You really dont think that a crack will exist before vista goes gold? Well, honestly, it depends on how you define GOLD. Do you mean RTM'd (which means next month) or do you mean RTS (Release to shelf for december/january)? If you mean RTM, then yes, it might not be cracked by then, but it will definitely be cracked by RTS.
People were saying XP would be a pain in the butt to crack, but it was cracked prior to being released.
Anyways, I really dont see this as a big issue. I mean, licensing is in place for a reason. Now, what I think MS could do is make purchasing additional licenses CHEAPER. That would make it easier for enthusiasts to properly license all of their pcs. I mean, once you purchase a full copy ($300) of winxp pro, why should you have to pay that price again for another license? Actually, I think you can buy licenses separately at a cheaper rate. I could be wrong, but if memory serves me right, I think that is the case.
Anyways, again, I dont see the big deal unless the user plans on buying more than 1 new pc by the time Vienna hits the shelves. Upgrades shouldnt pose a problem, but whole new pc's?
I honestly dont think there is an alternate operating system, aside from OSX, that is ready to take on the consumer level. Most of the linux/bsd derivatives still require a lot of command line work to manage. Some are close, such as linspire or mandriva, but others dont really have the "Ease of use" that most home users want. Plus, unless they automate the updating process (which is close in some distros), I dont think users will be able to keep up with the loads of security patches that are associated with most, read all, *nix OS's. Yes, the kernel might not require patching as often, but there are a lot of small modules and components that need to be patched on an almost weekly basis which are included in most default installs of *nix/bsd.