Is Microsoft's Mojave Vista experiment backfiring with users?

Is a new marketing campaign what Vista really needs? The first stages of it -- already under way with the Mojave Experiment -- are certainly drawing attention to Vista. But in ignoring Vista's problems, could the campaign also be backfiring?

In Mojave, Microsoft fooled some end users into thinking they were looking at a new OS, when, in fact, they were viewing Vista. Participants in the test -- consisting of Windows, Mac and Linux users who hadn't tried Vista -- supposedly liked what they saw, and were shocked to learn the video demo was actually of Vista.

"Oh, cool!" exclaimed one consumer, upon learning the true identity of the OS. "Oh, my goodness!" said another. "I think I'd like to have this, actually," according to a third.

After rolling some Mojave videos for financial analysts last week, Microsoft posted them on a Web site this Tuesday for all to view. Ostensibly, Microsoft will be repurposing the clips in other marketing vehicles, although the specifics of that still remain unknown.

Already, the company is putting advertisements across the Internet linking to the Mojave Expermient site. The ads ask: "So what do people think of Windows Vista when they don't know it's Windows Vista?"

Based on the video snippets Microsoft chose for the site, Mojave seems to succeeded -- temporarily, at least -- in improving the previously negative perceptions of Vista among at least some of the consumers duped into taking a gander at the operating system.

But users aware enough of to view the experiment videos make up a generally tech-savvy crowd -- and both end users and professional commentators are raising questions online around the Mojave Experiment and the attitudes from Microsoft it seems to represent.

Many are questioning Microsoft's selection of non-technically inclined users for Mojave - and they're wondering why the particpants weren't allowed to play around with Vista, instead of just viewing canned demos.

"These tech illiterates were shown a 'demo' of Vista. Not let loose with the thing...(or God forbid, [to] try to install it and use it on their own PC). 'Mojave Experiment?' 'Rigged Experiment,'" noted internetworld 7, a BetaNews reader.

"This was part of a new Microsoft marketing drive codenamed 'FTP,' which I'm guessing means 'Fool The People' (or possibly something less polite)," commented psycros, another BetaNews reader.

"Basically, Microsoft rounds up a bunch of users who are so out of the loop they don't know Vista when they see it, and gives them ten minutes with a demo of Vista - not free reign, mind you, but clearly something controlled and monitored. It's a safe bet that not a single one of these victims had actually used this OS before receiving their ten minutes of MS window dressing. And this is supposed to change the minds of anyone who actually experienced the ultrafail that is Vista? Wow."

On BetaNews and elsewhere around the Web, observers have brought up other concerns. Why, for example, does Microsoft only show reactions from 55 people, out of the much larger pool of focus group participants?

Why, exactly, were participants so resistant to Vista prior to the demos? A lot of them say that they've "heard bad things about Vista," or words to that effect. One says simply, "It crashes," without any elaboration. But what else, exactly, might they have heard?

Did any of them ever hear that during Vista's earlier days it was hard to get a printer -- or any other peripheral, for that matter -- that worked well with the OS? Or that if you wanted Vista to work with your existing software applications, you'd probably need to hunt around on the Web for a workaround? Have they heard that Vista's User Access Control (UAC) feature is still frustrating, unless you turn it off?

"UAC's interface is annoying. It dims your screen and halts everything and only allows you click on that thing. Yes, it's great security wise, but I have tons of work going on, and basically I have to halt all work to go ahead and figure out what program is wanting me to accept again. (I mean I could just go ahead and click ACCEPT without reading what program is running, but that'd lose the point of UAC,)" pointed out BetaNews reader bsf.

Commenters asked whether Microsoft told Mojave participants during the focus group session that Vista comes in a confusing array of different editions -- and that a lot of its features -- including some of the new security capabilities -- aren't available in all of the editions.

How about hardware support for Vista? Some focus group members commented during the sessions that Vista seemed "faster" or "easier" than they'd expected. But did the focus group leaders tell them that, in order to run Vista smoothly, they'll probably need to buy new PCs outfitted with a lot more RAM?

By glossing over real concerns of Vista users and reviewers, which led to the negative perception of the OS in the first place, Microsoft may be doing itself a disservice. Instead of responding to legitimate problems, the Redmond company is essentially telling the world that complaints about Vista have no merit.

Microsoft says it wants to improve user perceptions of Vista. But many are left wondering how watching a 10-minute demo can really get across what using Vista is actually like. Shouldn't Microsoft have let these individuals try Vista for a week and then gauge their impressions, as opposed to fooling them with Vista's eye-candy under the guise of something new?

In turn, Mojave is drawing a great deal of skepticism across the Web. Rather than the focus centering on message of the marketing campaign, attention is on the approach behind the campaign.

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