Dell pointed out Vista mistakes, internal docs show

Late changes, confusing marketing, doubting vendors contributed to Vista stumbles

Microsoft's response to Dell's criticisms was not included in the documents revealed by US District Court Judge Marsha Pechman last week. A Microsoft OEM account manager who passed the Dell presentation to others at her company, however, said that she had told Dell that Microsoft would "have a more detailed postmortem discussion around capable and upgrade in the May [2007] timeframe."

Microsoft only just tweaked Windows Anytime Upgrade this month. As of February 20, Microsoft started mailing DVDs equipped with a product activation code, rather than e-mailing the key and expecting the user to dig out the original Vista installation DVD.

Company managers and executives also did their own postmortems on Vista, the unsealed e-mails revealed. One that presumably carried more weight than others was written by Steven Sinofsky, chief of Windows development. In an e-mail to CEO Steve Ballmer written less than three weeks after he took over the post, Sinofsky spelled out his three reasons why Vista stumbled out the gate.

"No one really believed we would ever ship so they didn't start the work until very late in 2006," Sinofsky said. "This led to the lack of availability [of device drivers]."

Next on his list: Changes to the operating systems' video and audio infrastructure. "Massive changes in the underpinnings for video and audio really led to a poor experience at RTM," he said. "This change led to incompatibilities. For example, you don't get Aero with an XP driver, but your card might not (ever) have a Vista driver."

Finally, said Sinofsky, other changes in Vista blocked Windows XP drivers altogether. "This is across the board for printers, scanners, WAN, accessories and so on. Many of the associated applets don't run within the constraints of the security model or the new video/audio driver models."

According to the e-mails made public this week, Microsoft will apply the lessons it learned with Vista the next time around. "There is really nothing we can do in the short term," noted Joan Kalkman, the general manager of OEM and embedded worldwide marketing, in a message written a week after Sinofsky's. "In the long term we have worked hard to establish and have committed to an OEM Theme for Win[dows] 7 planning.

"This was rejected for Vista. Having this theme puts accountability and early thinking on programs like Capable/Ready so that we make the right decisions early on."

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