Ballmer: Testers didn't ring Vista warning bells; Could the same happen with Windows 7?

Ballmer: Testers didn't ring Vista warning bells; Could the same happen with Windows 7?

Summary: Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer this week pointed to Vista as an example that tester feedback may not always be the best measure of the success of a new operating system release. What's that mean for Windows 7?


Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has done his best over the past year-plus to try to dampen expectations around Windows 7. He's doing it again this week during his pre-launch European tour, telling press, analysts and others there that he doesn't expect Windows 7 to provide a sudden and miraculous boost to the PC market.

But I'm more intrigued by a related comment Ballmer made, as I've thought about this very scenario  myself in recent months. Ballmer pointed to Vista as an example that tester feedback may not always be the best measure of the success of a new operating system release. From an October 7 Bloomberg story:

“'The test feedback (on Windows 7) has been good, but the test feedback on Vista was good,' Ballmer, 53, said in an interview last week. 'I am optimistic, but the proof will be in the pudding.'"

It feels like a long time ago when testers were assessing the many Longhorn/Vista builds that Microsoft issued both before and after the "reset" in 2004. Before the reset, Microsoft officials heard from testers that there were some deep-seated problems with its next planned version of Windows. As a result, the Windows team went back to the drawing board and rejiggered it. Then there were lots more builds. And finally, in the fall of 2006, Microsoft released Vista to manufacturing.

I've been trying to recall if there were any early warning signs about the problems Vista had when it first came out. Were there any major outcries from the hundreds of thousands of public and private testers about Vista/Longhorn being bloated; slow to power on and shut down; and including such an onerous number of security prompts that many users would just shut off UAC?

The Softies, the company's PC partners and software vendors all knew that Vista was such a moving target (both feature-wise and date-wise) that it was dangerous and crazy to count on any particular build being final before Microsoft actually RTM'd it. So there were some signs that apps and drivers would likely lag the product substantially.

But was there any widespread tester pushback advising Microsoft not to release Vista/Longhorn because it was not ready? I remember hearing/reading some testers saying this, but not enough to create high-level, widespread panic. (There was considerable panic after RTM, but not before.)

As a result, I'm left wondering about Vista, as many are/were about the current financial crisis: Why didn't anyone inform us sooner of the impending meltdown? Weren't there warning signs? Where was everybody?

A lot has changed between the time Microsoft developed/tested/released Vista and when it did the same with Windows 7. The organizational structure and development processes of the Windows unit was overhauled. Testers got fewer, but more predictable builds with relatively few changes. PC makers and software vendors were brought into the testing process far earlier.

Ballmer is right: The early tester feedback on 7 has been good. Those who already have Windows 7 installed seem generally happy.

Is Ballmer simply trying to keep company watchers' predictions about Windows 7's success from spinning out of control? Or is there even the most remote chance that Windows 7 might not be as good as the early reviews and feedback have indicated? I'm leaning toward the "Ballmer's just trying to manage expectations" explanation, but I'm curious what you think.

Topics: Windows, Microsoft, Operating Systems, Software, PCs


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • Your average beta tester is a power user

    Your average beta tester is a power user. You don't get the same feedback as you can from an average user. Therefore, you can't extrapolate how their experience would apply to the masses.

    Ballmer's trying to dampen expectations a bit so that when Windows 7 is successful (and it probably will be - coming from a Linux user!) it will get a good boost in the press. It will be interesting to see what happens.

    Momentum has been swinging to alternatives lately - I just read something yesterday about how the top four best selling "laptops" in Germany all have Linux pre-installed rather than Windows. I'll have to find that article and see what the definition is of a "laptop"...
    • I agree

      You are correct in saying that most all, (if not ALL) beta testers are IT, Techs, and/or Power Users. Real world users (i.e. average home users and office employees) don't have a clue how to download an iso and burn the image to a bootable, usable disc, therefore are not in the beta testers "category". The afore mentioned group knows how to "work" things out, or know that if a certain driver is not available at the beta level, then it probably will be by RTM, or RC releases. I've been using W7, and had no issues with any of my hardware so far. I hope it will certainly do better than Vista did. Although since SP1 I have had no "hardware" issue from Vista.

