Microsoft’s Mojave Attempts to Wet Vista’s Desert
August 14th, 2008
Daniel Eran Dilger
Nearly two years after Windows Vista was finally released, Microsoft has remained unable to shake off its reputation as being slow, incompatible with existing hardware and software, and generally a poor and overpriced product that nobody wants. Microsoft is now trying to reverse Vista’s bad reputation by insisting that the software’s problems are not technical but rather just the fault of ignorant customers duped in part by Apple’s “Get a Mac” campaign. What’s Vista’s real problems, and will Microsoft’s “Mojave Experiment” help solve them?
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Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has joined Windows Enthusiast pundits in theorizing that Vista’s image problems are primarily the result of Apple’s advertisements that regularly poke fun at the problems in Vista. The company has now taken aim at shooting at the messenger with a $300 million ad campaign.
In July, Brad Brooks, Microsoft’s VP of Windows Vista consumer marketing, addressed the company’s business partners at its Worldwide Partner Conference, saying, “We’ve got a pretty noisy competitor out there. You know it. I know it. It’s caused some impact. We’re going to start countering it. They tell us it’s the iWay or the highway. We think that’s a sad message.”
Another sad message Brooks had to deliver was that Vista’s problems aren’t really the fault of Apple. “We broke a lot of things,” Brooks admitted. “We know that, and we know it caused you a lot of pain. It got customers thinking, hey, is Windows Vista a generation we want to get invested in?”
Vista: Pay it Forward!
Brooks also noted that “Windows Vista is an investment in the long term. When you make the investment into Windows Vista, it’s going to pay it forward into the operating system we call Windows 7.”
Pay it forward? Is Windows 7 going to be a free upgrade to Windows Vista users, in the same way Apple is expected to offer the next Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard release to existing users of 10.5 Leopard?
That’s highly unlikely, as Microsoft can’t sustain its egregious profits collected through the Windows monopoly by giving away updates for free. Windows Vista raised the price of Windows, putting a new definition on the phrase “pay it forward.”
Reality Impairment at Microsoft
Talking out one’s ass appears to be a job requirement for all Microsoft executives, starting at the top. A serious case of reality impairment has resulted in the paradox of the company both admitting that Vista is flawed and “broke a lot of things,” while at the same time maintaining that Vista’s reputation is entirely the fault of stupid customers and a comically unflattering portrayal by its competitor.
In the “Mojave Experiment,” Microsoft plans to dispel the notion that Windows Vista is problematic and incompatible by publishing a series of videotaped interviews with users who arrived with negative impressions of Vista and left excited about the new operating system. This was achieved by presenting the users with a demonstration of “Mojave,” a new operating system that Microsoft later revealed to be Vista, much to the surprise of the interviewed users who’d heard so many bad things about it.
However, the Mojave Experiment is so full of false information and saccharine gloss that it couldn’t possibly appeal to anyone smart enough to turn on a PC. Even setting aside the fact that the ad experiment basically seeks to blame users for being dumb, the attempt by Microsoft to paint over Vista’s problems is transparent and flawed, for a number of reasons.
What’s wrong with Mojave.
Microsoft can’t seem to decide whether it wants to admit that Vista has problems or not, and its waffling back and forth just makes the company look increasingly disingenuous. Is Vista a poorly launched, flawed product that the company is working to fix as quickly as possible, or is it awesome and wildly successful and just the victim of bad press? Microsoft tries to tell both stories at once, which is purely dishonest.
In contrast, Apple said from the start last year that its Apple TV product was a “hobby” attempting to break into a difficult market. Critics lambasted it for not immediately taking over the market like the iPod had or iPhone later did. Apple’s more recent problems in launching MobileMe were quickly noted by the company along with the intent to address complaints about it rapidly. Microsoft isn’t alone in being able to stumble, but its complete lack of candor makes it hard to understand if the company realizes that it even has problems to solve.
With Vista, Microsoft has issued a flurry of giddy press releases claiming widespread adoption based on the number of licenses sold and naming it “the fastest selling operating system in Microsoft history,” ignoring the fact that Windows sales are increasing simply because they are tied to PC sales. Microsoft has no competition in the PC operating system market due to its monopoly position, so it could release Windows Wet Toast and still sell it faster than XP and ME and 98 Special Edition and every other version of Windows in the past that was tied to an increasingly younger and smaller hardware market.
