Monday, August 18, 2008

Microsoft's "Mojave Experiment": Fresh PR or Loser Spin?

Perhaps you've heard about Microsoft's "Mojave Experiment", a goofy little ad campaign wherein Microsoft attempts to change the public's perception of Windows Vista by engineering a perfect outcome. Perhaps you haven't (I certainly hadn't until my sheer curiosity eventually drove me to click on one of the links to the official site). Either way, it's certainly worth a rant.

Firstly, we know a few things about Windows Vista: It's definitely doing well from a financial standpoint, though public perception is that it's a deeply-flawed operating system. Many people have elected to stick stubbornly with Windows XP, a sorry fact which prompted the big M to extend support for XP - hardly the actions of a company that's fully confident in its OS's viability.

Granted, many casual users have difficulty verbalizing exactly why they don't like Vista. Microsoft naturally interprets this as a consequence of bad word of mouth, thinking that real exposure to the OS will change people's minds.

Along comes the Mojave Experiment. In a nutshell, Microsoft asked a few dozen people their opinion of Windows Vista, then showed them a demo of a "new" OS in action - actually Windows Vista - before asking them again. Pre-demo scores skewed low on average, while post-demo scores were quite a bit higher. Yay! It turns out that Windows Vista's great after all, and not at all the pile of crap your ignorant "consumer" friends and family would have you believe it is! What a relief.

Or is it? Certainly bad word of mouth has had an impact on Vista's image, and any psychologist will tell you that Apple's snarky ads have had their effect, but a little analysis will reveal the "experiment" to be just another example of business as usual for the software giant.

First of all, it's an ad campaign from Microsoft, so you can expect a few things:

*It's patronizing. Microsoft clearly isn't confident enough in their OS to let people actually use it. Since when does a presentation constitute sufficient exposure to let somebody make up their own minds on the workability of an operating system? Heck - everybody knows that Windows Vista looks good aesthetically. And "Transformers" made $700 million, but it's hardly a shining example of modern cinema. I didn't decide that I hated Windows Vista and the new Office Suite until I had to actually use it and was forced to relearn all of my old muscle memories and knowledge for some purely-cosmetic changes that would confuse power users and utterly confound novices.

And, as DSMToday put it: "
"I would probably rate Vista higher if I could pay someone to run it for me like your demo has. . . Unfortunately, I have to use it myself, and that is why regardless of whatever your demos stats are, I know for a fact that Vista is waaaay more awkward to use than WinXP."
And when was the last time you saw a corporate demo freeze or reject a printer connection? It's like showing a video of a guy having tons of fun on a unicycle as evidence that you should get one for your kids. Get ready for some skinned knees.

*It's sunny and shallow. Microsoft obviously believes that Vista rules, so why not release the complete video interviews of every participant in the study? Who cares if some of them will remain negative? - the sheer ratio of positive to negative reactions should be enough to convince even the most staunch doubter. Unfortunately, the little highlight reels Microsoft has released have done nothing to address any of the legitimate concerns against Vista (let's call them "concerns by people who have actually used the software).

*It's all supported by a slow, messy, difficult web site which does nothing to assuage concerns about Windows Vista being slow, messy, and - you guessed it - difficult. Seriously, just try navigating that site in any significant way. Even in their promotional materials, Microsoft is forcing us to navigate a new interface, one which eventually reveals itself to be full of pomp and circumstance, yet ultimately nearly devoid of content.

Save yourself the trouble of waiting for the bulky, featureless site to load and click below to enlarge the sample image. Once again, it looks nice, but once you get to know it you'll find that it's remarkably empty. Truly the Lindsey Lohan of websites:

It's gonna take more than stupid little stunts like this to convince businesses or skeptical individuals like me - people who have actually used the software and still dislike it - that Windows Vista is still worth a shot. Sure, Windows XP has some nasty security bugs and a few weaknesses, but once you fix the Start menu, get rid of the patronizing messages warning you not to tamper in the program files and eliminate the Teletubbyland motif it runs pretty well. Microsoft's insistence on reinventing every aspect of the blasted wheel every time that they update something isn't going to win them my friendship, which is just as well, because I don't have any money.

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