A video on YouTube from 2003 highlights all of the neat-o things that Microsoft had planned for its then-labeled Longhorn operating system release, including new tools for search, video, photos, music, telephony and content sharing. Three years later the Longhorn release is stumbling out the door as Windows Vista, a bloated and underwhelming release that offers few of the bells and whistles that appear in the Longhorn promo video. And why should it? In the meantime we've come to enjoy the likes of Google and other desktop and enterprise search tools, YouTube, Flickr, iTunes, Skype and a myriad of content sharing services, each of which is happy to live on whatever AJAX-supporting platform comes along. Instead of waiting in fear for Microsoft independent content providers leveraged the power of the Web to come up with their own solutions. It's a conclusion that Microsoft itself seems to be coming closer to accepting as its Windows Live suite of online services becomes the focus of more of its product development.
Is the stillborn Vista release the beginning of the end for the content industry's infatuation with the PC? Not really. Having reliable general-purpose computers has been the fulcrum for many of the content industry's developments, and the combination of platform capabilities combined with networked content will continue to be a key focus for value-add content services for years to come. But in trying to extend its near-monopoly over the world's desktops with built-in services Microsoft has boxed itself into a corner filled with obsolete desktop software and proprietary content serving solutions that don't make a heck of a lot of sense to enterprises and consumers alike. Better to have a lean and mean kernel of an operating system that works like all git-go and to focus on enabling the world to add value to it through great content services.
Hence, perhaps, the new deal between Microsoft and Linux vendor Novell that will help Windows and open-source Linux operating systems live side-by-side more effectively. The Microsoft of five years from now is going to look a lot more like a cross between the sprawling offerings of Google and IBM than yesterday's one-box solutions coming out of Redmond. When people care more about their content collections than the machine running them technology providers need to adapt to their audiences' needs as rapidly as possible - which argues towards content coming up through a new range of information appliances as much as through yesterday's laptops and desktops. Farewell, Vista, we hardly knew ye - we're off to the content store with our mobile phones.