Just for a second, put aside thoughts of the world's richest company co-founders, the stately campus in scenic Washington state, and a strong competitive position (some would say monopoly) in a booming industry (the Windows family owns nearly 90% of the OS market).
Instead, let's focus for a moment on this breathtaking commercial idea: fully enforceable, planned systemic obsolescence.
Microsoft's recent announcement that it plans to phase out shipments of Windows XP by the end of January, 2008 puts its customers once again in the position of "upgrade or die" (a similar situation followed the discontinuation of Windows 98 service and support last July).
Although the obsolescence deadline definitely arrived a little quicker this time, the more important news here is that to function at all as designed, Vista needs a late-model graphics card and at least a gigabyte of RAM, making a fleet of low-cost, Win-98, ME (or even many XP-enabled) machines virtually unusable without at least a major hardware upgrade to go along with the new software package (available, of course, only from Microsoft).
If you don't plan on buying in to Vista before next January, then maybe your best bet is to buy a bunch of boxes of XP as backup. In the meantime, you can check to see if your computer is Vista-capable here. Read some sobering statistics about Vista capability here.
And as for the nice refresh cycle for your product, you best get on the ball quick (before Microsoft makes that obsolete too).