Scott Hawkins of Santa Cruz tests Windows Vista at the Moscone Center in San Francisco, Calif., on Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2007. Vista is the new operating
Scott Hawkins of Santa Cruz tests Windows Vista at the Moscone Center in San Francisco, Calif., on Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2007. Vista is the new operating system that will replace Windows XP. (Ray Chavez/The Oakland Tribune)
SAN FRANCISCO - MICROSOFT CORP. launched its new Windows Vista operating system in the Bay Area on Tuesday by inviting thousands of business users to check it out at a celebration here.

But, mirroring reaction in cities across the globe, few people interviewed at a Moscone Center event said they'll rush out and buy it.

"I'm considering it, but perhaps not. I'm underwhelmed," said business owner Scott Hawkins, whose Hawkins Associates consulting firm in Santa Cruz uses Windows-based personal computers.

Chris Buchanan, a data analyst for Lehigh Cement Co. in Concord, said he dropped by the event because "I just wanted to see the evolution" of Windows. But he, too, wasn't sure if he'd buy Vista.

"Vista definitely has benefits," he said, "(but) if they're worth the cost, I'm not sure."

Vista, which comes in four versions with retail prices of $100 to $400, depending on features, is the latest Windows operating system — the essential layer of computer software that allows applications such as spreadsheets and word processors to function. Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft spent five years developing Vista and, along with Office 07 and Server Exchange 07, also introduced Tuesday, spent $20 billion developing the 2007 software. Thousands of engineers worked on them, including a team in Mountain View.

Vista has some indisputably great features, such as crystal-clear graphics, an intuitive photo management and display system and strong built-in security protections and parental controls for Internet use.


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For business users, Vista has collaboration tools that make it easier and more secure to work with others in remote locations. It also offers built-in Internet search and certain Internet applications and allows quick switching between various "windows."

Jeff Raikes, president of Microsoft's business division, told the crowd at Moscone that the business user features were developed after listening to users' needs and reflect a fast-changing work world.

"There's a new world of work," Raikes said. In this new world, people are always connected to electronic devices and always on demand, collaboration with teams might span the globe, and there's a call for more transparency in business brought on by compliance needs and new pressures to lower costs.

Vista and Office'07, he said, are designed to "simplify how people work together" with built-in search and analytical applications.

And whether customers are eager to buy Vista now is in some ways irrelevant. Microsoft's Windows has dominated the operating system market for decades — with about 95 percent of PCs in the world using some version of Windows. So eventually, most people will use Vista.

"We expect this technology to touch over 200 million people in the next 12 months," said Laura Wallace, Microsoft's general manager of its Northern California business, adding that many of the Windows-holding PCs are systems people use at work and don't own.

But Vista does require a computer with a lot of horsepower and memory. Installing it on anything but the latest and greatest PC could mean Vista's best features won't work, various reviewers have said.

Analyst Rob Enderle of Enderle Group said, "It will always be better to get Vista on new hardware," echoing others who said the installation might be too troublesome. Enderle said the best part of Vista is its security features.

Moreover, testers have mostly raved about advanced features found only in the "Ultimate" version, which costs $400.

Still, some are ready to plunk down whatever it takes to get the upgrade.

"I had a Mac and now I want to change everything to Vista," said Tyler Toler, a Petaluma-based business consultant who was given a beta version of Vista Ultimate five months ago to try.

"I'm impressed with it," he said. "I have a gaming PC and all the graphics (Vista offers) are really clear."

His words about switching from a Mac must be music to Microsoft's ears. The Mac and iMac are Cupertino-based Apple Inc.'s computer line, and the computers are known for, among other things, great graphics. 

Microsoft is clearly targeting a range of users — from gamers to households to businesses. Its Xbox 360 could be played on a PC with Vista.

"This is the first time we've had just as strong a value proposition for consumers as we do for business users," Wallace said.

Consumer electronic retailers are heavily promoting Vista and the Office '07 application suite. For early buyers in the wee hours of Tuesday morning, Best Buy Co. opened stores in 14 markets at midnight and had a "geek squad" on hand to help people understand the new software.

Circuit City Stores Inc. allowed people to pre-pay for Vista purchases so they could avoid crowds on launch day and just pick it up.

"A lot of people came in this morning to pick it up. But we didn't have any lines — it's not like a Wii," said Tim Snead, Circuit City head of sales for its Emeryville store, referring to the Nintendo Wii gaming console released late last year in limited supply. People camped out overnight in front of retailers to buy the Wii.