Last week my ZDNet blogging colleague Mary Jo Foley reported that Microsoft is to make it easier for some Vista users (specifically those using Windows Vista Ultimate and Vista Business) to roll back to Windows XP until they are ready to make the move. This is a good move for everyone, except Microsoft.
Personally, I can understand why users who jumped onto the Vista train might want to get off. Even if you buy (or build) a PC specifically with Vista in mind, you can still end up with some nasty headaches when you try to slot a Vista PC into your hardware/software ecosystem. Here's what I wrote about that just a few days ago:
Now, here’s the thing. I run Vista and have been since the first betas came out, but even I am waiting for SP1. This is because in my experience Vista has two faces, and which one you see depends on the hardware and software you try to run on it. If everything goes to plan, you see the Dr Jekyll face - if not you get Mr Hyde. Buy a new PC and peripherals and you’re fine. Try to integrate a Vista box into an existing hardware/software ecosystem and it’s a throw of the dice as to whether (to mis-quote Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park) it’s all oohs and ahhhs … or it’s the running and the screaming. My hope is that SP1 administers a dose of whatever Mr Hyde needs to calm himself down.
I've been running Vista for quite some time now and while there are some aspects of the OS that I like, they're really nothing more than trimmings. For me an operating system is nothing more than a platform for hardware and software to run on. I want it to be secure, stable and speedy. Since I didn't really have much in the way of performance or stability issues with XP, and the jury is still out on Vista's security, it's hard to come up with a compelling reason to upgrade. If upgrades cause a hassle or look like they're going to result in me having to spend money on new software and hardware, the idea of going back to XP seems compelling. Sure, there's a chance that I'm being a weasel to my future self and missing out on better security or whatever, but to be honest I don't care because I've given up on mortgaging my current productivity levels for future security because it never seems to pay off.
And that's the rub for Microsoft. Yeah, sure, it's nice to be able to view digital photos in a slide show or add clocks on the desktop that show multiple time zones, these things really are nothing more than decoration, and I can live without decoration. I'm not even sold on the warm fuzzy feeling of enhanced security. I can (and regularly do) slip effortlessly between Vista and XP and the features that I miss are the compact Start Menu and the bigger, better icons that Vista has. Wow. There's very little in Vista that makes it "stickable" and nothing proves this more than people who get Vista bundled on a new PC specifically designed to run it wanting to downgrade to XP. For business users, the advantages of going with Vista over XP are even vaguer than they are for the consumer. Back when I was testing early beta builds I was worried that Vista felt too much like a consumer OS and that feeling hasn't gone away. No wonder businesses are waiting for SP1. Why rush?
This is why simplified downgrade rights are a good thing for customers but a bad thing for Microsoft. For customers it allows for choice and a safe escape route if things get too problematic. For Microsoft it's a bad thing because we're all suppose to be so "Wowed!" by Vista that downgrading shouldn't be on the cards. The fact that downgrading has become such a prominent issue shows that something has gone seriously wrong somewhere. Like I always say, marketing sexiness (which to me is what "Wow!" translates into) is transient. Customers need to be left with something a lot more in order to be satisfied long term. If they're not, there's no reason not to downgrade.
The "Wow!" might start now, but it'll end pretty soon too.