Microsoft sending mixed messages about Windows futures with 'Fiji'?

Microsoft sending mixed messages about Windows futures with 'Fiji'?

Summary: After a brief blip of news following the mid-July release to manufacturing of Microsoft "Fiji," it's back to radio silence again. But the quiet shouldn't be interpreted as all is well.

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After a brief blip of news following the mid-July release to manufacturing of Microsoft "Fiji," it's back to radio silence again. But the quiet shouldn't be interpreted as all is well.

In fact, a number of Fiji testers who asked not to be named and with whom I've communicated are not happy with how the test process for Windows Media Center TV Pack (Fiji) was conducted or the product that resulted.

In fact, one tester made a convincing argument that Microsoft is doing more harm than good with Fiji, by sending mixed messages around whether users should wait for Windows 7 or upgrade now to Windows Vista coupled with Fiji.

Microsoft execs have been encouraging users against waiting for Windows 7 and grab the compatibility bull by the horns now in order to avoid having to do so with Windows 7 when it arrives around late 2009. Microsoft's claim: Because there will be no deep-level changes between Vista and Windows 7, users who upgrade now to Vista will not meet with as many driver and app compatibility issues in upgrading to Windows 7 as will those who are holding off from the upgrade.

(An aside: I am just relaying Microsoft's argument here. Don't shoot the messenger!)

When testers (and those of us who love talking to them) first began hinting about Fiji two-plus years ago, Fiji was set to be a major update to Media Center. As the test builds finally started rolling out, it became clear that Microsoft was cutting a number of promised and anticipated features, such as Direct TV and H.264 video-compression support, in order to get the update out the door.

The tester I mentioned at the start of this post said that Microsoft decided to hold off on these kind  of bigger features in order to make the Windows 7 Media Center product a more compelling upgrade.

"All the 'cool' features of Fiji were essentially held back so that there would be a 'compelling reason' for Windows 7 Media Center," the tester said. "Windows 7: Let's say best case senario is that it is released at the end of 2009. That means another year and a half until Direct TV can make use of its hardware. which is already a year old."

What else has Fiji testers up in arms?

Microsoft's decision against providing Direct TV support in this release seems to be issue No. 1 among testers with whom I spoke. But the company's decision to release Fiji as an OEM product was almost as unpopular a decision.

Microsoft did give testers the final release-to-manufacturing (RTM) build of Fiji, but one that is time-bombed to expire around the time OEMs begin offering the product.

Update: The Fiji team decided, after much "user feedback" (a k a complaints) to give testers a version of the final bits that wasn't time-bombed, after all, according to a tester.

When Microsoft decided to make Fiji an OEM-only release, that decision proved incredibly unpopular among many testers, according to folks I spoke with. Only when testers threatened mutiny if Microsoft didn't give them the final Fiji bits did the Fiji team cave and agree to do so. But the caveat was that the final bits they got would expire, forcing them to get final product via an OEM if and when they wanted the release.

One tester told me he had no plans to install the RTM build, other than to check that it wasn't as buggy as the Release Candidate (RC) 0 build was. Not exactly a ringing endorsement of the product from someone you'd think would be excited about it....

With all this unrest, why isn't there more public information about Fiji at this time? As part of the non-disclosure agreements it had with testers around Fiji, Microsoft has forbidden them to talk publicly until the product is launched on September 3. This is from a note from the internal Fiji tester forum (passed on by a tester):

"Here's a few bits of information for you and guidelines for any public discussion:

1. Note that the NDA is still in effect until September 3rd when we publicly discuss this release at the CEDIA conference.

2. REMINDER: Per the NDA your discussion about the product can only goes as far as response to Microsoft public statements, i.e., you are not free to talk about beta versions or any experience you had in the beta program."

Whether you tested Fiji or didn't, what's your take? Is Microsoft muddying its "Upgrade to Vista Now!" messaging by waiting until the Windows 7 release to deliver the most eagerly awaited Media Center features?

Topics: Software, Hardware, Microsoft, Mobility, Operating Systems, Windows

About

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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43 comments
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  • purpose of beta testers

    the purpose of beta testers is to test the product that is handed to them and to give out ideas. since when are beta testers also part of the decision making process? I also do testing for several MS products and I never expect to be part of the marketing/sales decisions, etc that MS makes. My aim, as a non-paid beta tester, is to test the product and provide ideas. What MS does with it, is not my problem. There is also no compulsion on MS' part to hand out final bits for free to any beta testers. It is almost always a time-bombed product.
    reverseswing
    • Wow! . . . Free Labor . . . Will you do free testing for my company?