      Good luck to W7, and if the price is right, I may even buy it.

      But alas, I too am a linux user (Ubuntu 9.04 & 8.10) and you know what they say,

      • good one


        LOL I've never heard that one before. late to the game :)
      • ditto

        • Linux

          I use Linux as my primary operating system, leaving
          Windows for when I want to play games (that don't work
          in Linux). However, I did buy the Windows 7 upgrade
          when it was selling at the 60% discount, after being
          rather pleased with the betas and release candidate.
          I'll probably still use Linux most of the time, but
          Windows does have its uses (and no, I don't intend to
          imply that it's good only for games :) ).
          • ZDNet = Professional Trolls

            Duke E. Love
          • Then don't read their blogs or news feeds dummy. NT

    • Its all going to come down to marketing.

      You are right. The beta testers are geeks. They will find the technical problems but overall will probably find Windows 7 to be a good product. Just look at the ones here. They found Vista to be a good product after some fixes and probably rightfully so.

      But the average user doesn't look at things from that technical standpoint. Either its out of the way for them or its crap. And it doesn't take much to be in the way. If it simply looks different for alot of people then its in the way. I think the look was probably one of the biggest problems with Vista and may continue to be with 7. Unfortunately MS's business model for its OS doesn't leave it much room to phase these changes in and a big leap seems to be their worst enemy.

      I think there will be another blow up around 7 when users get it but not as big as Vista and partially because I think alot of people will avoid it. The question is how many more blowups can the consumers stomach and can MS market its way around it.
      • The average user

        As an ordinary user I still have XP so I cannot
        comment on the quality of Win 7. What I have
        read in ZDNet shows me that Win 7 may be an
        improved Vista but has not sold me on the idea
        of getting it. What seems to be forgotten in
        most of the reviews is that consumers use
        programs not operating systems and most already
        have all they need. They do not want to progress
        to a system which makes their programs and old
        peripherals unusable.
        What will happen is that my current PC will fail
        eventually and I will be faced with the choice
        of a new PC with Win 7 or Linux. If I choose Win
        7 I will have to get a PC which can run the
        version which will have virtual XP so that my
        old software will still be usable. Microsoft
        have made the cost of Win 7 in UK so high that
        when I add in the cost of replacing peripherals
        which are too old to have drivers in Win 7 the
        attraction of Linux will be great. So I am
        starting to learn about Linux and the initial
        experience has not frightened me off it.
        • No, that's not true

          "I will have to get a PC which can run the
          version which will have virtual XP so that my
          old software will still be usable."

          99.5% of all XP software will run just fine on 7. "XP Mode" is only for that very very small subset that doesn't run.

          I've been using a Win 7 computer to test and there's no issues in the software we use. In fact I've had to use the machine as a loaner when an old XP machine went down (some of our machines are 6+ years old).

          It went without trauma on four seperate occassions. The users got into TS just fine and from there nothing had changed. Local software ran just fine too. In short, W7 is very backwardly compatible--and this is the *RC* version, not the RTM! :)
          • I think you kiiiiinda prove the point...

            You are a power user and testing. You may find that 99% of the apps work. But all it will take is for some seemingly obscure apps not to work for the average consumer and you'll have a problem. They won't know much about fixing it and will be upset that they paid for this. And with Vista already burned into their minds it won't take much to tick them off.
          • Huh???

            " But all it will take is for some seemingly obscure apps not to work for the average consumer and you'll have a problem.

            An 'average' user won't have obscure apps, from my own experience. They will most likely stick to the apps that are provided with their computers. And if there is something on their computer that the vendor proviided and it doesn't work, then the problem isn't with Windows 7, but with the vendor.
          • History repeated

            Ok Vista was hard for people to stomach the was Windows 2k from ME/98, so was 95 from 3.1. This is never going to change as long as there are computers there are going to be upgrades and changes and with more in the general population using computers there are going to be those that are resistant to change.

