Farhad Manjoo discusses Microsoft's new PR campaign for Windows Vista.

Real-time discussions with Slate writers.
Aug. 7 2008 3:00 PM

Broken Windows

Farhad Manjoo takes readers' questions about Microsoft's sly new PR campaign for Vista.

Slate technology columnist Farhad Manjoo was online at Washingtonpost.com to chat with readers about Microsoft's effort to burnish the image of Windows Vista through its "Mojave Experiment." An unedited transcript of the chat follows.

Farhad Manjoo: Hi everyone! This is Farhad Manjoo, tech columnist at Slate. I'm here to talk about the piece I wrote this week about Microsoft's Mojave Experiment, in which it showed people a wonderful new operating system—and when everyone raved about it, Microsoft broke the news that the OS was actually Windows Vista. I called the experiment "a passive-aggressive experiment." But maybe you guys disagree?

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London: Farhad—you complain that the Mojave experiment does not show "the frustration of installing the OS, setting it up to work with a printer or home network, starting it up, shutting it down, or seeing it drag during a fast-paced game"—but this sentence alone suggests that you yourself have no experience doing any of these things and merely serves to perpetuate the "Vista sucks" meme created by Apple.

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I upgraded from XP Pro to Vista, and the installation was seamless; networking beats XP in terms of sheer clarity; the boot time is much faster and the process is smoother; and the "fast-paced games" I played on XP, like Oblivion, work pretty much the same on Vista if the FPS counter is anything to go by. In the future, please do not blatantly act as a pawn of corporate marketing and repeat "circumstantial evidence" as if it were true. Slate used to be better than that.

Farhad Manjoo: OK, let's get the corporate pawn talk out of the way. A lot of Vista users make this claim: They love Vista, and everyone who thinks it sucks must never have used it.

But how do you square that argument with the many, many Vista users who've experienced problems with it? Especially during Vista's first year on the market, people reported trouble installing it, getting it to work with their peripherals, and getting it to enter and exit standby mode. See the Seattle PI's coverage of this here. Also, check out responses to my story in Slate's fray, where many readers report similar troubles.

Of course, not everyone has had a bad time with Vista. And Microsoft has improved the OS recently, and hardware makers have done a lot to make their devices Vista-compatible. You're surely not alone in experiencing few troubles with Vista. But it's not fair to say that folks who don't like it are simply drinking the Apple kool-aid.

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Alexandria, Va.: I hate Vista. Ever since we got a new laptop that had it already installed, we can't get our printer to work with it and I can't get it to accept my Dell MP3 player or my Canon digital camera. It drives me absolutely crazy that there really aren't any good alternatives out there. I actually wish I could have afforded to get a Mac, but it was not in the budget. In the meantime, does anyone have any suggestions for my peripheral issues?

Farhad Manjoo: To get your devices to work with Vista, try visiting the Web site of the device's manufacturer—in this case Dell and Canon—and downloading a Vista "device driver" for your product. In most cases, this should work. If it doesn't, alas, you probably have to call tech support, or a tech-geek friend. But don't lose hope; chances are you'll eventually get it to work and won't have to go the Mac way.

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Anonymous: Passive-aggressive seems to fit pretty well. The point is that it isn't a disaster—but on the other hand, they don't address the core issue that really the only good way to use it is to have spanking-new powerful hardware. This is not the OS for your puny 30GB Pentium II system that seemed so hot in 2002. I need—seriously need—a new PC. My work provides one, but on the personal side, we're hitting 9 years old and Windows 2000. I was waiting for Vista to be released, then waiting for SP1, and now I'm waiting for the back to school sales to hit big time. Did I mention a serious procrastination problem?

Farhad Manjoo: Right. Microsoft used a new HP laptop with 2 GB of ram. If you use something slower or older, your mileage may vary. Microsoft has always been clear about this; Vista requires more resources than its predecessor. What I think it didn't quite anticipate was that many people wouldn't like that tradeoff.