Vista Sales to Non-Users.
Many of Vista’s “sales” were free vouchers distributed with PCs sold in the holiday season prior to its launch. Even more than a year and a half later, PC makers continue to put Windows XP on their systems, even those sold with a Vista license, while corporate users almost always remove the default Vista to install an earlier version of Windows. There’s also a busy third party industry developing around removing Vista for consumers.
In late July APCMag cited Jane Bradburn, a manager for commercial notebook sales at HP, as saying, “From the 30th of June, we have no longer been able to ship a PC with a XP license. However, what we have been able to do with Microsoft is ship PCs with a Vista Business licence but with XP pre-loaded. That is still the majority of business computers we are selling today.”
The arrangement is supposed to end by January 2009, but HP is trying to extend the deadline because customers simply don’t want Vista installed. EWeek also noted that between April 2007 and May 2008, its survey of business users indicated that Vista climbed from 2% to 5%, but that Windows XP jumped from 74% to 83%, three times the adoption of Vista. That growth came from migration from older versions of Windows.
Even in its wildest projections, EWeek says Vista will only reach 28% adoption in businesses by the end of 2010. CNET reported that a Jully 2008 survey by systems management appliance company KASE found that 60% of companies surveyed have no plans to deploy Windows Vista, a ten percent increase in disinterest from late 2007. A full 42% were actively exploring Vista alternatives, and 11% had already made the switch to Mac OS X or Linux. Microsoft is simply lying about the level of Vista excitement, and it’s gotten too obvious for the company to continue to do so.
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The Truth Is… oh Look a Distraction!
At the same time, Microsoft notes on its Vista website “we know a few of you were disappointed by your early encounter. Printers didn’t work. Games felt sluggish. You told us—loudly at times—that the latest Windows wasn’t always living up to your high expectations for a Microsoft product.”
That’s some brutal honesty for a company with a knack for spinning wild fantasies about fictitious product enthusiasm for a product never actually put to use in many cases. At the same time however, in trying to refute away Vista’s real problems, Microsoft uses a variety of tactics that just return to blind fantasyland.
Microsoft is a Marketing Company, not a Tech Company.
The company plays its Mojave Experiment hand on a new website, incidentally designed using Adobe Flash rather than the company’s own Silverlight. Despite the site’s oddly designed, usability-impared interface, it’s still possible to pull out lots of details from the experiment that say as much about Microsoft’s crafty, misleading marketing as they do about its technical problems, underling the simple fact that Microsoft is first and foremost a marketing company that flogs third rate technology products.
Mojave took 140 people and asked them to score Windows Vista. The average response was 4.4. After demonstrating Vista SP2 under the name “Mojave,” respondents ranked Vista at 8.5, a stunning improvement. But what were they ranking?
Microsoft notes that “many said they would have rated it higher, but wanted more time to use it themselves.” That sounds good at first blush, but it really indicates that the responses were biased by hyped up enthusiasm rather than facts, and that participants realized it, reserving their final judgement until they could actually see more.
What does Mojave Prove?
Mojave tries to represent that Vista’s bad reputation is the fault of ignorant consumers who have heard bad things that aren’t true about Vista, and have made up their mind without getting the facts.
At the same time however, Microsoft also publicly admits that Vista “broke a lot of things” and that specifically, “Printers didn’t work. Games felt sluggish.” Did Mojave clear up mistaken notions for participants, or did it just erect smoke and mirrors in a carefully controlled demonstration that skirted around Vista’s real problems, including those Microsoft admits?
That’s a question that answers itself. Mojave didn’t send uses home with Vista in a Mojave package and then ask them how well it worked with their existing peripherals and games, or how fast it was in comparison to their existing PC software.
This is Not the Droid You’re Running Vista On.
Instead, Microsoft sat them down in front of a HP Pavillion DV 2000 with 2GB of RAM. That’s what HP called its “entertainment powerhouse” laptop, although HP only shipped it with 1GB RAM. Microsoft maxed out the RAM for the purposes of the test, making the laptop a bit more expensive than its usual street price of around $1050.
