Microsoft’s Windows Vista Mojave Experiment’s Real Result

When Microsoft released the Windows Vista operating system to retail customers in January 2007, it was met by a wave of ambivalence and doubt. However, Vista was not unique in this regard. Business Week’s October 25, 2001 “Special Report” on Windows XP was titled “Not-So-Great XPectations”.

But, unlike XP’s eventual march onto the computers of businesses and home users everywhere, Vista’s fortunes have been crushed by a tsunami of disdain that first started online and continues throughout society today. Hardware compatibility problems, user education, and a poor user interface on the new UAC led to much gnashing of teeth in the blogosphere and user forums and even on personal websites.

But, what happens on the blogs and technology sites doesn’t always translate into the consciousness of mainstream America. Witness the untold hordes of users still running Internet Explorer 6 which keeps every web programming resource in the world continuously updating their “IE Hacks” to ensure that websites still display properly in the aged browser.

Indeed, Fortune magazine’s January review touted Vista as “the best operating system Microsoft has ever made.” Saying that Vista offered, “greater security and reliability,” and even, “backward compatibility with older programs…”

And yet, the venom targeted at Vista did indeed seep out of the technology sphere into the reality of every day Americans. It is a problem that Microsoft has yet to overcome.

What If You Actually Liked Vista and Didn’t Know It

Years ago, the freeze-dried coffee brand, Taster’s Choice, ran an ad campaign explicitly stating that its freeze dried coffee was every bit as good as other coffee, and suggesting that only drinker’s misconceptions regarded it as otherwise. Television commercials flooded the airwaves proclaiming, “We’ve secretly replaced the gourmet coffee this restaurant usually serves with Taster’s Choice…”. Sales figures suggest the campaign was effective, at least for a while.

The theory behind the commercials was that while it might be true that a coffee expert could tell the difference, ordinary coffee drinkers could not. But, because of false preconceived notions, the only way people would believe it was if you “tricked” them into trying it without letting them know what it was, hence the “secretly replaced.”

In the summer of 2007, Microsoft tried something similar. Microsoft pulled 120 people together and showed them a demo of a new operating system called Mojave. What those people didn’t know, was that Microsoft had secretly replaced their new operating system with a copy of Windows Vista.

The results were stunning. Virtually all of the subjects rated the Mojave operating system higher than they rated Vista prior to seeing the demos. In fact, most of them rated it much higher.

But, instead of legions of users getting the news that people really liked Vista if they only had a real chance to see it, attacks on the experiment itself sprang up. Many technology sites and publications wondered aloud if the videos shown on the Mojave site were “cherry picked.” Others pointed out that seeing demo is far different than using a system and that people were always impressed by demos.

Still, the fact remains, that all of those uses said they liked it. Or, more specifically, that they could like it. And therein, lies the opportunity and the challenge. People like the interface and they like the way the OS reacts to their needs. People can and do like Windows Vista if they actually use it for a while. All they need is some time with a fully functioning, error free, system and they’ll like it.

Of course, the point of the naysayers is that such systems are a rarity. Indeed, while Microsoft’s demo system wasn’t some loaded $10,000 behemoth, it still has double the “recommended” amount of memory. It also represents a fresh install and not an upgrade, and most importantly of all, at no time during the demo did any of the participants try and connect the computer to their scanner, printer, wireless network, or USB drive, nor did anyone try to run their favorite game or scrapbooking software.

The issue all along has not been that people did not try Windows Vista, but rather that they have been unwilling to stick with it long enough for all of their issues to be worked out. The users cannot be blamed here, computers are no longer toys, but often vitally important parts of people’s work and lives. One cannot expect them to suffer through a lesser experience for weeks or months in order to finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Does Microsoft Even Care If Anyone Likes Vista Anymore?

The experiment did achieve a very important objective, just not the one Microsoft was hoping for. Or at least not the one it publicly stated it was hoping for. Many have accused Microsoft of duping its customers through the Mojave Experiment. But, did Microsoft actually dupe everyone else?

What the Mojave Experiment lays bare for all to see is that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with the Vista operating system. And yet, Microsoft has done precious little to push that notion. Instead, every other sentence out of the mouths of senior executives is about Windows 7.

Perhaps, Microsoft’s motivation with the Mojave Experiment was never to change the perception of Vista at all.

Consider that while the Mojave Experiment provoked plenty of Did-Not, Did-To, within the blogosphere and certain technical publications, it never left that tiny section of the universe.

Consider that Microsoft did nothing to move it into the common awareness, no flood of network TV commercials, no print ads in every publication, nothing other than a website that you would only find if you were looking for it already.

Consider that the Mojave Experiment demonstrates not that people love Vista, but rather how people would react to a similar but differently branded operating system.

Consider that the vast majority of Vista bashers are still Windows XP users and while they have no intention of upgrading to Vista, it is also true that almost none of them intend to change to Unix or Mac either. In other words, if Windows XP users were given the opportunity to upgrade to something Vista-like but with a more favorable name, say like, Windows 7 would they be willing to take the plunge? The answer is an overwhelming yes.

Indeed, numerous publications and websites have already started singing the praises of Windows 7 which is built entirely upon the Vista operating system. In fact, some of the functionality is virtually the same. So, it would seem that Vista – just a little bit better and with a new name – could actually win over computer users and businesses everywhere. Windows 7 may just end up being the actual result of the Mojave Experiment.

Maybe that is what Microsoft wanted all along.


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