How Microsoft Can Save Vista And Windows Server 2008

Over the weekend my son Phil and I built a computer and a server for the test lab I use in my business (building computers is also a hobby we share). One of the machines was a Vista box, the other was a server which I'm testing the Windows Server 2008 RC-1 Hyper-V software that came out last Thursday. I'm sure I'll be writing about the Hyper-V RC-1 software in several upcoming blog posts.

It caused me to think about 2008 and to look back at the 2007 ups and downs of Vista since its introduction earlier in the year. The Vista SP1 service pack is coming in February 2008, while at the same time Vista is being compared to Windows ME, another Windows operating system Microsoft "didn't get right".

I don't really agree with that analogy, and yes, Windows ME was totally useless. That's why I don't agree that Vista falls under the same category. Windows ME was a few features slapped onto Win98 while Vista is part of a rewrite of the entire Microsoft OS code base. But of course Vista has failed to meet expectations on several fronts. I have my own views on what can turn things around for Vista and save what could be another potentially disastrous product upgrade.

Windows Vista SP1 Must Be Solid, Rock Solid. If the Vista SP1 release isn't rock solid, don't ship until it is. One failure is a mistake, two failures means you still don't get it.

The best way to turn something around is to recognize the problem and work hard on it until you get it right. No matter how great the pressure to get Vista SP1 out the door and into our hands, better to get it right than ship premature software.

Microsoft Has Much More Is At Stake Than Vista. If SP1 comes out and is a dud, more than Vista's reputation is at stake. Windows Server 2008 and Vista share a great deal of common code, including the file system and networking, two of the greatest sources of complaints from Vista users. Here's an excerpt about Vista SP1 from Microsoft back in August 2007.

"Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008 have been built from the same fundamental source code base since the beginning. Many of the core files are identical between the two products... Examples of common files shared between the two operating systems are the kernel and core OS files, the networking stack, file sharing. In the past year since the Windows Vista public release, the common files in Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008 have been continually improved based on customer beta feedback, customer deployments, and Microsoft internal testing."

If SP1 doesn't address these performance issues, the market will question if Windows Server 2008 introduction will be a repeat of Vista. Oh, did I mention Vista SP1 must be rock solid? Now you know why the stakes for SP1 are even higher than most think.

It's About Their User Experience. So many of Vista's detractions, slow performance, losing network connections, annoying User Account Control (UAC), relocated and relabeled functionality, etc., etc., boil down to a poor user experience. We could list out countless problems and annoyances but that's been done many times before. Want customers to love your product, solve a valuable problem and do it in a way that delivers a superior (even good can be enough) user experience and you are most of the way there.

There are many other things I could list that would make Vista a better product and the Vista SP1 a successful release, but SP1's improvements are essentially in the can. A majority of SP1's improvements were in the software back in September 2007 when SP1 went to beta with over 10,000 beta users. Improvements have been made since but with the holidays approaching and it being this close to the February, SP1 has pretty much been determined.

Microsoft can start 2008 off on a good foot by releasing a solid Vista SP1, laying out a smooth runway for Windows Server 2008. A stumble with Vista SP1 and Windows Server 2008 could see a repeat of what Vista experienced in 2007.

Author's note: My passions are user centered design and creating innovative products. Earlier this summer I started a new series of blog posts called Product Bistro on my personal blog, The Converging Network. Product Bistro is where I share my learnings and philosophies for creating products, user centered design and working with high performance product development teams. Feel free to check it out if you are interested in hearing more.

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