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HP's 3000 voice sounds like silence

A bleak Vista faces a mature OS sibling

Some veteran HP 3000 developers and consultants are taking note of how unloved Microsoft's Vista has become. The newest generation of Windows got an ugly reputation from its first month of release, kind of like that stain that lands on your dress shirt as soon as you step up to the buffet table. Windows is the leading choice for HP 3000 sites who are migrating, but apparently not many Windows users are choosing Vista on purpose.

What's more, Microsoft is in total denial of the OS warts and birth defects. Vista is so bad that PC users have begun to cheer for its older sibling, XP. You could have gotten good odds that an XP cheering section was a fantasy five years ago. Now XP fans are not only legion, but Dell will now scrape Vista off a new PC to get you to buy it. HP and Lenovo, Numbers One and Three in the Windows platform derby, also give customers a way to avoid Vista.

Microsoft has begun to treat XP like MPE/iX has been treated by HP. That's to say, XP had a deadline for its demise (dead from the vendor's point of view, but like MPE/iX, still living and working well outside the vendor's marketing chambers.) Microsoft extended the deadline. Still, the vendor is curtailing its XP support since it has delayed the Service Pack 3 for XP. These moves are all in the hopes of making Vista look like a better choice for companies. Individuals are forced to take Vista on a new system, but enterprises can push back.

Bruce Hobbs, a veteran of HP 3000 development and a consultant to 3000 software supplier ROC Software, keeps passing along notes from the outside world about the demise of Windows. The collapse of something that's installed on 90 million PCs could take awhile to ripple through the IT world. But the analysis shows that getting deeper into Windows than XP — and drinking the Vista Kool-AId — is a decision ripe with possibilities, many of them immature.

At the moment, the talk is about how much Vista will need to grow up to be as reliable as XP. By reliable I mean "able to perform without fail for a computer pro who is not a Windows guru." You can get Vista testimonials from the surgeons who've had their hands inside Windows' heart cavity for years. But the summary score for Vista is Not Ready Yet. That has not kept Microsoft from pushing it, even to the point of cooking the books on how many copies are being installed.

Dell, for one, "is installing Vista on your new machine, then cleaning it off and putting on XP, all in a little charade that lets Microsoft keep counting up the new Vista sales even among those who refuse to use it," according to San Jose Mercury News blog reporters on Good Morning Silicon Valley. HP and Lenovo will include an XP Pro recovery disk, on request, with qualifying systems.

Nothing starts out perfect, or even close to it in the computer business. MPE/iX had such a spectacular failure at first that 3000 users said that using a 1.x version of the OS was "a career-defining decision." (It was called MPE/XL in those days, but by any name it took two years-plus before the market began to trust it.) And the 3000 itself, powered by MPE, fell so flat on its face that HP yanked the system off the market at the end of 1972, before the smell of crashed programs could fill the minicomputer town square of the day.

The point to take away from the Vista false start is that staying with a mature solution can mean doing your own dance of denial. To keep using and getting support for XP, a company with designs on Windows must tune out the Vista snake dance. Windows is a logical choice for a company with PCs already using the OS on desktops — and a crack Windows staff or consultants on call — at least any company which must migrate. Migration to Vista, though, still looks like a leap too large to generate anything but a pratfall, unless an IT group has Windows gurus on payroll.

The Ars Technica Web site has a story on how Dell and Lenovo will be extending XP sales beyond the Microsoft deadline for the mature operating environment. Mature is a relative term there, of course, compared to the 34 straight years of MPE/iX field use, upgrades and development. Microsoft might promise a brighter future in its Vista, but the reality of today makes the new Windows a murky migration choice.