There's a bigger story tucked in this, I think. Even heavy computer users rarely need to buy PCs as often as we once did, because much of our computing, these days, occurs in the "cloud"—we store our e-mail in Gmail, we collect our photos on Flickr, we manage our lives from Firefox. I used to need to buy new machines to keep up with the disk and processor demands of MS Outlook, which got very sluggish with a huge mailbox. Then I switched to Gmail, and now my needs are much diminished.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Farhad, has anybody done a side-by-side, long-term comparison of using Windows XP vs. Vista on a regular basis? Seems like this sort of study would provide some real insight on the issue—to a degree that neither Microsoft nor its detractors may be comfortable with.

Farhad Manjoo: Not that I know of. Perhaps that would be useful—but it is increasingly difficult, these days, to buy Windows XP. So the matter may already be moot.

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Hunt Valley, Md.: A historical note to those frustrated with Vista's lack of drivers: XP wasn't all that great when it came out, either. However, back then there weren't really any viable options, and everyone just sucked up and waited. Microsoft can't get away with this again, but this isn't just a Vista thing—it's a "Microsoft launching a new OS thing."

Farhad Manjoo: This is a good reminder. We can expect Vista to get better—indeed, it already is.

Readers also reminded me that when Apple first released Mac OS X, it had problems, too. An OS is a big undertaking. Software, as my friend Scott Rosenberg has pointed out, is hard.

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New Orleans: I like Vista overall and think it's an improvement from XP. My complaint has to do with the peripherals as well. My HP 1210 printer works with Vista only on the most elementary level. I can't scan with it, can't adjust print settings, and so on. I place the fault on HP, though, not Microsoft—I feel HP could've updated their drivers if they cared to, but they want people to buy new printers. Even on the troubleshooting page for this problem, HP recommends an upgrade as the solution.

Farhad Manjoo: You're right. I just went over to the support page for your printer and I saw this message: "You might find that some of the advanced features are no longer available when using this basic driver. You can upgrade to an HP product that is fully compatible with Windows Vista if the advanced features are necessary."

That's ridiculous! The blame here is HP's, not Microsoft's, but it suggests a word of caution: If you're thinking about buying a new Vista PC, make sure that all your peripherals will work with Vista. (Usually you can Google the device's model number, find its support page, and look up Vista compatibility.) You don't want to buy a new PC and then discover that you need a new printer, too.

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New York: Actually, it is incredibly easy to buy fully licensed copies of XP in stores and on eBay. It's just not on new machines anymore.

Farhad Manjoo: Thanks for the tip!

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Indianapolis: I dual-boot between Windows XP and Vista SP1. While I agree that Vista is not as horrible as die-hard XP users claim, I would submit that Vista is less stable than its predecessor. This most likely is because of its advanced GUI. This past weekend I experienced the "blue screen of death" in Vista for no apparent reason. I know XP never would have crashed as easily as Vista had. Vista still needs improvements in terms of stability.

Farhad Manjoo: Thanks for your comment. I've got nothing to add, but I wanted to publish your post as proof that users experience problems with Vista.

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New York: Does Microsoft still have any relationship with Slate? If so, shouldn't you disclose this?

Farhad Manjoo: No, it doesn't. Microsoft sold Slate to the Washington Post company at the end of 2004.

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"It drives me absolutely crazy that there really aren't any good alternatives out there.": Uh ... how about this Ubuntu or Mandriva Linux GUIs? The lack of games and iTunes support are the only reasons left to skip past Linux. Microsoft knows that better than anyone and is scared witless. Witness their heavy-handed tactics on the Eee PC. Steve Ballmer wakes up in a cold sweat every night at the prospect of an entire generation of kids in developing countries growing up on Open Source. All of the drudgery that Windows users take for granted—robotically checking for security patches, getting nagged by your OS to do this and that, buying ever more expensive computers to keep up with the code bloat, etc.—will be completely foreign to them.

Farhad Manjoo: But wouldn't you agree it takes someone relatively skilled in tech to set these up? I agree they're alternatives, but I'm not sure if they're viable for many computer users. But if you're sick of both Apple and MS, by all means, folks, take the Linux plunge.

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Farhad Manjoo: Well, my time's up, folks. Thanks for all the questions. Have fun with whatever OS you're using!

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