      Just curious, what do you gain for your time investment - other than the good feeling of helping to line the pockets of Microsoft's execs?
      Basic Logic
      • Let me answer that.

        A chance at a better product when it is released. An advance peak at what is coming. A chance to decide whether to buy when it launches.
        ShadeTree
        • Except that

          since he has zero input in any sort of decision making process by
          his own admission, he actually gets none of that.
          frgough
          • nope sir

            << since he has zero input in any sort of decision making process by his own admission, he actually gets none of that. >>

            - A chance at a better product when it is released
            beta test is tehre to discover bugs. any bug that is corrected before RTM is a bug the final product won't have. as a result of testing, the released product is a better one, in terms of overall quality.

            - An advance peak at what is coming
            beeing able to test a product before it is released, or even before any public communication is made about it certainly gives a chance to have a peak at what is coming, even if returns made on the product to the editor are ignored.


            - A chance to decide whether to buy when it launches
            beeing able to test the product before it launches can save monthes is the buying decision, because when the product is released, provided features are known and tested, not only known from marketing brochures which are far from factual. Procedures for using the product can also have been seriously started and validated. Overall quality of the product is assessed, even if imperfectly. RTM quality is certainlt higher than that of the RC, so the decision to buy is certainly more advanced having participated to the tests.
            s_souche
          • Actually he gets all of that.

            You don't have to be the decision maker to have an impact. Your suggestions can still make a difference. Granted it relies on someone else's judgement but if the suggestion has merit it probably will be incorporated. You don't need decision authority to input bug reports or preview the application. You can also make that buy decision based on what you see.
            ShadeTree
          • exactly

            I first tested MSN Explorer version 7 I believe. Since then, I have been on betas for IE7, Office 2007, Messenger 9, and also some server-side products where it gets real fun. There's really nothing I can do about what MS decides to do with my feedback. The only way I could control that was if I was the CEO right? There are lots of software companies doing public betas (remember Firefox?). Any one who does it is at heart a techie at some level and just wants to play with new stuff.
            reverseswing
        • Re: Let me answer that.

          ShadeTree, that's fine if you can buy the final product, but if this only goes to OEMs and they don't give you a final copy, then it's not a very compelling deal. Especially not if you typically build your own systems, which is a group, I suspect, that many in this test fall into.

          The only decent reason i can think of for going exclusively with OEMs is because they expect a lot of problems and prefer to work out the bugs with OEMs providing the bulk of the support to the end user.

          Personally, I see no point in the upgrade if it can't handle satellite.....I'm also certain that I wouldn't pay extra for an upgrade to mediacenter, if I owned Ultimate. And given how few ultimate extras they've released, I'd kinda expect it as a freebie.
          notsofast
      • hmm

        well obviously i don't get any monetary benefits. But I just do this if and when I have some free time. Sometimes its just good to be able to play with some new software on my VMs. What can I say, I'm a geek.
        reverseswing
  • Vista Ultimate

    If Vista Ultimate doesn't get the upgrade, Steve Ballmer can stick a Fiji palm tree you-know-where.
    croberts
    • Ultimate Deserves it

      This would be a way to appease the Ultimate buyers easily... by giving them Fiji. Right now there is not much of a compelling reason to buy Ultimate except for the "promise" of features, or if you just happen to need a certain combination of features in one version. (Or, if you just bought into the marketing of "Best version").

      As an Ultimate owner, and very-long time user of Microsoft's products, I believe it should be given to us for Ultimate. The MCE features is one thing that I liked about it and was hoping for more improvements. I don't know what else to say except that to NOT do it would be even more disenfranchisement to existing Visa owners, and some of Microsoft's strongest advocates. Considering the amount of money Microsoft is pouring in to improve Vista's image, unhappy existing owners is not something they want. This would be a cheap alternative to a lot of that marketing.
      The-Bytemaster
      • Reason for Ultimate

        Actually, if you want Media Center plus active directory/VPN, bit
        locker and full system backup and restore, Ultimate is the only
        game in town.
        frgough
        • Yup

          All the fun stuff of Home Premium and the Business Stuff of Business.
          bobiroc
        • That's why I got it.

