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What Went Wrong with Windows Vista?

Joe Wilcox offers up a common-sense look at what wrong in Vista's first year. I agree with a lot of this, but not all. But let me go through the points one-by-one. Be sure to read the full (and lengthy) article however.

10. Too many versions.

Exactly. I was an immediate and vocal critic of Microsoft's decision to bifurcate Vista into far too many product editions. Curiously, Microsoft touts this decision--modeled after what it did with Office 2003--as a success. I think it led to consumer confusion and the (correct) feeling that Microsoft was screwing those who couldn't afford a higher-end version.

9. DOJ and the EU.

Absolutely. Again, as I've written again and again, Microsoft has been too eager to meet its competitor's needs in Vista in order to keep the antitrust watchdogs at bay. They've appeased various security companies, Google, and others, and the result is a watered down OS that could have, and should have, been more cohesive.

8. Office 2007 missing link.

No. Originally, Office 2007 was going to be tied to Vista, but as that product was delayed and it became obviously that XP wasn't going away anytime soon, Microsoft removed all the Vista-specific functionality and made Office 2007 work identically across both Windows versions. Arguably, they should have done the "better together" thing and made Office 2007 better on Vista, but on the other hand, Office 2007 has sold tremendously well, so there's reason to think this was the right decision. After all, people will get Windows regardless. But Office users tend to skip versions, so increasing Office 2007 sales, even at the expense of Vista, was likely smart. After all, if they had tied Office 2007 to Vista, then customers simply wouldn't have bought either one.

7. WOW went away.
In some ways, the "Wow starts now" campaign was an early look at Apple's absolutely BS-tacular "300+ new features" claim for Leopard. If Microsoft had any competitive zeal at all, it would have cranked up the marketing campaign this fall, as Leopard finally shipped, late, and with its own broad set of problems. I'm sure Microsoft could come up with 1000+ "features" in Vista if it just used Apple Math (tm). Certainly, the Apple "Get a Mac" ads, which are almost criminally untrue, should be fought. After all, most consumers don't know that those ads are mostly just outright lies. Repeated enough, they become "facts." History used to be written by the victors. Now it's written by those who appear on TV the most.
6. The ecosystem wasn't ready.

Eh. The ecosystem is never ready for a new Windows release. Never. The sad thing about this, of course, is that consumers blame Microsoft. This is the company that, by the way, delayed Vista past Holiday 2006 (see #4 below) so that the ecosystem would have even more time to prepare. As if the five+ year development time wasn't already enough. Screw the ecosystem. These guys never show up. And everyone just blames Microsoft.

5. Design by committee.

In the annals of meaning well but doing the wrong thing, the development of Vista will take a top prize, absolutely. But the committee mentioned here must surely include various antitrust groups in the US and abroad, which are arguably as responsible for the compromises in Vista as are Microsoft. (See above.)

4. Bad timing.

So I agree that missing last year's holiday season was a bad move, and I've written as much. But then we can also point to Apple's decision to rush Leopard out the door in October (after delaying the product several times) in order to make this year's holiday selling season. And it's not clear this was the right choice: Leopard was clearly not ready for prime time when it shipped  and is arguably still not ready. Screwing over early adopters and your best customers in order to make an arbitrary date isn't necessarily a good decision. I will say this: Credit Microsoft a bit for being mature enough to miss Holiday 2006. It's sales suffered as a result, but the OS was also in better shape when it did ship. It was probably the right decision in the long run.

3. Complexity is a killer.

Windows Vista is no more complex than XP. And the one thing many people don't seem to get is that Windows serves many masters. It has to work equally well for grandma and the Neo-inspired hacker elite. That means there are many more entry points for functionality in Windows, but then there always have been. I think Vista is vastly superior to previous Windows versions and to competitors like Linux and Mac OS X, despite the fact that these other systems are arguably sleeker. But sleekness isn't "simple." It's just obscure. And something is only truly simple to a user when it's well-understood. You can get up and running on Vista quite quickly. Ultimately, that's as simple as anything else.

As for architectural improvements, I think we're misunderstanding how huge this was in Vista. To the end user, it's Windows. But underneath, the underpinnings were replaced with something brand new. It made image-based deployment and Server Core in Windows 2008 possible. It's going to make Windows 7 possible too. It's a big deal. A really big deal.

2. The "good enough" problem.
1. The Windows XP ecosystem.

These are really the same issue, which I'd boil down simply to "XP." It's the elephant in the room, the OS that's been around for so long that it's compatible with everything and is reasonably secure. So yeah, against that measure, Vista has a tough road to plow. No version of Windows has ever shipped in the face of such an established and well-understood predecessor, and for all the complaining about the lengthy Vista development time, the real issue, under all of this, was that we were all just a bit too comfortable with XP to actually upgrade. Unreal, and further proof that Microsoft can never do anything right: If they had shipped Vista in 2004, Microsoft would have been deluged with complaints that it ships OS releases too quickly.

I don't appreciate the complaints about XP SP2 either. That release could very well have been sold as Windows XP Second Edition, as originally planned. (That was the original goal of "XP Reloaded.") But instead, Microsoft gave it away by calling it a service pack because it felt strongly that all users should just get those improvements. That was the right decision and yet, here we are again, complaining about it. What a world.

Here's the thing. As of today, Microsoft has sold maybe 100 million Vista licenses a year into the OS's release. Given that over 250 million PCs will be sold in 2007, that's pretty unimpressive: I figured it would have been closer--much closer--to 200 million licenses by now. So what really did go wrong with Windows Vista? These 10 points address some of the issues. But there's gottta be more to it.

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