Since the launch of Windows Vista in January 2007, Microsoft’s latest OS has been dogged by criticism. Despite moving a healthy number of units last year—Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates reported at the January 2008 CES that more than 100 million copies of Vista were sold in 2007—a steady stream of glitches, delays, missteps and other foibles have helped put a dent in Microsoft’s Vista ambitions. While it’s too early to tell if Vista will be lumped together with Windows ME as an OS that eventually fell short, it’s clear that Microsoft’s latest OS has hit a rough patch over the last few months. So where did Microsoft (and Vista) go wrong? Here are a few of the missteps and miscalculations that have led Vista astray.
Windows XP SP3 is Faster than Vista SP1?
Late last year, an independent testing group ran some benchmarks which revealed that a pre-release version of Windows XP SP3 was faster than a beta version of Windows Vista SP1 when it comes to running Office applications. Granted, benchmarking beta software isn’t a sound practice, given that software in development is likely to change significantly before release. Regardless, the test results reinforced doubts that some IT managers have held about Vista, and simultaneously threw cold water on the accepted conventional wisdom that business clients should wait for the first service pack of a Microsoft OS to arrive before migration.
Windows Vista SP1 is Released. Or not.
To compound Microsoft PR issues with Vista SP1, Microsoft recently announced that SP1 had been released to manufacturing, but didn’t make it available for download for all customers. Microsoft Vice President Mike Nash attributed the delay to Microsoft’s desire to “make SP1 available to customers in stages to make sure that we’re delivering a great experience.” Combined with reports that Vista SP1 wouldn’t work with key security products, it’s clear that the SP1 rollout hasn’t gone as smoothly as Microsoft would have hoped.
Windows Vista not so Ultimate
For consumers, Windows Vista Ultimate was supposed to be the transcendent incarnation of Vista, and Microsoft promised that users would be the recipients of a steady stream of Windows Ultimate Extras. Despite some language packs, an animated desktop ability, and a few other minor downloads, the Windows Ultimate Extras program seem to have been pushed back into the corner and forgotten. I’d wager that some of Microsoft’s most faithful customers were the first to upgrade to Windows Vista Ultimate, so the lack of a vigorous Ultimate Extras program is a puzzling one. Yet another point to consider: if Microsoft is slow to deliver on promised updates to consumer versions of Vista, wouldn’t this give large enterprise clients pause when getting the Windows Vista upgrade pitch?
Wal-Mart: Vista Product Strategy Confuses Customers
According to a bevy of news stories over at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, some recently published internal Microsoft emails—brought to light due to a class action suit against Microsoft over their Vista marketing program—reveal that the world’s largest retailer, Wal-Mart, told Microsoft that it felt that the Vista marketing and product strategy was confusing customers. A story by Preston Gralla at ComputerWorld provides the gory details. Gralla points to an email excerpt from a missive penned by Microsoft exec Robin Leonard that reads: “Doug Degn (\[WalMart's\] EVP-Electronics) spoke about how we could be creating the biggest nightmare by giving editors the opportunity to simply say don't buy a Windows Vista Capable machine because you can't trust the logo.”
When All Else Fails, Cut the Price
If all the bad PR coming out of the Microsoft class action suit wasn’t enough grim news for the month, Microsoft recently announced that it was reducing the upgrade prices of Vista Home Premium (from $159 to $129) and Vista Ultimate (down to $219 from $299). While lowering prices is a great thing for consumers, what does this say about Microsoft and their Vista strategy? Arriving on the heels of a particularly bad string of Vista news (see points one through 4, above), the price cuts seem poorly timed. It’s a given that manufacturers reduce prices to increase demand for their products, but announcing those cuts now seems like a bad idea.
Toshiba recently slashed prices of their HD-DVD players, a move widely-interpreted to be the equivalent of hitting the red panic button. Toshiba turned out the lights on their HD-DVD operation a few weeks later, finally facing the reality of a Blu-Ray dominated mediaverse. We all know that Vista won’t suffer the same fate as HD-DVD, but is this the kind of message that Microsoft wants to send when corporate IT managers are contemplating a move to Vista? Perception occasionally does become reality, a development that I’m sure Microsoft would very much like Vista to avoid.