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10 Things I Warned Microsoft About Windows Vista

Joe Wilcox: I worked as an analyst when Microsoft developed Windows Vista. Execs asked for my advice, and they got it. Did they listen?

The imminent real release of Windows Vista Service Pack 1 is reason enough to broach the question. SP1 is an important milestone for an operating system that bloggers and other critics consistently ridicule. Oh, yeah, the channel and enterprises aren’t exactly loving Vista either.

These 10 things are in no particular order of importance.

1. Windows Vista has to be a whole lot better than Windows XP. Microsoft had left XP in the market for a long time. That version of Windows had reached a certain “good enough” threshold, in part because of the stable, supporting ecosystem. Vista would have to be a whole lot better to drive upgrades in established markets. I received assurances that Vista would deliver on the promise, which was later accentuated in the “Wow” marketing. What happened: Vista wasn’t better enough.

2. Vista will miss the big PC upgrade cycle. A major enterprise PC refresh cycle started in 2004 and continued through mid-2006. In early 2006, I warned Microsoft executives that Vista would ship too late. What happened: The major upgrade cycle wound down, but computer sales remained strong because of consumer upgrades and a massive shift to portables. So, Vista missed the big hardware refresh cycle but caught another one. However, in part because of #1, many businesses opted for Windows XP instead of Vista on those shiny, new notebooks.

3. Windows Vista Home Basic is too basic. I strongly recommended against Microsoft’s releasing this version at any price. Microsoft executives insisted that OEMs wanted a low-cost Vista version for cheap PCs. But Basic offered less than Windows XP Home for about the same price. I called it a hidden price increase. What happened: There is limited demand for Home Basic.

4. Call it Windows Basic. Vista Home Basic was so defeatured, I strongly encouraged Microsoft to remove the Vista name from the product. I warned that Basic would tarnish the broader Vista brand and that its streamlined features put it in a lower category. I bet a Microsoft product manager $100 that Windows Basic would become the default nomenclature. What happened: Other problems affecting every Vista version, such as applications and drivers incompatibilities, overshadowed Basic’s weak feature set. Oh yeah, I owe somebody at Microsoft 100 bucks. I don’t recall who you are, but don’t feel impish about collecting.

5. Vista reminds too much of Windows Me. In late 2006, I had dinner with some Vista user interface designers. By then, I had used Vista betas for nearly 10 months. They heard: There are two Microsoft operating systems that the more I used them the less I liked them—Windows Me and Windows Vista. While not my intention, the comment hugely insulted the UI designers, because of how much Windows Me is regarded, even within Microsoft, as a marketing failure. What happened: Some critics have described Vista as Windows Me II.

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Microsoft, Windows Vista

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