According to Windows enthusiast Joe Wilcox, PC laptops actually cost $700, “half as much” as Apple’s laptops. At least that’s the Average Selling Price for consumer retail PC laptops according to NPD’s Stephen Baker, compared to Apple’s $1500 ASP. Wilcox insisted that his spin on NPD’s figures couldn’t possibly be biased because he wrote his article on a MacBook Air running Leopard. However, his $2,700 laptop did help drive up Apple’s stellar ASP for its laptops well above the entry price for Mac Books, discounting his theory that revolved around the assumption that every Mac buyer pays the average price of all the laptops Apple sells.
Wilcox and Microsoft are both disingenuously dancing on both ends of the truth. Many consumers are actually buying cheap laptops at Target that can’t run Vista ideally, while Microsoft demonstrates its Vista on a considerably better equipped system in the Mojave Experiment to suggest that Vista doesn’t have the performance problems that users have heard about from the majority of their peers who bought cheap PCs and are seeing Vista run particularly sluggishly on them.
You Get What You Pay For.
The fact that Apple sells more high end laptops to pro users at retail, and that it does not sell anything in the range of the cheap junk being hawked at big box retailers like Wilcox’ Target both result in Mac laptops fetching a higher ASP. That fact also means that Mac buyers will be happier with their purchase and have a more favorable impression of Mac OS X because they’re running it on a better system. That’s all obvious stuff.
However, selling people cheap laptops that don’t work well, and then demonstrating a fake “new operating system” that appears to work well when running on a faster machine full of RAM is simply a dishonest bait and switch scam.
Wilcox does nearly admit that PC makers are already stretching their credibility as they attempt to sell cheap boxes based on price alone, citing Baker as saying, “We aren’t seeing any particularly substantive moves down in price on the Windows side, either in desktops or notebooks.” PCs can’t get cheaper because they’re already unprofitable and consumers are already disgusted with their performance when running the increased overhead of Vista.
Wilcox also sets up a tilted comparison between a Dell PC desktop with integrated graphics and an iMac with dedicated graphics and claims a price advantage for Dell, although noting that, while “Dell offers more for less than the iMac,” “that ‘more’ also means Windows Vista, which won’t satisfy some shoppers.”
Why Aren’t Shoppers Satisfied with Vista?
Like Microsoft, Wilcox and his Windows Enthusiast pundit friends can’t seem to decide if Vista has any real problems or if it’s all just an unfair taint suggested by Apple’s Get a Mac ads.
However, while Apple has taken shots at Vista’s incompatibility with printers and other hardware and its scarce updates that have been few and far between over the last year and a half of its being on the market, Apple also notes in its Get a Mac ads that Macs can run Vista, and can run it faster than PCs. So Apple isn’t inventing and publishing false reports on Vista, it’s merely advertising its Mac hardware as superior to PCs.
The Vista flaws Apple’s ads have referenced are flaws Microsoft itself has admitted to its partners, so the Get a Mac umbrage frequently voiced by Windows Enthusiasts is both hypocritical and ridiculous. However, in the Mojave Experiment, Microsoft downplayed those well-known faults by only carefully demonstrating certain features on a high end machine, and without actually exposing Mojave/Vista users to ‘a lot of things Vista broke,’ ‘printers that didn’t work’, or ‘games that felt sluggish.’
It Can’t Even Print.
In response to complaints that Vista doesn’t work well with existing PC hardware, Microsoft’s Mojave website says that “the Windows Vista Compatibility Center lists compatibility status for over 9,000 products (5,500 devices and 3,500 software programs).” It even notes 2,000 printers, 200 scanners, and 500 cameras specifically.
That sounds good until you realize that Apple ships support for over 3,100 printers in Mac OS X Leopard, a product that is targeted primarily toward education and consumers and which is not expected by users to run on any old hardware that might be in use by PC users. Vista is supposed to run on 95% of the world’s PCs, and yet it doesn’t even match the printer drivers that ship with Leopard, a number which does not include all of the third party drivers available for the Mac.
Oh, but there’s more. Not only did Microsoft dance around the truth to feed its Mojave Experiment participants a carefully controlled stream of garbage, but it also inadvertently revealed more serious problems related to Vista, which I’ll consider in the following article.
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