Microsoft's Magnificent Vista?

We don't give Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) nearly enough credit. Granted, the guys in Redmond are often very, very slow. And they're usually silly enough -- "give it up for me!" (caution: MPEG video link involving a disturbingly sweaty Steve Ballmer) -- to make the company an easy target for cheap wisecracks.

But other times, Mr. Softy gets it just right. As a Mac fan, I'm starting to worry that's exactly what is going on with its forthcoming Windows Vista operating system. Yesterday brought news that Vista, due in the second half of the year, would come in seven flavors. According to industry trade magazine Computerworld, there will be three versions of Vista for home users, two versions for businesses, and stripped-down home and business versions of Vista for European customers.

Here's why that is interesting: Microsoft has historically produced its software for devices, not audiences. Remember Windows CE? It was Microsoft's operating system for small devices and a direct threat to the original Palm OS. Even Windows XP has separate editions aimed at the differing 32- and 64-bit computing platforms built by Advanced Micro Devices (NYSE: AMD  ) and Intel (Nasdaq: INTC  ) .

Microsoft is the absolute best in the world at giving software developers everything they want and more -- and developers like to build stuff. Customers aren't always first on Microsoft's collective mind. That's why Mr. Softy has almost zero reputation as a customer-centric organization. With Vista, it seems that for the first time, Microsoft seeks to improve that reputation.

Can it work? I have my doubts. Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) has dominated customer-centric brand goodness in personal techie gear for three days short of forever. And with all the talent that has fled Microsoft for Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) and other firms in recent years I wonder whether Vista's marketing pitch is more hope than reality. But it sounds right, and different, which makes the paranoid investor in me awake from slumber, get a cup o' joe, and saunter forth to a ringside seat. This is action I don't want to miss.

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Fool contributorTim Beyersstill pines for a new MacBook Pro. But he also needs Microsoft to get on with a new version of Office for the Mac. Come on, Mr. Softy! Tim didn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this story at the time of publication. You can find out what is in his portfolio by checking Tim's Foolprofile. The Motley Fool has an ironcladdisclosure policy.


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