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Originally published May 16, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified May 16, 2007 at 2:01 AM

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40 million Vista sales; no details on what's next

Bill Gates said Microsoft was "amazed" at the response to Windows Vista, the company's flagship product, which has sold nearly 40 million...

Seattle Times business reporter

LOS ANGELES — Bill Gates said Microsoft was "amazed" at the response to Windows Vista, the company's flagship product, which has sold nearly 40 million copies since its release Jan. 30.

But at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) here Tuesday, neither Gates nor other Microsoft executives shared any details of what's next for the Windows platform, including definitive plans for a first service pack for the new operating system.

This event, in its 15th year, has traditionally been a venue for Microsoft to offer an early glimpse of its next big Windows, as well as talk with hardware makers about future computer capabilities.

But with Vista so new to the market, after five years in development, Gates and Microsoft were more interested in tallying sales than in talking about its replacement.

"I mean, we knew that Vista would become the standard version of Windows," said the Microsoft chairman.

"... But what's happened in the last 100 days has been beyond our expectations. As of last week, we've had nearly 40 million copies sold, and so that's twice as fast as the adoption of Windows XP, the last major release that we had."

In March, Microsoft said it had sold 20 million copies of Vista in its first month on the market. It emphasized then that this was double the initial sales pace of XP, which was released Oct. 25, 2001, so Tuesday's announcement was not particularly surprising.

Some observers said it's not particularly meaningful, either.

"I don't think a comparison to when XP was released [or any other release] is interesting, because too many other factors aren't constant," Michael Cherry, lead Windows analyst at Directions on Microsoft, said in an e-mail.

PC shipments, for example, have grown dramatically since 2001, when the industry shipped 136 million computers.

Hardware makers, many of which are gathered here, shipped 228 million computers in 2006, and PC shipments grew about 10 percent in the first quarter of this year.

Cherry said a more interesting measure of Vista's success would be the number of people using it versus those still using older versions of Windows on the first, second and third anniversaries of Vista's release.

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"To me, the issue isn't how fast any particular horse breaks from the starting gate, but whether it has legs to finish the race," Cherry said.

Gates crowed about the number of device drivers compatible with Windows Vista, four times as many as were available at this point with XP.

But he implored the hardware and device makers to continue working to get 100 percent compatibility with Vista.

He also took a jab at smaller competitors in the operating-system business — notably Apple, whose biting commercials attack Vista and the PC platform. Apple has seen sales of its Mac computers surge.

But Apple and open-source operating systems still hold a tiny share of the market.

Vista's performance thus far has "matched the entire installed base of any other provider of similar software," Gates said.

He provided details of Windows Home Server, a product designed to back up, manage, secure and access content on multiple PCs connected to a home network — essentially allowing a home user to better perform some functions of a corporate IT administrator.

The product will be available this fall. More than a dozen companies are working with Microsoft on it, Gates said.

Microsoft formally announced the name of its next big server-software release. Windows Server 2008, formerly codenamed Longhorn, will release to manufacturing by the end of this year, Gates said.

Both Gates and Craig Mundie, Microsoft's research and strategy boss, talked in broad strokes about the future of computing: computers with multiple processor cores, which are already on the market; tighter integration of Web services, software and hardware; and natural user interfaces, such as voice and gesture recognition. Microsoft is investing "literally billions of dollars" in the latter, Gates said.

But neither executive said anything specific about the near-term future of the Windows operating system.

Mike Nash, corporate vice president of Windows product management, said there will eventually be a service pack for Vista, but there's less need for it than in previous versions. That's because critical updates can be automatically downloaded as they arise, he said.

Nash wouldn't comment on when Microsoft would begin to unveil plans for Windows' future, but repeated what executives as high as CEO Steve Ballmer have said: "We want to make sure we have versions of Windows coming on a regular basis."

Laura DiDio, an analyst with The Yankee Group, said the lack of detail suggests Microsoft is still unsure where to go with its next operating system.

"You always want a road map, and of course the more details the better," she said. "I think it's indicative that Microsoft is sort of at a crossroads. The software industry is changing."

Benjamin J. Romano: bromano@seattletimes.com

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