            Now if you look at those that have issues with computers they are mostly people in the 35+ range that did not use computers in school or in any job up until this point in life. This trend will begin to disappear over the next 10 years as those that are in school now and have grown up with these technology changes replace those that did not do so.

            My mother is 65 and got her first computer (which I built for her) at age 55, I now give her a new computer every couple years as she now notices the speed differences and she has become acclimated to the OS's easily; however she would not be able to install the OS or troubleshoot issues. On the other hand my eight year old daughter can build a computer from scratch, install the OS and related programs and update the OS and do minor troubleshooting. This is because she has been around it all her life and it is just normal for her.

            While kids do not have a father in IT the do deal with technology everyday and are much more accustom to it than the older generations which makes it easier for them to transition to new technologies.
          • XP software issues. Same now in Win 7

            As with XP I've found several issues with incompatibility in Win7. With XP my fairly new HP printer wouldn't work, and as always with a new OS my Win 2000 era Logitech Cam wouldn't work (with XP or 7). A big breakthrough in OS technology would be generic drivers so all hardware will work with at least basic functionality. It's not very green of companies to expect you to throw out hardware every few years.

            As for Windows 7, I love it. Still though, several of my must have programs don't work (without mentioning names). A very popular Anti-Virus management console program (probably the biggest AV vendor around), one of the leading enterprise backup software management tools, and my top ranked movie editor at home all refuse to install even with the compatibility tricks. In fact, my Win 7 system tray message box (not sure what it's called now) is offering to solve 2 PC problems. One of them is to download a specific driver from Dell, that it tells me has to be installed in compatibility mode. Too bad though, it won't install following the Win 7 instructions. Another Sys Admin told me he had the same issue. It would have been better if Win 7 hadn't told me how to fix the issue since all it did was waste my time. (kind of like plug'n play making things worse when it first came out). Win 7 does have big issues with backwards compatibility that will really annoy the less technical people. I think their virtual XP fix is very inventive, but then again I don't really like the idea of having to patch and run a virus scanner on a virtual XP box that I only need because my everyday programs aren't working in Win 7. It must be how Linux/Mac users feel when they have to run a Windows program. It can be done, but you have to know what you're doing to make it work. And the average Joe couldn't care less about tweaking the OS, they just want things to work. I'm sure there will also be a backlash from the crowd who ended up buying the wrong version of Windows and now they find out the virtual XP workaround isn't even available to them unless they fork out more cash for an upgrade. I don't know about you but I don't like paying for new software when there is nothing wrong with my current version.
          • Dude get some help with this

            Dude everything that you wrote a long message about can be fixed easily. You just haven't set your "compatibility mode" settings before doing this correctly.

            Don't blame Microsoft for this...

            You have to run the installer mode in compatibility mode..

            Easy just click on the installer program with your right mouse button and click on either "troubleshoot compatbility" from the pop up menu and select try recommended settings..

            The other way you could do it is to select the install icon with the right mouse button and select "properties" from the pop up menu.. Then on the properties dialog box that comes up select the "compatibility" tab and select "run this program in compatiblity mode for.." and chose the OS the driver tells you it's compatible with (I suspect you are using a windows vista driver)..

            As for the webcam, complain to logitech.. Or run out and buy a cheap webcam, $15 today will get you something much better than you had back in the windows 2000 days..

            It's 2009 man how long have you owned or used that webcam and what kinda resolution does it run at?
          • "Dude" That was the other Dude Point...

            Ok, "dude" the whole point of the other dude?s comment was that "Average Joe" (from now on AJ) doesn?t want to set up "anything" the "right way". AJ wants his system to be set the "right way" from the moment he installed it. AJ thinks (and rightly so) that if there is a "right way" and a "wrong way" why? Oh in the name of all that is sacred! Why can?t it be set "THAT WAY" and not the "OTHER WAY"? Are there multiples ways to set it up, each depending on the different program specifications, one more reliable than the others? Not AJ?s problem, is the OS?s problem, ergo is MS problem.

            XP was backwards compatible with almost all DOS and older Windows legacy programs, that?s how Windows XP got the big share of the marked, people got a better OS that ran their old stuff, as bad a XP was and some say still is, it did what AJ wanted. Period.

