There is an OS beyond Vista: MS COO

To paraphrase Mark Twain, the death of the mega OS release has been greatly exaggerated, Microsoft’s chief operating office said this week.

In a part-speech, part-presentation at the Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) in Denver, COO Kevin Turner echoed comments made earlier this year by CEO Steve Ballmer that Windows Vista is not the last major update of the company’s client operating system. Tuesday, as Turner dubbed Vista and the simultaneously-unveiled Office 2007 “huge, big dog releases,” he also promised more would come.

“Certainly, this last year has been an unprecedented year for Vista and Office and the launch,” Turner said. “And we are still committed to the desktop. There will be another release and launch of a Vista-type operating system. [And] there will be another release of Office.”

Turner’s assertions parroted those made by Ballmer Jan. 29, just before Vista and Office 2007 went to retail. In New York on the launch eve, Ballmer said Microsoft had “plenty more where that came from,” referring to Vista and its follow-on. At the time, speculation had mounted over whether Microsoft would, or even could, again mount a Vista-sized effort, in part because Ballmer himself had sworn that the company would never again take five years to craft a new OS.

Analysts and pundits, meanwhile, were predicting the decline of the desktop operating system’s importance as Web 2.0 applications made inroads and companies like Google offered apps and other tools that ran on any browser. Microsoft, their thinking went, would be forced to update its platforms, whether operating system or application, much more frequently and with smaller-scale upgrades, to mimic the always-updated Web.

Microsoft did concede some points there. For post-Vista development, Microsoft said it would return to a goal of releasing major OS upgrades every four years, with at least one minor release between each major.

There’s reason — more than one, actually — for Turner taking the time to repeat the message, said Michael Cherry, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft. “You don’t want this audience to abandon Windows, so it’s important to remind them that Windows is still the most interesting operating system to develop for,” Cherry said. Such reminders are especially important now, added Cherry, because of a July survey that said the percentage of developers targeting Windows had declined 12 percent in the past year.

But Microsoft has other reasons for belabouring the point. “It’s obvious that there will be future major operating system releases,” Turner said. “There will be thinner OSes, certainly, and some may choose to use them. But there will be changes to hardware that will require changes in the OS, and fundamentally, as the number of changes add up, or the significance of what you’re changing does, the more important it is to do a major update.” Incremental updates, in other words, only take you so far.

“We always talk about the operating system as the pipes and the rest as the fixtures, right? Well, this is like when you’re remodeling a house. There is a certain amount of things you can do in the bathroom. You can change the shower head, say. But you can’t move the shower to another room without changing the pipes.”

On other topics Tuesday, Turner urged Microsoft partners to cash in on the 2007 releases of Vista and Office. “You know what I see? I see one thing in FY [fiscal year] ‘08, I see money,” Turner said. “I see monetization. I can smell it and hear it, see it, okay, because this is the year that we’re going to monetize that innovation.”

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