After reading through an interview Ina Fried, a colleague of mine over at CNET News.com, conducted with Microsoft's Windows chief, Steve Sinofsky, I was deeply disturbed by what I found.
Instead of a company that admits culpability for a product -- Windows Vista -- that has heretofore created a generally unacceptable user experience with UAC issues, driver problems, and much more, Microsoft's chief went out of his way to discount Vista's problems and generally provide little detail about the future of Microsoft.
How many times must we listen to a Microsoft executive wax poetic about things we just don't care about in an attempt to gloss over the company's many issues before we realize that it's only hurting itself?
I'm not going to sit here and say that every company should be admitting its failures for every problem with products, but can't Microsoft finally admit that Vista is a major blunder that has cost the company far too much? Can't Microsoft finally open its mouth just once and tell us what we should really expect for the future and promise us a new operating system that won't commit the same mistakes Vista has committed?
Can't Microsoft stop playing the PR game and, for once, tell it like it is?
Throughout the interview with Fried, Sinofsky went out of his way to talk about nothing.
When asked to provide a more specific time frame for the Windows 7 release, he had this to say: "What I think I want to say is what I just said, which is we said we'd be out there with a release of Windows 7 three years after the general availability of Windows Vista."
When asked about Vista support and enthusiasm, Sinofsky was even more generic: "I don't really want to dwell too much on the views of the past, and sort of just tell you again the lessons that we learned in working with partners."
And while I can pluck many more examples of Sinofsky's utter disregard for providing us with useful information, it wouldn't add any more to this simple point: Microsoft's idea of staying overly tight-lipped about its future is hurting it more than it wants to admit.
I'm sure some would say that Microsoft is trying to keep Windows 7 close to its vest because of its desire to keep itself from over-promising and under-delivering. And while that makes some sense and I would agree that that's probably not the best way to do business, why is it so intent on "sticking to a higher level today" when most people want to know if Windows 7 will deliver the kind of experience that would prevent them from switching to Mac OS X?
As much as it wants to stop dwelling on the past, I'm not so sure Microsoft can. Vista has been met with considerable criticism by the media, customers, and even vendors, and there's no end in sight.
How will Microsoft respond to Dell and Lenovo's decision to allow Vista users to downgrade to XP Professional as long as the vendors perform the downgrade themselves? What will Microsoft do once June 30 comes and millions across the globe call on it to keep XP alive? Most importantly, how will Microsoft handle the inevitable distrust consumers will harbor after being burned by Vista? Certainly that can't be good for Windows 7, right?
Instead of playing the PR game, Microsoft should be going out of its way to reassure us all that Windows 7 will not be the blunder Vista is. Sure, the company has painstakingly told us that Vista is much better now that SP1 is available, but if you look at XP SP3 and Vista SP1 side-by-side, I simply don't see why anyone would pick the latter.
Beyond that, Microsoft has spent too much time focusing on Google to the detriment of its software business. It may not admit that fact, but rest assured that its core business should be the focal point of all of its operations going forward. It's being beaten badly online and if it's not careful, it will be beaten badly in the OS space.
The most Fried could get out of Sinofsky was, well, nothing at all: "So, why don't we say we're on target for the three years after general availability (of Vista), we're very excited about the release that we have, and we're very focused on promising and delivering," he said in the interview.
No. Why don't we say that Windows 7 will be out in late 2009 or early 2010, it'll use the same driver models, the kernel is an evolutionary improvement, and everything that we wished could have worked better in Vista we will deliver in Windows 7?
When will Microsoft finally grasp that consumers and vendors have some trust issues with the company? And who can blame them? We were promised far more in Vista than we actually received and we expected an experience that would at least match XP, but found a product that couldn't stack up to a previous product.
The time has come for Microsoft to stop burying its head in the sand and pretend like everything is fine. There are millions across the globe that want nothing to do with Vista and vendors are doing all they can to ensure they don't have to make the leap so quickly either.
Instead of giving us ridiculous tidbits of information about the future, Microsoft should seize every opportunity to reassure us that its next operating system will not suffer from the same problems we have seen with Vista and make it clear that the next offering will be the best one yet.
But until it does that, it should expect people to be skeptical and wonder if a Microsoft operating system is really best for them. After all, those people can only judge the future by looking at the past. And if the past year and a half is any indication, Microsoft has some work to do to repair its reputation.
Wake up, Microsoft. Now is the time to get it right.
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