor in the boner sweepstakes, the turn-of-the-century Windows Millennium Edition (shortened by some marketing genius to ME), can sneer at.

The causes of Vista's bad reputation are legion, some unfair. But once a reputation's made, it's almost impossible to rehabilitate. See: Nixon.

Even Microsoft ignores Vista. Search the company's press release archives and you have to go back to April 2008 -- 18 months before its successor showed up -- to find one with the word"Vista" in its title. And that release? About Service Pack 1, a mulligan for the OS.

Windows XP, more than five years older than Vista, has been treated more graciously, garnering a headline as recently as April 2013.

Vista was a failure for Microsoft -- it topped out at a 19% user share in October 2009 by Net Applications' reckoning -- less than a fourth of XP's at its height, just 40% of where the still-growing Windows 7 stands today. The failure is relative: Apple CEO Tim Cook would gladly break bread with investment pest Carl Icahn for a month of Sundays to have OS X at 19%. Still, relative matters.

How did it come to this?

Vista had all kinds of problems, not least that it was late. Originally slated to ship in 2004, three years after XP, it didn't hit retail until Jan. 30, 2007, seven years ago this week. Then there were the device driver issues and ballyhoo over User Account Control (UAC) due to Microsoft's re-architecting the former and trying to stem malware with the latter. It was even the focus of an unsuccessful class-action lawsuit that alleged Microsoft duped consumers into buying "Vista Capable"-labeled PCs that could run only the lowest-level edition, Vista Home Basic, which did not include several key features that Microsoft heavily promoted.

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