This morning I voted in a quick poll at PC World about my plans to upgrade to Windows Vista.
I was surprised to see that not only was my answer, "I'll Get It with My Next PC," behind in the poll -- it was a fairly distant third, behind "I'm Running It Already" (24 percent) and a weird, 39 percent loyalist sect that proclaimed "Not Till They Pry XP from My Cold, Dead Fingers."
Well, I should say briefly surprised, until I started thinking about it. Obviously, the reports of slow, delayed or spurious Windows Vista adoption -- along with common sense -- would indicate that 24 percent of your typical PC users aren't running Windows Vista. The fact that so many users in the poll say they intend to hang on to XP -- I'd infer that many in the "Cold, Dead Fingers" crowd might actually be saying they'll wait as long as possible before they buy a Vista-loaded machine -- also leads me to believe that this anecdotal poll was being answered by folks who care a lot more about PCs than your average Joe.
After all, Microsoft itself projected that only 5 percent of XP users would upgrade their current systems to Vista, even before the new OS was released. Media outlets, including The New York Times, casually correlated these projections with Vista's whopping hardware demands.
But the truth is, very few users ever go to the bother of updating their operating systems. I'm probably more engaged than the average consumer, and I never have. Some media sources have complained that Microsoft's reports on Windows license sales are tainted because they include unit sales to OEMs. Well, see, that's how Microsoft sells Windows.
It's a constant temptation in the tech press to forget that our readers, and ourselves, care way more about technical minutiae than the consumers that drive the tech industry.
The poll I took was part of a PC World staff blog post that suggests seven things Microsoft could do to create a more potent buzz around Vista. I'm not suggesting that any of the suggestions are inherently bad ideas, although I imagine a lot of tech managers rather like the UAC, even if they won't say it out loud in staff meetings. But "upgrades" like building sexier Web widgets and defaulting Vista search to scan the entire hard drive will appeal only to the enthusiasts who already use Google Desktop and read publications like PC World.
Frankly, if most people (and businesses, for that matter) cared that much about the fine points of an OS user interface, there would be more Mac users.
(Security is also on the PC World blogger's list, but for most businesses security is about so much more than the end terminal that locking down a PC is not the end game. And CTOs aren't going to trust any OS on that front.)
So, what will drive adoption of Windows Vista? As we and every other business tech pub have reported, the basic hardware refresh cycle.
What could dramatically increase Vista adoption? Some application that genuinely pushed its ability (or the ability of a future iterative release) to take full advantage of multi-core processing architectures and other advanced hardware. By "application," I mean hi-def Web camming software that lets a real-time (but of course, augmented) avatar pop into a Second Life discotheque. Or some other such consumer application that I'm not smart enough to dream up.
And even then, Windows Vista adoption will still be tied to hardware sales.
Clearly, the fun -- and occasionally useful -- things technology can do prompt people to buy new technology. Increasingly, the OS's role is simply to facilitate those applications.