Why Vista is like sushi

According to an old industry joke, IBM was once so poor at marketing that if it had invented sushi, it would have called it "cold, dead, raw fish".


This occurs to me lately because I've been thinking of Microsoft's Vista as the sushi of operating systems and wondering whether that old line isn't more applicable these days to Microsoft. The company has done a lacklustre job of getting PC users fired up about its latest operating system, now a year old.

And how is the one-year-old faring? Well, it's really been getting slapped around lately. One online technology site called it one of the "top 10 terrible products" of all time. A trade magazinewas a bit kinder, only calling it one of the "15 biggest tech disappointments of 2007".

Still, as Bill Gates has pointed out, more than 100 million Vista licences have been sold.

So, why is Vista like sushi? No, I don't equate it with cold, dead, raw fish. But I'm not someone who craves sushi. I'll eat it if it's well prepared, fresh and the only thing around. My overall attitude is that it's not bad.

It's the same with Vista. If it's on a machine that has proper driver support, isn't loaded with junk applications and has a fast enough processor and graphics card, Vista's not bad. I'd choose something else if I could, and I certainly wouldn't go out of my way to use it.

This is the core of Microsoft's problem. Few consumers are buying PCs just so they can run Vista. Why should they? Operating systems are inherently boring, and Microsoft has failed to articulate sufficient reasons to make the switch.

The following should give you an idea of how badly Microsoft is doing at selling the benefits of Vista. I recently asked several Microsoft executives for three reasons why a consumer should move to the operating system. The first answer was always security. The second, if there was one, was something about the Vista experience. No one had a third reason.

I finally asked another executive for just 10 words extolling Vista's benefits. They couldn't do five.

There's just nothing in Vista that grabs my attention. Yes, it's more secure, but is security really a core selling point nowadays, It has some compelling features. Vista's photo management is top-notch. But I can get it in XP, courtesy of Windows Live Photo Gallery.

Even though operating systems are usually boring, they can be compelling. Just look at the buzz surrounding Apple's Mac OS Leopard.

One thing Apple does is clearly point out new experiences enabled by the operating system. For example, with Leopard, you can take any part of any web page and turn it into a desktop widget. You couldn't do that in Tiger.

Time Machine is another outstanding feature. Are they enough to persuade someone to upgrade? Perhaps not, but that's not the point. The point is that the features are articulated strongly and clearly. It's what Microsoft hasn't done.

A recent shake-up in the Windows marketing group offers some hope. It might be too late for Vista, but the general shrug that has greeted it should fire up Microsoft to do more with the mysterious Windows 7 that's being touted all over the Internet.

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