It didn't seem fair to wade into Microsoft's “Mojave Experiment” advert quite so soon after the flat earth incident. But The Economist has no such qualms: in this week's issue, it wonders if it had been commissioned by Apple - “Microsoft at its worst”, in its considered opinion. Which is letting the company off extremely lightly: it doesn't pay out multiple billions in settling lawsuits for bad advertising.
Nevertheless, the things that The Economist and others have been saying about Mojave are true. If you missed it, it's a rather bizarre form of Pepsi Taste Test. A group of non-Vista users with strong anti-Vista opinions are shown a secret peek at Microsoft's next operating system, code-named Mojave. They love it – and are astonished when they're told it was Vista all along. The whole thing is as unreal as any reality TV, and if Microsoft's best experts can't put on a decent demo under controlled conditions that'll wow civilians then it's in worse trouble than any of us suspected.
None of this is necessarily important. The job of the advert is to rebuild the Vista brand in the mainstream: most adverts look crassly counter-productive to people outside their target audience, but they work. You and I, dear reader, are not the target audience. Microsoft has given up on us, at least for the time being; either we know too much or we're convinced we know too much, and the cost of converting the cynics in the industry is far too high. So Redmond is going for the less technical, casual computer user: who, after all, either buys or is bought the majority of Microsoft products and who thus exercise more influence than they realise.
Which is logical, but wrong. For most of the past twenty years, Microsoft has washed its hands of the casual computer user. It doesn't sell to them directly, and it certainly doesn't want to support them. Such tedious travails are the task of the OEM and the retailer – and us. Those of us who do understand IT are the unpaid phantom army who support the platoons of family and friends who don't.
And it's from people like us that the Mojave target audience get their impressions of Vista. Unwilling as we are to take on the additional burden of supporting something with a whole new set of problems and very little by way of important new features, it's not surprising that our advice has been uniformly negative. To some extent, that's because once you've got people on a stable system they understand you leave them there – I'm not going to get my XP'd parents onto Ubuntu either – but it's an indication of how little Microsoft understands the market it created that it really thinks Vista has enough going for it to counter that.
It's got another chance with Windows 7: if Microsoft wants to be more honest about what it does, add features that are actually useful and make it attractive rather than terrifying to make the change, then there'll be no need for another Mojave Experiment. We'll have done that work already.