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The View on Vista

Windows Vista
Windows Vista

It's been awhile since my last entry and I apologize for the delay. First, some housekeeping items:

We have officially moved our long-time Palo Alto bureau to a new facility in San Jose. Our new bureau has now been renamed "Silicon Valley Bureau," and we have consolidated our operation into the studios of KNTV, the San Francisco Bay Area's owned and operated NBC affiliate. It's a beautiful facility and we're excited to be here.

And what a first day to move into a new facility: Microsoft Vista officially hits store shelves at midnight Monday, and that's leading to a lot of speculation as to what the release will mean for the world's largest software company.

But with all the delays, going back years, we've had ample time to model what this will mean to the company's top and bottom lines. So it may be far more interesting to follow the action away from the ball and look at other companies that stand to benefit.

Sure, we can look at chipmakers like Intel and AMD ; computer makers like Dell and HP; retailers like Best Buy and Circuit City. But there are two companies that may deserve more of a second look than all the others. And they may be a bit of a surprise:

Apple may be sitting prettier than all the rest. Analysts on the Street suggest that if consumers are forced to upgrade their operating systems, and their computers, there's more a chance today than ever before that they'll look at Mac. And with Apple selling more than a million Macs a quarter for the last eight quarters, momentum is already squarely behind Apple. Something like Vista can only improve Apple's big Mo. Even Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates addressed the budding competition with its long-time nemesis.

"We have a lot of innovations that move way ahead of anything Apple has done - we love the competition but people ought to keep in mind that Windows is where the biggest investment, the biggest set of partners are and that's why it's always been the best choice," he said.

But analysts disagree. Brendan Barnicle from Pacific Crest Securities says: "The fundamental issue, particularly as you deal with consumers, is that Microsofthas to find a way to overcome Apple and that for many people, as they look at changing out of their PC's, it's not a matter of whether or not they will stay with a PC, or with Vista, it's whether or not they're going to go to a Mac. The consumer segment is really where we're seeing them take the market share and that's really where this contest comes to. But you're right, we're really still in the early days of Apple potentially taking more share."

Another company to look at: nVidia. The graphics accelerator company has long been considered a take-out target by Intel. Speculation dramatically increased last year when rival Advanced Micro Devices acquired ATI Technologies. But with such a heavy graphics emphasis on Vista, the conventional wisdom now is that there will be more and more focus on graphics and less and less on the speed and power of the microprocessor. I mean, do I really care if my Excel spreadsheet opens 16 nanoseconds faster than it used to? Or do I really care instead that the motion on my Gears of War has never looked more realistic? Come on!

Meantime, there's another part of the Vista story that will gain traction over the next weeks and months. Alex St. John may not be a name you know, but he's well known to Microsoft. A key employee at Microsoft as one of the principal creators of Microsoft's DirectX technology, he has since become CEO of the largest online game publisher WildTangent. And he's a rather vocal critic of his former employee.

His company is about to announce its findings of severe problems with Vista when it comes to online gaming. So bad, that he claims the new operating system is "breaking online games and disrupting gameplay." Not only for competitor games from sites like Yahoo Games, Real Arcade and AOL Games, but from Microsoft's OWN site Zone.com.

"It is my view that the security restrictions of Vista are having a significant impact on the online gaming community," said Alex St John. "However, WildTangent has spent the last year preparing for Vista by creating a Vista-ready games console, ensuring a seamless gaming experience for the over 70 million gamers in the United States." he added.

With so much of the gaming world going online, this potentially could be a big time problem and yet another reason why PC users may not want to upgrade so quickly to the latest and greatest Microsoft has to offer.

It's certainly a part of the story worth watching.

Up next on our coverage calendar? Google earnings on Wednesday. More on that tomorrow.

Questions? Comments? TechCheck@cnbc.com