Mike Nash, Corporate Vice President of Windows Product Management, has a tough problem on his hands.
Microsoft and its hardware/software partners have done a lot in the past 16 months to make Windows Vista a better operating system. With Service Pack (SP) 1, Microsoft has addressed some of the performance and reliability problems that has made Vista the butt of so much bad press when it launched.
But convincing the PC-buying public that Vista isn't their worst nightmare has proven challenging -- especially as the result of continued press reports, comments on blogs and in forums (almost always from anonymous users who may or may not have actually tried using Vista in the past month or two) and clever ads, especially by Apple, which disparage Vista and anyone dumb enough to install it. Ask the average consumer on the street about Windows and many will insist XP is less annoying, more stable and works just fine, thanks.
If you were Nash & Co., what would you do to try to turn the public tide?
The Windows team is continuing to take the high road by pushing new data showing how much Vista has improved.
On May 1, Nash took the time to call a bunch of press and bloggers to share updated Microsoft stats on Vista performance, compatibility and reliability.
Microsoft says it has sold 140 million copies of Vista. There are 2,700 logo'd Vista apps (ten times more than existed at launch). Ninety-six percent of new system runing Vista have all their drivers just working out of the box. More than 200 enterprise applications are now guaranteed to be Vista-compatible. Vista SP1 systems start up in 45 (rather than 90) seconds, according to Microsoft, and shut down in 11. And, according to a new Microsoft-commissioned study, 86 percent of consumer customers using Vista would recommend it to their friends.
Nash's key takeaway: A PC with Vista SP1 is going to run a lot better than a PC with Vista that customers might have bought 16 months ago.
Microsoft believes that propagating this kind of data will help the company make the case that Vista is getting better all the time.
But here's where that logic breaks down. Many users inherently distrust data about Microsoft products that comes from Microsoft, rather than independent reviewers or third-party researchers not taking Microsoft's money to do studies. At the same time, only some of the critiques of Vista are based on actual Vista users working with recent builds of the product. Apples-to-apples comparisons between Vista and XP, Vista and Leopard and Vista and Linux are few and far between. Those kinds of comparisons, many of which are taken as fact, are beyond Microsoft's control.
As Matt Freestone, a blogger with the WindowsConnected site noted in a post defending Vista, entitled "The Vista Schoolyard Bullies": "I ask you, how many Apple users do you know that own a 3 year old Mac, and install Leopard on it? The silence is deafening."
"Microsoft is the company the world loves to hate," agreed Lee Nicholls, Director of Global Solutions with Getronics, a Microsoft integration partner that sells heavily into the financial services and manufacturing industries.
Nicholls admitted that Getronics was none too happy with Microsft's marketing messages that it delivered in 2006 when Vista was released to businesses.
For businesses, "Microsoft didn't really communicate the right messaging," Nicholls said, focusing on Vista's pretty user interface, built-in search and security as "an added-value feature," rather than a baked-in necessity. Microsoft's downplaying of the significance of SP1 as a "psychological barrier" for many businesses didn't help matters any, he said. BUt now that Microsoft has delivered SP1 and is trying to get the word out on product improvements, Getronics' Vista business is starting to pick up, Nichols said.
Getronics is emphasizing the cost savings per user businesses can achieve when they migrate to Office, Vista and Exchange. There's a $316 per seat per user savings in labor alone," Nicholls said, which is "more than a good enough excuse for many companies to bring their hardware refreshes forwared on their calendars."
Back to Vista's image. Instead of the usual "Vista sucks" comments that many of you readers like to leave here, how about -- just this once -- only those who've tried Vista SP1 on old or new hardware weigh in. What is and isn't working for you now, 16 months after Vista was first released? Is Vista with SP1 something you'd recommend to your colleagues and friends?