Windows Vista delay: good news for Apple?

Microsoft’s decision to delay the consumer versions of Windows Vista until early 2007 could encourage some holiday computer buyers to get Macs instead, industry analysts say.

“This gives Apple the biggest competitive advantage they’ve had in history from Microsoft,” veteran technology consultant Rob Enderle, founder of the Enderle Group, said of the delay announced earlier Tuesday by Jim Allchin, co-president of Microsoft’s Platform and Services Division.

Allchin told a hastily convened teleconference that Microsoft would release volume-licensed versions of Vista by year’s end, as previously announced, but that consumer versions — including those preloaded on new PCs — would not be available until January 2007.

Allchin said that Microsoft was not worried about competition from Apple, but Enderle said that Microsoft may be underestimating Apple’s potential, especially since the company is expected to introduce some appealing new products in time for the holiday season.

“I don’t think anybody over there is really taking the Apple stuff seriously,” Enderle said. “That’s a mistake.”

IDC analyst Bob O’Donnell agreed that a Vista-less holiday season would benefit Apple. But he added, “You have to keep it in perspective. Even if they [Apple] gain a full percentage point of market share because of this, that still only moves them to three-and-a-half, four-and-a-half percent market share.”

Vista for Nonexistent Buyers

Both Enderle and O’Donnell said that it was ironic that Microsoft is making Vista available in late 2006 to volume licensing customers, since these are typically large corporations that may not migrate to Vista until 2007 or 2008 anyway. Corporate IT departments wouldn’t have budgeted for a 2006 deployment, Enderle said.

O’Donnell speculated that announcing the volume-license availability in 2006 was a face-saving ploy that allowed Microsoft to say that it was meeting its earlier commitments to deliver Vista by year’s end.

But the holiday season is by far the biggest technology-buying quarter of the year for consumers, and O’Donnell said that Vista’s delay is bad news for PC vendors who were counting on the new OS to boost holiday sales. “They’re going to have to do something — maybe a free coupon for an upgrade to Vista or something like that — to lessen the blow,” he said.

Major vendors had no immediate word on any such plans — or for the matter, on the impact of Vista’s delay. “We don’t speculate on financial performance,” Dell spokesperson Tom Kehoe said. “As a company we remain ready to ship Vista when it’s available and are excited to do so.”

“HP does not publicly disclose details about unannounced products or the terms of our partner agreements,” spokesperson Melissa Stone said in an e-mail statement. “HP continues plans to support Microsoft’s upcoming Windows Vista operating system across the company’s consumer and business product lines.”

Allchin said that Microsoft decided to delay release of consumer versions of Vista in order to meet industry demands for a firm product roadmap and to keep the playing field level for all of its PC manufacturing customers, but he did not elaborate.

Enderle said that he believes Microsoft could have made the consumer versions of Vista the direct vendors to direct-market vendors like Dell in late 2006 but decided not to do so because this would have given Dell an unfair advantage over competitors such as Hewlett-Packard, which need more time to get Vista PCs into retail stores.

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