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As Microsoft looks ahead, will Vista be the end of an era?

It is the engine behind the largest personal fortune ever amassed. All-conquering but largely unloved, it has changed the daily lives of hundreds of millions — but Microsoft Windows, the Genghis Khan of computer operating systems, faces an uncertain future.

Vista, the latest version of Windows, was released for businesses last month. The consumer version comes out next month. The revamp of its biggest cash cow is being billed as the most important event for Microsoft in a decade. Windows accounted for $10 billion (£5.1 billion) of the group’s $16.5 billion operating profit last year. Five years in the making, Vista’s 50 million lines of code have cost an estimated $7.5 billion to assemble.

Yet already the knives are out for Vista, a system that Microsoft executives admit will be the last of its kind, as their company finally gets to grips with the internet age. Vista is meant to be slicker and safer than its predecessors, but even after a two-year delay it is “not really ready

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