Microsoft admits to mistakes with Vista launch

A forensic dissection by Maximum PC of the faults in Windows Vista when it was launched last year has prompted some semi-public soul searching by Microsoft executives.

Our sister site, AccountingWEB.co.uk reports that after detailing what he termed "the worst Windows launch in the company's history", writer Will Smith discussed the issues in a background briefing with an unnamed Windows executive in June, and then followed up with an on-the-record briefing with Erik Lustig, a senior product manager responsible for Windows Fundamentals.

In the off-the-record briefing, the anonymous Windows product manager admitted that Microsoft botched the Vista launch to the extent that it may have undermined users' faith in the platform. While the official follow-up interview addressed what Microsoft called "challenges" surrounding Vista, it was couched in Microsoft PR-speak. The full analysis of what went wrong with Vista's launch is based on a blend of the two contrasting interviews.

The basic problem with Vista, Smith wrote, was: "Instead of a revolutionary next-generation [operating system] that was chock-full of new features, the Windows community got an underwhelming rehash with very little going for it."

In addition, Vista suffered from a number of performance and compatibility issues, including:

  • Instability. Many users experienced system crashes and frozen programs when they first installed Vista. "Considering that improved stability was one of the biggest promises Microsoft made for Vista, users were understandably upset," reported Smith.
  • Non-compliant applications and hardware drivers meant that Vista wouldn't work with numerous mainstream systems. For example, Vista shipped without any support from virtual private network operators, so thousands of home workers were left out in the cold.
  • Maximum PC tests identified worse-than-expected performance, with some games applications running 20 percent slower on Vista than Windows XP. File transfer speeds have been a particular bugbear.
  • Intrusive security controls. The User Account Control to improve Vista security came at a high cost - "it's incredibly annoying." Because it warns the user whenever an application attempts to write to a restricted area of the hard drive, the UAC program prompts users over and over when they are trying to install a new application. Windows Genuine Advantage software, which periodically checks to ensure that the machine is running a legitimate version of Vista is also prone to deactivating the program because of internal hiccups. Microsoft's anti-piracy strategy, the writer noted, is based on "treating its customers like criminals."
  • Version overload. Microsoft added three new variants of Vista at launch time, making selection more difficult. It also doesn't help that the exciting 3D Aero interface was restricted to only the most expensive Ultimate edition.

Following the conversations with the Windows executives, Smith noted that Microsoft had responded to users' complaints and addressed many of the issues raised with its Vista Service Pack 1 release.

"If you already have Vista, there's no reason not to use it," he concluded. But with the next release of Windows due in early 2010, he advised: "If you've ridden out the storm on XP so far, it probably isn't worth investing in Vista for just a year and a half of use."

Influential industry blogger Jeff Nolan agreed with Maximum PC's basic analysis that you should get more from an expensive operating system upgrade than not being annoyed anymore. But then he turned the knife an extra twist. "The real problem is probably that Vista is the desktop equivalent of fighting the last war."

Vista had eroded faith in Microsoft, Nolan wrote, and the company's strategy was beginning to be left behind as Apple shifted the debate. Rather than treating the operating system as its crown jewels, all the applications and extras that sit on top of it are what now matters.

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