Three months from now, Microsoft will officially launch Windows Vista into the consumer marketplace.

Some think the very fortunes of the world's largest software company ride on this release. No doubt consumers will be wondering if Vista is right for them. It's a quaint idea that people think they have a choice.

No one has a choice. Microsoft and Vista will succeed, as have all of the company's previous operating systems. This is destiny. This is marketing. This is the retail channel.

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Vista's myriad qualities — speed, 64-bittedness, security, baked in Search, Aero, Sidebars, MCE, Tablet OS functionality, better user controls — all deserve close scrutiny and would obviously play a part in consumers' decision-making process — if they had a choice.

The new OS, five years in the making, will not be a huge success in 2007.

Yes, some whacko consumers (mostly tech geeks) will line up at midnight on Jan. 30 (that's still the day, right?) to buy their own "platinum collector's edition" (or whatever it's called) of the software.

There's really no need to do this, as Microsoft will likely offer it for download as well. Still, some people like boxes. I'll admit it: I still have my Windows 95 commemorative box.

Lined up like lemmings before a cliff or sitting in their musty basements with fingers poised to click, these Vista buyers will have no visible impact on the OS's larger success. And though industry publications such as PC Magazine and others will evaluate Vista on all the qualities listed above and more, that too will have next to no impact on Vista's fortunes.

Yet, Vista will succeed.

View 2007 as a seeding year for Vista. Boxes will be shipped, downloads will be made and folks will visit their friends' homes and coworkers' cubicles to see Vista (in one of its many flavors) up close and personal. By and large, however, relatively few people will be using it next year.

Yet, Vista will succeed.

Even in the face of the forthcoming Mac OS X 11 (Leopard) release next spring and all the Intel-based Macs that can, via Apple's Boot Camp, run Windows, Vista will still, ultimately, outshine the Mac OS.

Earlier this year, Apple execs made it painfully clear that most of Vista's best ideas are blatant rip-offs of things they've been doing for ages. And no one really believes that Vista will remain impervious to viruses for long.

(To be fair, the Mac OS is not impervious to viruses. There are simply none out there actively attacking it.)

Yet, Vista will succeed.

OEMs will start shipping systems with Vista in 2007, but PC sales will be flat in the spring and through the first two months of summer.

Even though the reviews are expected to be warm, Vista will have the scent of a dud. Look for all the columns proclaiming it as such.

Meanwhile, Apple Mac sales and OS X 10.5 upgrades will soar. In relatively little time, 50 to 75 percent of Mac users will have upgraded or committed to doing so. And then Apple will own a whopping 12 percent of the market.

Yet, Vista will succeed. And here's how...

It will start slowly, with the 2007 back-to-school buying season. Parents and students will buy more Macs than they've done in any year prior, but 80 percent of PC purchases will still be Windows-based machines.

Every one of those new systems will be running Windows Vista (probably Home Premium).

Students will, I think, love Vista. They'll love the way it looks, how fast it runs, and its customizability. This will be phase one on the road to Vista dominance.

Businesses plan system purchases, too, though they may not actually buy them until 2008. Almost all these desktops and laptops (90 percent) will be Windows-based systems.

Many companies will ghost these systems back to Windows XP or even (Yikes!) 2000. This is common practice for corporations standardized on last-generation technology.

But by late 2008, one-third to half of those companies will start migrating to Vista (I think they'll especially want the UAC). So, they'll buy new systems and leave the Vista OS in place.

By 2009, the scales will tip in favor of Vista, as more companies phase out Windows XP. They'll do this not only because of the perceived benefit of the new OS, but because they know Microsoft will not support Win XP indefinitely.

Will there ever be a Win XP SP3? Perhaps, but don't bet on SP4.

This is the way it will work. Vista will not be a runaway success. It will be an evolutionary one, where, over time, Windows XP fades and Vista emerges as the default OS for PCs.

Don't be so shocked. This tale played itself out with Windows 95, 98, and XP. Vista's success is, as far as I'm concerned, a fait accompli.

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