Finally, Vista Makes Its Debut. Now What?

On the morning of the launch of the Vista operating system earlier this week, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates talked with NEWSWEEK's Steven Levy about the new version of Windows—and the one after that. He also shared his views on those Apple television commercials in which the Mac is represented by a hip guy and the PC by, well, a dweeb. Excerpts:

NEWSWEEK: If one of our readers confronted you in a CompUSA and said, "Bill, why upgrade to Vista?" what would be your elevator pitch?

Bill Gates: The most effective thing would be if I could sit down with them and just take them through the new look for a couple of minutes, show them the Sidebar, show them the way the search lets you go through lots of things, including lots of photos. Set up a parental control. And then I might edit a high-definition movie and make a little DVD that's got photos. As I went through, they'd think, "Wow, is that something I could use, would that make a difference for me?"

Vista has been a very long time in coming, and parts of it were jettisoned along the way. Do you feel satisfied at the outcome now that it's finally shipped?

Well, we released Windows XP about five years ago. During that time, we've had, I think, three releases of Media Center, four releases of [Windows Media], Tablet releases, Windows XP SP2, which was really a very major release. So in no sense has Windows been standing still. Actually, if you look at Windows strength versus Linux, or versus anything, it's done very well, because we have this big ecosystem. Next time around we're going to have a lot more agility. A lot of what we put into this version was layering work that will let us take the upper parts of the system, like the browser, and let us do more regular releases. So there [will be further releases] at least every couple of years, and in some parts maybe even yearly. And we learned a lot during the Vista [process]. People can see how we've mixed together our Office talent and Windows talent to get the best of both worlds, and how we're going to do things going forward.

You also talk about improved security in Vista.

Yes, although security is a [complicated concept]. You're [referring to] the fact that there have been some security updates already for Windows Vista. This is exactly the way it should work. When somebody comes to us [after discovering a vulnerability] we've got [a fix] before there is any exploit. So it's totally according to plan, and that's why we have the whole Windows Update thing. We made it way harder for guys to do exploits. The number [of violations] will be way less because we've done some dramatic things [to improve security] in the code base. Apple hasn't done any of those things.

Are you bugged by the Apple commercial where John Hodgman is the PC, and he has to undergo surgery to get Vista?

I've never seen it. I don't think the over 90 percent of the [population] who use Windows PCs think of themselves as dullards, or the kind of klutzes that somebody is trying to say they are.

How about the implication that you need surgery to upgrade?

Well, certainly we've done a better job letting you upgrade on the hardware than our competitors have done. You can choose to buy a new machine, or you can choose to do an upgrade. And I don't know why [Apple is] acting like it's superior. I don't even get it. What are they trying to say? Does honesty matter in these things, or if you're really cool, that means you get to be a lying person whenever you feel like it? There's not even the slightest shred of truth to it.

Does the entire tenor of that campaign bother you, that Mac is the cool guy and PC—

That's for my customers to decide.

In many of the Vista reviews, even the positive ones, people note that some Vista features are already in the Mac operating system.

You can go through and look at who showed any of these things first, if you care about the facts. If you just want to say, "Steve Jobs invented the world, and then the rest of us came along," that's fine. If you're interested, [Vista development chief] Jim Allchin will be glad to educate you feature by feature what the truth is. I mean, it's fascinating, maybe we shouldn't have showed so publicly the stuff we were doing, because we knew how long the new security base was going to take us to get done. Nowadays, security guys break the Mac every single day. Every single day, they come out with a total exploit, your machine can be taken over totally. I dare anybody to do that once a month on the Windows machine. So, yes, it took us longer, and they had what we were doing, user interface-wise. Let's be realistic, who came up with [the] file, edit, view, help [menu bar]? Do you want to go back to the original Mac and think about where those interface concepts came from?

Is this Vista launch the last hurrah of the big operating system?

Well, people have said that at every major Windows release. Java was going to eliminate Windows programming, or thin clients were going to eliminate people buying PCs. Operating systems keep getting better and richer, and they allow developers then to take advantage of that. We're doing more innovation now at the operating­-system level than we've ever done. As we sit down and think, what are the things we're going to do in the next release, there's no shortage of radical things that will be happening in the operating system.

You mentioned that Microsoft can now be more agile in updating. Are you thinking of rolling upgrades as opposed to big major releases?

No, you'll have big releases. When you go in and enable a new kind of application, you want to get your partners behind it, you want to get them building the hardware that's related to that. It really simplifies things for people to think, OK, here's what I got in Windows Vista, here's what I'm going to get in this next major release. The more avid users download the upgrades in between, but of XP users how many downloaded a browser that was more advanced than the one they had? Maybe you and the people you know all did, but most people don't.

How many actually do?

I would say it's less than 30 percent. We've had this incredible desktop search [available for download] that won every review, and I'll bet that less than 10 percent of Windows users went and got that. Now with Windows Vista, you get something better. For most users, it's the first time they've seen it at all.

So you feel in 2010-2011 Microsoft will be back with the next big one?

Absolutely. We'll tell you how Vista just wasn't good enough, and we'll know why, too. We need to wait and hear what consumers have to tell us. We don't know that, otherwise, of course, we would have done it this time.

You're leaving your full time role at Microsoft in July 2008. What involvement are you going to have in the next operating system?

First of all, there's tons of people who help make those decisions, so I wouldn't overstate my role in the past. But I'll have full involvement, the [same] involvement I've ever had in the key decisions for those products.

So can you give us an indication of what the next Windows will be like?

Well, it will be more user-centric.

What does that mean?

That means that right now when you move from one PC to another, you've got to install apps on each one, do upgrades on each one. Moving information between them is very painful. We can use Live Services [a way to connect to Microsoft via the Internet] to know what you're interested in. So even if you drop by a [public] kiosk or somebody else's PC, we can bring down your home page, your files, your fonts, your favorites and those things. So that's kind of the user-centric thing that Live Services can enable. [Also,] in Vista things got a lot better with [digital] ink and speech but by the next release there will be a much bigger bet. Students won't need textbooks, they can just use these tablet devices. Parallel computing is pretty important for the next release. We'll make it so that a lot of the high-level graphics will be just built into the operating system. So we've got a pretty good outline.

With Xbox and Zune, Microsoft has adopted an end-to-end approach, where you write the software, design the hardware and run the services. Will Microsoft now change its mobile-phone strategy and adopt an end-to-end approach, the way Apple has with the iPhone?

No, I don't think so. People like different styling, media storage, capability [in phones]. The benefit we get from having lots of great hardware partners is pretty phenomenal. And our software can run on any one of those things.

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