More evidence confirms that poor decisions by Microsoft played an important role in creating the public perception that Vista is a failed operating system. Vista may never recover from the last year of relentless criticism and the lack of support from the computing community – the partners and hardware & software vendors and consultants who should have been boosting the new OS.

Operating systems take a long time to develop. Work on Vista began before Windows XP was released, and important decisions were made more than five years ago. Developers have to guess what hardware will be used when an OS is released years later – a tough forecasting job in our fast-changing world.

Microsoft guessed wrong. It projected a certain level of hardware (especially video cards) and designed the entire OS for that platform. Vista’s Aero user interface – by definition the most visible change in the new OS – was designed to be attractive, usable, and quick on the right hardware.

Two things conspired to frustrate the plan. The most important was people’s reaction to the constantly falling prices on computer hardware for the last five years – which consistently has been to always buy as close to the bottom as possible, instead of taking advantage of the chance to buy better hardware at reasonable prices. That means a huge installed base of computers that do not have the horsepower to run Vista.

The second is a bit unexpected. Computer manufacturers are still competing for the bottom of the market by making computers that are underpowered and cannot run Vista well. The hardware cycle slowed down; by this time every new computer should be sold with 2Gb of RAM and a powerful video card and fast hard drives, but instead the market is still filled with five hundred dollar computers that don’t measure up. People buy their cheap new computers and discover they’re slow and Vista’s Aero UI doesn’t work. Of course they’re unhappy and blame Vista!

Microsoft should have been pressuring manufacturers at every opportunity to step up hardware specs. Instead, documents produced in an ongoing lawsuit make it clear that Microsoft willingly shot itself in the foot to ensure that underpowered hardware would be on the market, guaranteeing poor Vista experiences.

In 2005, Intel pressured Microsoft for leeway to continue marketing an underpowered motherboard with weak integrated graphics because it wasn’t sure its more powerful hardware would be available in quantity in time for Vista’s launch. Microsoft was designing a program to identify computers as “Vista Ready,” so consumers would have a quick way to be sure that Vista would run well on a new system. In response to Intel’s plea, Microsoft created an entirely new designation of “Vista Capable,” which turned out to mean, “Vista will run but it will suck.”

The result should have been predictable. Consumers were understandably confused and the entire “Vista Ready” system instantly became meaningless. It compounded the confusion already created by too many versions of Vista on the market. It encouraged manufacturers to continue making underpowered hardware. It led, among other things, to a class-action lawsuit alleging that the “Vista Capable” program was deceptive.

Here’s an article about the e-mails between Intel and Microsoft laying out the whole sorry saga. Sadly, there were smart people at Microsoft who foresaw exactly how this would unfold but they were overruled.

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