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[OT] Microsoft's Troubles with Vista

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  • John Rethorst
    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/09/business/09digi.html? em&ex=1205467200&en=5335775aae3491d3&ei=5087%0A New York Times, March 9, 2008 DIGITAL DOMAIN They
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 12, 2008
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      http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/09/business/09digi.html?
      em&ex=1205467200&en=5335775aae3491d3&ei=5087%0A



      New York Times, March 9, 2008

      DIGITAL DOMAIN

      They Criticized Vista. And They Should Know.

      By RANDALL STROSS

      ONE year after the birth of Windows Vista, why do so many
      Windows XP users still decline to "upgrade"?

      Microsoft says high prices have been the deterrent. Last
      month, the company trimmed prices on retail packages of
      Vista, trying to entice consumers to overcome their
      reluctance. In the United States, an XP user can now buy
      Vista Home Premium for $129.95, instead of $159.95.

      An alternative theory, however, is that Vista's reputation
      precedes it. XP users have heard too many chilling stories
      from relatives and friends about Vista upgrades that have
      gone badly. The graphics chip that couldn't handle Vista's
      whizzy special effects. The long delays as it loaded. The
      applications that ran at slower speeds. The printers,
      scanners and other hardware peripherals, which work dandily
      with XP, that lacked the necessary software, the drivers,
      to work well with Vista.

      Can someone tell me again, why is switching XP for Vista an
      "upgrade"?

      Here's one story of a Vista upgrade early last year that
      did not go well. Jon, let's call him, (bear with me — I'll
      reveal his full identity later) upgrades two XP machines to
      Vista. Then he discovers that his printer, regular scanner
      and film scanner lack Vista drivers. He has to stick with
      XP on one machine just so he can continue to use the
      peripherals.

      Did Jon simply have bad luck? Apparently not. When another
      person, Steven, hears about Jon's woes, he says drivers are
      missing in every category — "this is the same across the
      whole ecosystem."

      Then there's Mike, who buys a laptop that has a reassuring
      "Windows Vista Capable" logo affixed. He thinks that he
      will be able to run Vista in all of its glory, as well as
      favorite Microsoft programs like Movie Maker. His report:
      "I personally got burned." His new laptop — logo or no logo
      — lacks the necessary graphics chip and can run neither his
      favorite video-editing software nor anything but a hobbled
      version of Vista. "I now have a $2,100 e-mail machine," he
      says.

      It turns out that Mike is clearly not a naïf. He's Mike
      Nash, a Microsoft vice president who oversees Windows
      product management. And Jon, who is dismayed to learn that
      the drivers he needs don't exist? That's Jon A. Shirley, a
      Microsoft board member and former president and chief
      operating officer. And Steven, who reports that missing
      drivers are anything but exceptional, is in a good position
      to know: he's Steven Sinofsky, the company's senior vice
      president responsible for Windows.

      Their remarks come from a stream of internal communications
      at Microsoft in February 2007, after Vista had been
      released as a supposedly finished product and customers
      were paying full retail price. Between the nonexistent
      drivers and PCs mislabeled as being ready for Vista when
      they really were not, Vista instantly acquired a reputation
      at birth: Does Not Play Well With Others.

      We usually do not have the opportunity to overhear
      Microsoft's most senior executives vent their personal
      frustrations with Windows. But a lawsuit filed against
      Microsoft in March 2007 in United States District Court in
      Seattle has pried loose a packet of internal company
      documents. The plaintiffs, Dianne Kelley and Kenneth
      Hansen, bought PCs in late 2006, before Vista's release,
      and contend that Microsoft's "Windows Vista Capable"
      stickers were misleading when affixed to machines that
      turned out to be incapable of running the versions of Vista
      that offered the features Microsoft was marketing as
      distinctive Vista benefits.

      Last month, Judge Marsha A. Pechman granted class-action
      status to the suit, which is scheduled to go to trial in
      October. (Microsoft last week appealed the certification
      decision.)

      Anyone who bought a PC that Microsoft labeled "Windows
      Vista Capable" without also declaring "Premium Capable" is
      now a party in the suit. The judge also unsealed a cache of
      200 e-mail messages and internal reports, covering
      Microsoft's discussions of how best to market Vista,
      beginning in 2005 and extending beyond its introduction in
      January 2007. The documents incidentally include those
      accounts of frustrated Vista users in Microsoft's executive
      suites.

      Today, Microsoft boasts that there are twice as many
      drivers available for Vista as there were at its
      introduction, but performance and graphics problems remain.
      (When I tried last week to contact Mr. Shirley and the
      others about their most recent experiences with Vista,
      David Bowermaster, a Microsoft spokesman, said that no one
      named in the e-mail messages could be made available for
      comment because of the continuing lawsuit.)

      The messages were released in a jumble, but when rearranged
      into chronological order, they show a tragedy in three
      acts.

      Act 1: In 2005, Microsoft plans to say that only PCs that
      are properly equipped to handle the heavy graphics demands
      of Vista are "Vista Ready."

      Act 2: In early 2006, Microsoft decides to drop the
      graphics-related hardware requirement in order to avoid
      hurting Windows XP sales on low-end machines while Vista is
      readied. (A customer could reasonably conclude that
      Microsoft is saying, Buy Now, Upgrade Later.) A semantic
      adjustment is made: Instead of saying that a PC is "Vista
      Ready," which might convey the idea that, well, it is ready
      to run Vista, a PC will be described as "Vista Capable,"
      which supposedly signals that no promises are made about
      which version of Vista will actually work.

      The decision to drop the original hardware requirements is
      accompanied by considerable internal protest. The minimum
      hardware configuration was set so low that "even a piece of
      junk will qualify," Anantha Kancherla, a Microsoft program
      manager, said in an internal e-mail message among those
      recently unsealed, adding, "It will be a complete tragedy
      if we allowed it."

      Act 3: In 2007, Vista is released in multiple versions,
      including "Home Basic," which lacks Vista's distinctive
      graphics. This placed Microsoft's partners in an
      embarrassing position. Dell, which gave Microsoft a
      postmortem report that was also included among court
      documents, dryly remarked: "Customers did not understand
      what `Capable' meant and expected more than could/would be
      delivered."

      All was foretold. In February 2006, after Microsoft
      abandoned its plan to reserve the Vista Capable label for
      only the more powerful PCs, its own staff tried to avert
      the coming deluge of customer complaints about underpowered
      machines. "It would be a lot less costly to do the right
      thing for the customer now," said Robin Leonard, a
      Microsoft sales manager, in an e-mail message sent to her
      superiors, "than to spend dollars on the back end trying to
      fix the problem."

      Now that Microsoft faces a certified class action, a judge
      may be the one who oversees the fix. In the meantime, where
      does Microsoft go to buy back its lost credibility?

      Randall Stross is an author based in Silicon Valley and a
      professor of business at San Jose State University. E-mail:
      stross@....
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