It's official: Microsoft is out of the Vista doghouse

Microsoft has won back the customers it lost during the three years when it was best known for the unloved and much-mocked Windows Vista. In fact, new customer-satisfaction scores show Microsoft's approval ratings at an all-time high.
Written by Ed Bott, Senior Contributing Editor

Microsoft has won back the customers it lost during the three years when it was best known for the unloved and much-mocked Windows Vista. In fact, a new survey from an independent group finds that Microsoft's customer satisfaction levels in the wake of the successful launch of Windows 7 are at an all-time high. The report also includes some bad news for AT&T Mobility and for the cable and satellite TV industries.

You can see the results for yourself in this year's comprehensive American Customer Satisfaction Index report, released today by the University of Michigan. The annual survey covers 10 economic sectors, 44 industries, and more than 200 companies or Federal and local government agencies. Each entity is scored on a scale of 0-100, with higher numbers representing greater satisfaction.

Back in 2006, before Vista was released, Microsoft's ACSI score was a respectable 73. (To put that number in perspective, the highest satisfaction score for 2010 is an 83 for Sempra Energy.) In 2007, the year of Vista's launch, Microsoft's ACSI score dropped significantly, to 70, and it dropped another point in 2008, to 69, inching up to 70 again in 2009. Those numbers are remarkably consistent and significantly lower than the pre-Vista ratings.

Last fall, Microsoft introduced Windows 7. Today, roughly six months later, the company's ACSI score has spiked impressively, to an all-time high of 76.

ACSI didn't publish customer satisfaction scores for any other hardware or software companies in this release, so direct comparisons with Apple and other rivals aren't possible in this quarter. Apple's numbers in the Personal Computer catgegory for previous years are available, however. Its 2009 rating of 84 (down from 85 in 2008) is impressive and significantly higher than the second-ranked company in that category, Dell, which earned a 75.

I found one set of peripherally related numbers interesting. AT&T Mobility, the sole U.S. provider of services for Apple's iPhone, earned a dismal 2010 ACSI score of 69, below all other rivals; Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile are ranked at 73. AT&T's score is an improvement over last year's 67, but it still has a long way to go.

One final data point: The American people don't like their cable and satellite TV companies much. Overall rankings for the industry are a a dismal 66, with the two bright spots also being the most technically advanced. Verizon Communications' FIOS service earns a 73 score, while AT&T U-verse trails slightly at 72.. Time-Warner Cable and Comcast are tied at 61, and Charter Communications brings up the rear at 60.

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