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Got Four Hours to Spare? Download Vista

Supposedly, if we believe the folk tales and lore of our parents and grandparents, the American work day used to last eight hours. “9 to 5” (cue Dolly Parton) was the way we made a livin’. With a break for lunch, of course, and maybe some talk around the water cooler -- which has since been replaced by the Internet message board, but our editor doesn’t need know that. (And, speaking of anachronisms, your author used to have the theme song from 9 to 5 on a 45-rpm record. That’s vinyl for those of you born after 1980. You know, retro stuff.)

Of course, now that we’re well into the era of razor-thin workforces and 70-hour weeks at many companies, four hours represents nothing more than a brief pause in another marathon weekday (or weekend, if you’re as unlucky as Peter Gibbons in Office Space). So what do you do when you find yourself with four hours to spare? Well, you could watch both 9 to 5 and Office Space back to back and still have time to make sure you put cover sheets on your TPS reports. Or, you could download Vista. As soon as it comes out on Jan. 30, of course.

Yes, Microsoft, which has sold downloads of other applications for years, is finally bringing the operating system lumbering into the world of electronic software distribution (or ESD for lovers of three-letter acronyms). Office is coming with it, along with a new online system for Vista upgrades and a “family pack” (already under fire here) that will allow Vista Ultimate buyers to purchase up to two additional copies of the OS for about $50 each.

So, who would be interested in spending up to four hours -- even with a high-speed connection -- downloading and installing a legitimate copy of Vista? Enthusiasts (a kinder word for “geeks”), probably, and maybe a few cutting-edge consumers. But how about corporate IT departments, which currently buy the OS through channel partners?

So far, partners are doubtful that their customers are going to abandon them in favor of downloads -- and they’re pretty darn sure that IT folks won’t want rank-and-file users messing around with OS downloads themselves. Partners are probably right about that, too. After all, Microsoft is aiming this effort at consumers, not businesses, and it’ll be selling downloadable Vista and Office at a fixed price that won’t take into account volume discounts or other perks partners tend to throw in for customers.

Besides, as RCP columnist Paul DeGroot points out in the article linked above, nobody makes any money from just reselling software, anyway. Resellers that haven’t expanded to offer some form of services have much bigger problems than Microsoft putting Vista online for download. And as DeGroot says, partners might just make a little scratch fixing users’ errors in downloading and installing Vista and Office. On top of all that, Microsoft has never been in the business of putting the hurt on its partners. Few companies in the industry value the channel as much as Microsoft does, and few use it as wisely or as profitably as the Pride of Redmond.

Still, Vista’s entry into the ESD world is intriguing. ESD is obviously nothing new -- your writer was covering it for a different publication 10 years ago -- but it’s still something of a fledgling model for software sales. Security vendors and makers of small apps, among others, have succeeded with it for years, but with higher-speed connections available all the time, we’ll soon be able to download much bigger stuff (like Vista) without the process taking hours. And as downloadable software becomes more convenient and more widely available, it will likely break into corporate use on a much larger scale than it already has.

How will the channel fit into a world dominated by downloads? Partners will always have revenue opportunities through customization, maintenance and other services (which are already their main sources of revenue, anyway), but what will happen when downloads of all sizes become the norm and not news? And when they take four minutes instead of four hours? How will Microsoft work its partners into that model? How will partners respond?

We don’t have the answers to those questions, and we don’t have to have them -- yet. But it’s something we’re going to ponder while downloading Vista and watching Office Space -- all during our extended workday, of course.

How are you preparing for ESD? Are you even thinking about it, or has it been part of your business model for years? Let me know at

We’ll be back next week with reader feedback on Windows Home Server and Microsoft’s celebrity “wows.” Meanwhile, one note: Roman wrote to correct me on an error I made last week. I said that the National Security Administration had helped Microsoft with Vista security. I should have said National Security Agency. Thanks for paying attention, Roman. My apologies to the NSA, which is probably monitoring this e-mail.

Posted by Lee Pender on January 18, 2007 at 11:54 AM