            This is what happened:

            Strike One: Vista was NOT backward compatible AT ALL, no chance in hell you could run old DOS programs (well you could use DOSBOX, but THATS the point), nor XP programs (the XP mode was/is a joke).

            Strike Two: Because hardware companies where brought late into the development cycle it took too long after launch to have a good driver library.

            Strike Tree: They INTENTIONALLY made programs that could perfectly run on XP, incompatible with it, so they could run ONLY on Vista? Publicly known example: HALO Hack anyone?

            Strike Four (As if all the others were not enough): internal memos that leaked from MS personal itself advised against allowing weaker machines to be certified as VISTA Capable (specifically some HP laptops and Desktops that were going to be sold with Vista installed on them) this means people inside MS KNEW, they FREAKING KNEW, that even Vista BASIC woukld make NEW machines slow.

            So, tester can?t be at fault here because: 1 and 2 were out of the test altogether, testers were informed that older programs were not going to run on Vista, so that could not be feed back as a ?negative?, just as you can?t complain if you are testing a car that is not amphibious, you KNOW is not amphibious so you are not going to drive it into a lake. Point 3 is beyond me, why would MS do this? Was it an attempt to force migration on the hardcore player demographic? AJ is no hardcore player, heck AJ doesn?t even install pirated games because having to mess with hacks it too much of a strain?
            Point 4 was really, REALLY just MS admin being complete idiots, I mean I can concede point 3 to be some sort of stupid marketing technique, but telling your business partners to install something in their machines that could not run as they should? That?s just fucked up.

            People still argue why Vista failed? The real question should be: How did they expect it to succeed?

            W7 is looking better to me for 3 reasons: they cut a lot of fat, they brought hardware and software third parties earlier in the development cycle, and the windows XP integrated ?sounds like? an easy thing to do, you just use your old XP copy for the install, which means you don?t need anything extra, so everything that ran on XP should run on W7. I am testing w7 RC, I am using an old Pentium 4 1.8Ghz with 1 GB ram, and it runs fine enough, but I haven?t done the XP thingy so I can?t comment on it, but IF with the XP thingy done I am able to run and old XP game (lets say ELDER SCROLLS 3 which is a favourite of mine) then count me in among the W7 lovers.
          • @rciafardone, once of the best posts I've read here yet!

            In fact, all the Vista shills, fanboys and acolytes should be made to be put in front of a huge blackboard and write what you wrote, a thousand times apiece. Over & over again. They just don't have a clue.

            It's the only way to deprogram their borg collective.

            Wintel BSOD
          • rciafardone DOS was dead since XP

          • Yeo "Dude" you might want to think about this.

            The man has a 2000 camera. He has a set of programs that do not run well for him. In an IT services organization, either of those are red flags to review prior to distribution of an upgrade for any ITIL IT department that is not at purely reactive, Technology Driven level. "Put it in and we will fix it later" does not provide mature operations for a organization. Whenever any individual opens his mouth and the word "DUDE' flows out, it is a fast indication of an immature support organization.
            Enterprises (like the one I represent) did not buy Vista because of the issues with the back end platforms and day to day use of computer technology systems. The OS is irrelevent. Support plans are everything (when you are talking about 30,000 employees or more).
            Microsoft has threatened their top 100 clients to move to V7 or else. Then they got the Or Else answer several months ago. Harry Homeowner may have to put up with junk like Vista was. But Major Enterprise won't do it.
            That is why Steve is worried. There are not a lot of reasons to go to "upgrade software" if you have a strong support plan and a architecture that allows business software to be supported with older client versions.

            Then again, I am just a professional Consultant. In the IT field. What do I know?
          • You may have missed the point...

            He's not talking XP programs that won't run under Vista/7, he's talking about PRE-XP "legacy" software originally written for Win2K or even Win95/98 which his users need because there are no convenient alternatives, but which probably won't run in any Win7 "compatability mode."

            You'd be surprised how much of that stuff is still out there, still being used, and users who have no desire to budge. I recently overhauled a law firm that had been perfectly happy with its MS-DOS/Netware-based law office system.