Interesting times are ahead
It occurs to me that one of the main reason that corps are avoiding the move to Vista, and apparently W7 now too, is the perceived compatibility problems and the retraining that would be required.
Interestingly, these are also the two main reasons usually touted to explain why Linux will never displace Windows on the desktop.
On top of that, there is the whole bloat factor that would require corps to roll out vast numbers of hardware replacements to cope with the vastly increased resource demands of MS latest offerings, were they to choose the upgrade option. This is a problem that Linux does not suffer from.
It seems to me that the only thing keeping most corps on Windows is the "If it aint broke, don't fix it" attitude, but eventually XP will become broken, if only due to extreme old age.
The only question then becomes, how many MS generations will have been skipped by corps? Inevitably, each new windows version will be "improved" (ie made different) and the longer lusers get used to XP the harder it will be be to shift them to what will possibly be a vastly different OS.
Ironically, Linux has the potential to be a less painful transition target than Microsofts.
You see, Microsoft has a problem. For years they have maintained an unholy symbiosis with hardware manufacturers. MS demands that their oems sell Windows *exclusively* in return for "marketing assistance". In return, MS promises to greatly increase the hardware requirements of each new release in order to "stimulate" hardware sales.
This worked fine for a decade or so, as the first versions of Windows were undeniably crappy. WFW 3.11 was the first usable version of Windows, albeit it was little more than a glorified menu system. As well, despite having the same clunky gui as WFW3.11, Windows NT 3.5 was a huge improvement for corps as far as networking and stability was concerned. When the W98/NT4.0 user interface was introduced it added significant additional memory and other hardware requirements but the improvements on offer were worth the upgrades. Also, people weren't dumbed down into a user interface monoculture at that point so they were more amenable to adapting.
Finally, along came W2K/XP. At this point we have the unification of the W95/98 branch with the NT branch. Once again, corporate friendly improvements were added with active directory and the new driver model amongst other things and again, the additional hardware requirements were worth these features alone, and the user interface had remained largely unchanged since the release of 95 so for corps it was a no brainer.
Microsoft sells operating systems, corporates get much more control over their increasing numbers of seats and hardware manufactures receive a steady stream of orders as companies purchase seemingly endless numbers of new PC's to support the newer OS's.
Then MS dropped the ball. After huge amount of blowing their own horns about the amazing new feature set of their next OS, "longhorn", which was intended to be rewritten entirely from scratch, we eventually, after a previously unheard of delay between releases, they eventually served up the steaming turd that is a vista. Longhorn had been quietly and unceremoniously dumped a year or two earlier when it was realised that they were never going to make it work and the industry were starting to make jokes about the ever increasing list of dropped features and delay announcements coming from Redmond. Microsoft was quickly becoming the laughing stock of the industry.
So, it was decided to dust off the old XP code and polish it up and call it a new release. A whole lot of bloat was added in the form of DRM restrictions which are in no way an enticing "feature" as far as corporates are concerned. Security was "improved" in the form of UAC, which might possibly be of small value to home users but to corps, who in the most part have their desktops already locked down and don't want their users to have access to admin rights then once again this new feature was totally unwanted.
To make things worse, in their hurry to differentiate Vista from XP, MS had slapped together a fancy new 3D gui which ultimately was to be Vistas primary "selling point". This too offered nothing to corporate users because not only does the new interface require vast investments in new hardware but it requires that their users (users who have spent 5+ years using XP and have long forgotten how to adapt to new interfaces) will require retraining.
The bottom line is that to move to Vista, corps receive VERY little benefit and what little they get come at great cost.
So, what about the great Saviour that is Windows 7? MS say they have stripped the bloat. I will ignore speculating on exactly why the bloat was there in the first place and simply wonder about how they have done so. I haven't played with W7. Some people report that it is in fact more nimble and less demanding on hardware, but in this game astroturfers, shills and fanboi's abound so it is hard to say.
But what I can say that if it is not substantially similar to XP in the areas of compatibility, user interface and hardware requirements then I doubt very much that corps will have much interest in it either, and quite frankly I cant see Microsoft pulling out most of the code they added with Vista, I think it is far more likely they have simply redone some of the hurried code they produced in the rush to create a "new" product in the wake of the longhorn debacle.
Meanwhile, we have the biggest financial crisis since the 1930's on our hands and businesses are hardly of a mind to go out and purchase new fleets of PC's with the latest Windows extravaganza preloaded. I reckon businesses will continue to ride the depression out as best they can with the equipment they have now. But if Microsoft tries too hard to bully them into dropping XP in favour of W8 I think they might find they will be more successful than they think at shifting business over to a newer platform, it just might not be the platform they are hoping they will move to.
Perhaps 2010 will be the year of Tux?