Vista Ultimate has become an embarrassment to Microsoft, a wasted opportunity of a chance to showcase Vista’s best features.

The expensive upgrade to Vista Ultimate offered two things to buyers. The first was the ability to turn on all Vista features simultaneously. Many Vista users require the ability to join a domain or want other features from Vista Business, but also might want the media features in Vista Home Premium; Vista Ultimate unlocks it all. There’s only a small number of people who need that combination of features and it’s not worth much of a price premium – certainly nothing like the hefty upgrade price for Vista Ultimate.

The second reason to buy Vista Ultimate was the promise of “Ultimate Extras.” Microsoft promised to have a stream of features and toys and visual treats and doodads available only to Ultimate purchasers. If you’re an old-timer, you may recall the “Plus Packs” that could be purchased for Windows 95 and 98; “Ultimate Extras” were supposed to be the equivalent of the Plus Packs, but updated to show off the rich technical coolness of the new millennium.

The Vista Ultimate team dropped the ball.

A couple of trivial things were released as “Ultimate Extras” not long after Vista shipped. The only remotely “extra” release was a poker game, Texas Hold ‘Em. A couple of other things were released that should be included in the base versions of Vista: some language packs for working in multiple languages, and a couple of modest enhancements to the Bitlocker encryption component of Vista used by relatively few people.

And then the long silence began. Three entries in 2007 on the official Vista Ultimate web site. A “preview release” of a buggy version of “Dreamscene” in March, an apology for delays in July, and a less buggy version of Dreamscene this week. “Dreamscene” displays videos as your desktop background, mostly short loops of pulsing light or a waterfall or the like – mildly interesting but resource-hogging and distracting after the novelty wears off. They’ve promised additional language packs but still can’t get them out the door, a year after Vista’s launch.

Vista Ultimate could have been an exciting way to stir up the enthusiasts, a vocal community capable of influencing friends, co-workers, and the press. Ultimate Extras might have been used as a platform to engage third-party developers, or perhaps to distribute advance versions of new Microsoft software – ideas suggested by this disappointed blogger.

It’s almost too late. Microsoft needs to step in pretty aggressively to save Vista Ultimate from dragging down the entire Vista marketing effort.

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