Microsoft's Renewed Vista Strategy

It is eighteen months since Windows Vista was launched with the slogan "The 'Wow' starts now." Far from wowing users, however, Vista left them cold. They were unhappy with its speed, with compatibility issues and with what seemed like gratuitous changes to well known functions.

All through 2007 and into 2008 the beat-up continued and Microsoft's rivals, most notably Apple with its engaging comparison advertising, made hay with little effective response from Redmond. Microsoft, a company once renowned for its marketing and for swift PR responses to even the mildest slight, seemed to have lost its mojo.

As the months went by, critics wondered aloud when Microsoft would begin to respond to Vista's critics -- and to those pesky Apple ads.

Slowly, off the back of Service Pack 1, a response has emerged. In June, Ben Green became the man charged with changing perceptions of Vista in New Zealand. At the same time, Microsoft wrote directly to its top corporate customers worldwide, including a handful in New Zealand, to clarify its position and its plans for Vista.

Microsoft then undertook the strange "Mojave experiment," in which 140 people were exposed to a ten-minute demo of a "new" operating system. They loved it. And then the truth was revealed: the new system was Windows Vista.

Some are picking Mojave to feature in that new advertising campaign, a campaign we now know will be fronted by Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Gates himself. It is said the campaign will push a message along the lines of "Windows, not walls," in an apparent reference to Apple's increasingly closed ecosystem.

Meanwhile, much of the noise out of Seattle is now about Vista's successor, Windows 7, leading some to suggest it's all over for Vista and even Microsoft has moved on. And doesn't that pull the rug from under Green and his efforts to shift perceptions of Vista?

Not so, Green says. Microsoft has learned from its Vista experience and one of the things it has learned is to shorten the time between operating system releases -- hence the noise about Windows 7. Shorter cycles will also mean users won't be exposed to huge changes when they upgrade, he says.

Another reason why Microsoft is talking about Windows 7 is that it is engaging much more with the Windows "ecosystem" over the development of the new operating system, including independent software vendors to preempt future compatibility problems.

"Backward compatibility is important," Green says. Windows 7 will have the same security model as Vista to minimize disruption.

Green defends the Mojave experiment as well, saying it underlines that there is a gap between the perception and reality of Windows Vista. Green says 70% of businesses using Vista report that it delivers productivity improvements.

Green also shrugs off reports that a significant number of users are choosing to downgrade to Windows XP, saying the ability to do so is part of Windows' value proposition.

"It's not a loophole," he says. "Some organizations run a mixed operating system environment and others don't."

On the other hand, Green says, statistics from auction site Trade Me show that 20% of all people using the site are using Vista.

He says as technology changes the benefits and risk of staying with XP also change. Users need to look at factors such as the growing demand for mobility, improved security and total cost of ownership.

Green says it will take up to four years for the older PCs that aren't suitable for a Vista upgrade to work their way out of New Zealand businesses. To ease the pain of transition, Microsoft is delivering tools and technologies to help support those mixed environments, something Green acknowledges requires skill.

"We're continuing to communicate the value proposition as clearly as we can and to give IT professionals the skills and technologies they need to run and to innovate on Windows," he says.

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