Apple turnover

Think I’m exaggerating? Well I’m not. I’ve recently quizzed a whole heap of trusted friends and colleagues about Microsoft’s approach to the home marketplace, and the consensus is that this appears to be “let’s make it so complicated that hopefully they’ll all buy the most expensive version out of fear”. Apple does just one version and offers a home licence kit for up to five computers; Microsoft installs some spyware in the cab that phones home every day (unless you know how to subvert it and get it out of your system). With Leopard, Apple is taking a set of small and measured steps forward; with Vista, Microsoft has committed itself to saving the world. I believe customers prefer incremental improvements that add up to a useful step, especially when the upgrade will cost just £139 for a family pack of five licences for a household.

Apple turnover

And the Apple stores? I thought the London store was a temple to stunning design and good taste, but the New York one goes further – it’s like a copy of the entrance to the Louvre in Paris as you spiral down underground into the shopping area. If I heard the salesperson correctly, they have 500,000 customers a month passing through this store, and the total number of visitors is 17 million per quarter across all stores.

Now for my prediction, the bit where I have to come up with something concrete to say and lay my neck on the line. I believe the battle for the home marketplace has only just begun, and that there’s no question which firm has the right product to win it. As a clue, it isn’t located in Redmond.

Does this matter to PC Pro readers? Why should we be worrying about this, given that this is a IT-manager-oriented, PC-focused, professional computing magazine? Well, because it puts the writing on the wall. Microsoft faces spiralling costs with its Vista program and is having to roll out some expensive technologies around the Live platform banner to bolster the offering. When the uptake of Vista proves much lower than was hoped for – both of Vista and its extra-cost support infrastructure – the Redmond accountants will take a long hard look at the balance sheet, and it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that these bean counters will decide the home market is too expensive a place for Microsoft to play in any more. If you think about it, Microsoft has never understood the home-computing market. Everything it’s done in the area betrays a mindset that views it as just a smaller-scale version of what you do at work.

With a newly completed line of Intel-based hardware coming in at competitive prices and a polished OS in the shape of Leopard, coupled to its new determination to go after the home/SoHo marketplace in addition to its traditional strongholds in the design, art, imaging and music arenas, Apple will soon become a force to reckon with. In the taxi coming back from Heathrow, the driver asked me what sort of computer he should buy for his home. My answer was Apple.

Vista upgrade editions

All of this casts a sobering light on Microsoft’s recent announcements concerning the monster known as Vista upgrades. There’s a matrix, currently displayed at www.microsoft.com, which sets out which versions of current and previous versions of Windows can be upgraded to Vista and, to be honest, to call it a mixed bag is understating things.

For example, upgrading from any version of Windows 9x or ME is a complete no-no, but that was to be expected – that family of OS products is ancient history at Redmond, especially now that support for them has been pulled. If you have XP Professional installed, you can only upgrade to Vista Business or Ultimate editions. If you have XP Home installed, you get the choice of Home Basic or Home Premium in addition to Business and Ultimate. If your machine has XP Media Center Edition, you have to remember this is basically an XP Home-based product, which makes the upgrade path to Home Premium logical but the upgrade to Ultimate (which includes all the Professional network domain functionality) a little odd. Tablet PC is a mutant version of XP Professional, so the upgrades to Business or Ultimate make sense, but then things start getting a little screwy – Windows XP Professional x64 and Windows 2000 have no in-place upgrade paths. It’s vape-and-replace time, wipe your disk clean, install Vista and then recover all your data.

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