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

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.

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?