Vista May Boost Profit--Or Drive Users To Macs

Midnight tonight marks D-Day for Microsoft. That's when the software leviathan will finally release Vista, the long-awaited reincarnation of its Windows operating system (OS). Will the long wait and big investment pay off?

Silicon Valley correspondent and Tech Check blogger Jim Goldman quoted Microsoft founder Bill Gates as declaring that Vista offers much more than anything rival Apple Computer has brought to market, including the latter's Mac OS X system. But will much more be enough? Apple products' popularity seems to be reaching beyond its iPods and ostensible counterculture market: Goldman says that Apple has sold 1 million Macs in each of the last four quarters. And being implicitly forced to upgrade to Vista may create a dangerous gap: after all, once user complacency is smashed, they just might decide to switch to Mac OS X, famed for being virtually malware- and crash-free.

Reporting from New York City, CNBC's Darren Rovell touted Vista, and its accompanying Office 2007 tool suite, as offering 3-D graphics and 1,500 "gadgets" -- including a stock ticker. But Rovell -- who also writes the Sports Biz blog -- pointed out that Vista has cost billions and has required the labor of 10,000 employees to develop. Then there's that half-decade wait since Windows XP, the last OS from the House That Gates Built, while Vista's bugs were worked out. (Hopefully.)

Last week, Microsoft shares leaped to a 4-year high. Vista's ramped-up nature may create other beneficiaries, including Nvidia , which makes microchips designed to handle the sort of ultra-complex graphics Vista offers; and SanDisk , which provides memory upgrade products. If tech-watchers are right, you'll need the latter -- because your PC's current memory capacity is just not ready for Microsoft's brave new world. Find out at midnight.