Windows Vista (In)capable

What went wrong? I'll tell you what went wrong: Microsoft execs - starting with Steve Ballmer - don't care enough about their customers.
Written by Robin Harris, Contributor

What went wrong? I'll tell you what went wrong: Microsoft execs - starting with Steve Ballmer - don't care enough about their customers. Which is too bad for the thousands of smart, hard working 'softies who do.

I went through the Vista Capable lawsuit Exhibit A emails. Lots of warnings that Vista was a train wreck, that its requirements exceeded the market, that the continual changes and slips were killing OEMs and that many peripheral vendors had simply given up trying to stay in sync.

Where was Steve?

Even execs get shafted If you were confused and/or burnt by the "Windows Vista Capable" logo, you have good company. Mike Nash, now Microsoft Corporate VP, Windows Product management, said in an email:

I personally got burned by the Intel 915 chipset issue on a laptop that PERSONALLY (eg with my own $$$). . . . I now have a $2100 email machine."

Board member and former Microsoft President/COO Jon Shirley also had Vista woes:

I upgraded one of the two machines I use a lot to Vista. The most persistent and so far hardest to fix issues are both MSN products, Portfolio in MSN Money and Music (downloads I had bought in the past).

. . . there are no drivers yet for my Epson printer (top of the line and in production today but no driver yet), Epson scanner (older but also top of the line and they say thwy not do a driver for) and a Nikon film scanner that will get a driver one day . . . . I cannot understand with a product this long in creation why there is a such a shortage of drivers. I suppose the vendors did not trust us . . . enough to use the beta for driver testing?

Good question, Jon. Ballmer replied: "You are right that people did not trust us . . . ".

Was it Intel's fault? Intel clearly put pressure on Microsoft to ease the graphics requirements for the "Vista Capable" designation. Intel VP, Software and Solutions Group Renee J. James got a lot of attention from William Poole, a Microsoft VP.

Mr. Poole seems to have been Microsoft's primary contact to Intel's James. Mr. Poole played an key role in strangling Netscape - based on his testimony in the antitrust trial. He knows how to play rough.

Thus John Kalkman's email statement doesn't quite add up:

In the end we lowered the requirement to help Intel make their quarterly earnings so they could continue to sell motherboards with 915 graphics embedded.

If Intel couldn't sell motherboards, could Microsoft sell Windows? Further, Intel's 915 graphics performance wasn't bad. In a November, 2004 ExtremeTech review, the 915 could do 73 fps on Halo and 60 on UT2004 - not bad for integrated graphics 3 years ago.

My reading: Vista's hardware requirements exceeded what most consumers were buying. Microsoft bloatware overshot the market and they had a choice: lower requirements or hose the available market for Vista.

They lowered requirements. The "Intel made us do it" claim is an excuse, not a reason. The emails also show that HP had worked hard to meet the original requirements. If Microsoft cared about consumer requirements they would have supported HP over Intel - even at the cost of initial Vista sales.

Product intro tight rope Product intros are a balancing act. The development team is racing to implement features and fix bugs while marketing is prepping customers and sales. Features are dropped weekly while "show stopper" bugs are keeping everyone in suspense.

Top management has to balance what was promised against what can be delivered. Vista's last minute slips - especially the one that pushed delivery past the holidays - were painful attempts to correct major problems. Ultimately they were too little, too late.

The Storage Bits take The Vista project was entirely on Ballmer's watch and he bungled it. The CEO is where competing priorities get sorted out. It's clear that Ballmer couldn't get his team focused on a great customer experience.

Allchin's development team overestimated consumer PC performance at Vista ship. Ballmer over-promised Wall Street on Vista sales. The continuing slips eroded vendor support.

Marketing split hairs - charging OEMs $8 more for Vista Home Premium! - and created a messaging mess that no one could understand. Let alone tell engineering they were dreaming.

Downgrades to XP are running wild. Microsoft's prestige has taken a huge hit. Millions are looking at, and many are buying, Macs. Low-cost PCs are forcing Vista prices down. The news seems to keep getting worse, not better.

The fish rots from the head, Steve. And you're the head. Time to go and give someone else a shot. The world's largest and most profitable software company can and must do better.

Comments welcome, of course. Update: There's a bug in the new ZDnet stylesheet, so I've gone back and put the direct quotes in italics. Hope it makes the direct quotes clear.

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