          Media Center is very good imho, but I agree this needs to be an ultimate extra. I've gotten a few new "dream scenes" and that's it. And half the dream scenes are unappealing or the loop point is so obvious it ruins it. <br><br>
          For business I recommend Vista Enterprise for the technical users. It is the only non Ultimate version with bitlocker I'm aware of.
          <br><br>
          Ideally companies would roll out vista enterprise and business in 64 bit versions to take advantage of modern hardware and lot's of memory since it's dirt cheap. <br>
          I love my vista ultimate x64 machine and at one site I have a laptop with Vista enterpise that I've grown to can't do without. RAM is needed and 4GB on a 64 bit machine gives you a robust, secure and stable OS. But with the prices being so low, the more RAM the better for IT and your power users. I'm not finding that many issues to work around and what I find is usually not bad with easy work arounds that actually make the client better in most cases.
          My main site, a hospital, has an very old healthcare system (fully integrated across all clinical and financial modules) but it's client/server and the client piece is XP compatible, therefore it installs in compatibility mode and runs flawlessly, as does most all xp (sp2 ) compliant software if written correctly. I've not found a driver or program yet that runs on xp but not on Vista in compatibility mode. <br><br>
          I also have sql 2005 x64 dev loaded at home and standard version on a test server at work and I've found no problems with the 64 bit version but for a small installation issue with reporting services (major update over RS in sql 2000, very robust and full of new features.
          <br>
          I can't recommend sql 2005 (w/reporting, integration, analysis services) enough. A huge step up from sql 2000.
          xuniL_z
    • +1

      Couldn't agree more, MS has been shafting Ultimate uses in regards extras. This is a must for Ultimate users...
      kiwintok
    • steve prefers pineapples

      reminds me of the movie "little nickie", a certain character prefered pineapples...
      jaybyrd
  • This isn't even strictly a Beta Tester issue

    Microsoft realised that MCE systems just weren't flying out the door and then correctly perceived that it makes more sense to bundle it with Vista so that OEMs can either make a "home entertainment center" with it - or let users configure their own. Either way, Microsoft sells a copy of Vista, which is the POINT of all this.

    Having done that, now they seem to be reversing course back to the 'only prebuilt systems need apply' mindset, which was strangling MCE in the first place.

    Let me start with the obvious: DirecTV and CableCard really aren't big players yet, so missing that - most people in the world can live without it. It's not even used up here in Canada and we have far greater cable TV market penetration.

    On the OTHER hand, we're in the middle of transition from analogue to digital - and worse, three or four different KINDS of digital, which means support for multiple tuners - even if not all at the same time, but at least allowing the user to switch on demand, is kind of essential.

    Look at all the NTSC/ATSC/Clear QAM cards showing up - and the PAL/SECAM/DVB-T cards in Europe (not to mention Seg1 in Asia). In Europe in particular, the ability to switch between PAL/SECAM and DVB-T is necessary until all the countries switch to DVB-T.

    Even up here, Canada isn't switching to ATSC until 2011 (maybe) while the US is switching in 2009 (maybe).

    To me this is far, far more important a feature. Also, the use of MPEG-2 as a primary encoding format sucks. MPEG-4 uses far less space and is more compatible. Programs like Beyond TV can do it - why can't MCE?

    Finally releasing this as an OEM upgrade will essentially kill MCE on Vista. It means you can't get upgrades without bying either a new copy of Vista (maybe) or worse, a new computer.

    That's nuts. What - does the MCE group think they're working for Apple?
    TheWerewolf
  • RE: Microsoft sending mixed messages about Windows futures with 'Fiji'?

    Wow, I'd say MSFT's message is pretty clear here: we want to milk the customers as many times as possible by staggering the release of features.
    theoxygenthief
    • MS Cheating customers - Not new issue

      Back in windows 2000 days, if you ran NTswitch and turned windows 2000 workstation into "server", popped in a server disc and installed terminal services, ran NTswitch to turn it back into "workstation" you basically ended up with Windows XP Pro.

      So in 1999 Microsoft had the ability to deploy XP pro minus the fancy interface but obviously held the feature back to make XP Pro a nicer update.

      It's childish and tiresome.
      croberts
  • I'm guessing Fiji is a hoax

    I'm guessing Fiji is a hoax like Mojave was. They're just
    sending a copy of Vista to these so called beta testers. When
    the testers dutifully send in bug reports, Microsoft will, tah-
    dah!, reveal that it was Vista all along.
    Marcos El Malo