Microsoft's strange, passive-aggressive "Mojave Experiment."

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Aug. 4 2008 2:18 PM

Wandering Through the Desert With Windows

Microsoft's strange, passive-aggressive "Mojave Experiment."

Farhad Manjoo chatted online with readers about this article. Read the transcript.

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But it's also important to point out what Microsoft's test doesn't prove: that you should buy Windows Vista. Participants in the Mojave Experiment handled the software for just a few minutes, and they were helped along by a technician who showed them the ins and outs (a service that Apple offers for new Mac buyers but which you'd be hard-pressed to find for a Windows machine). The test subjects didn't have to suffer through 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. Nor were participants given a chance to test Vista against other operating systems: Would they have reacted differently had they been shown Mac OS X or Windows XP side by side with Vista? We don't know, but giving people that chance would have made for a more compelling argument.

I asked Microsoft to explain the impetus behind the Mojave campaign. In an e-mail, a spokesman said that while the company has improved the operating system tremendously since its release, it worried that "perceptions have not necessarily kept pace with reality" and that people who harbored "a negative perception hadn't actually seen or used the product." Bill Veghte, Microsoft's Windows unit business chief, recently told News.com that Vista users "feel guilty" about declaring their love for it because the rest of the world thinks it's a bad OS. The new campaign is aimed at overturning this guilt, at getting everyone to realize that Windows Vista is nothing to be ashamed of.

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It's probably not a bad idea for Microsoft to work on Vista's image. But with the Mojave campaign, Microsoft seems to be arguing that all of Vista's problems are matters of perception. The OS is truly wonderful, and we're fools to have mistaken it for a dud. Of course, if that were really the case, the solution for Microsoft would be easy: It could simply relaunch Windows Vista as Windows Mojave.

But there's a reason a simple rebranding won't work, the same reason that we've heard stories about people who switch to Vista and then decide to switch back to Windows XP. For much of Vista's first year, many users had a terrible time with it. Those were real problems, not fantasies. Vista is much better now, but given the software's early months, people aren't fools to be skeptical. And it'll take more than trickery to convince wary customers. Folgers might taste delicious when it's poured from a golden carafe at a swanky restaurant, but everyone knows that when you make the stuff at home, it's simply vile.

Farhad Manjoo is a technology columnist for the New York Times and the author of True Enough.

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