Computerworld

Mojave just part of Microsoft's much-needed makeover marketing campaign

The Mojave experiment is allegedly about changing attitudes toward Vista, but it's about changing attitudes toward MS

You may have heard of the Mojave Experiment: Microsoft took a bunch of XP users who were afraid to move toward Vista because of all the negative press it had received. In an attempt to reverse their negative feelings, the company sat them down in front of the latest desktop OS -- but didn't tell them it was Vista. And, lo, the people said they like it!

Some people have trashed this approach to marketing. Wil Shipley, software developer for Delicious Monster, posted scathing remarks regarding the "experiment," calling it "bad science, bad marketing." Blogger Randall Kennedy said this: "While the Mojave project may help Microsoft grab a few headlines (embarrassing folks by tricking them into contradicting themselves on camera always makes for good copy), it does nothing to address the very real flaws that are causing enterprise IT shops to turn away from Vista in droves."

Meanwhile, popular blogger Long Zheng wrote, "Whatever you think of it, you have to admit it's a pretty smart idea."

I say it's easy to write off the whole thing as silly when you see the Mojave Experiment site. But I thought it was an informative and reasonable attempt. Given the fact that so many have decided to shun Vista based upon giant urban legends propagating throughout the workplace (sadly by mostly misinformed, inexperienced persons who possess a measure of credibility in the field), I think it's nice to go back to the people, make them look at Vista with no predisposition because it's Mojave now, and let them tell you what they honestly think. And they like it!

The Mojave Experiment was the brainchild of Microsoft's newly acquired marketing guru Bradley and Montgomery. B&M has been working on a bunch of different ads to encourage a more positive view of Microsoft. Whether or not the Mojave Experiment was the right way to demonstrate that given a fair chance, people can appreciate Vista, it's clear what the company is doing: It's trying desperately to recapture the imaginations and loyalty of consumers who are constantly bombarded with criticisms about Microsoft.

Among them, there's the notion that Microsoft just isn't cool. Who says? Well, the hundreds of commercials with the portly glasses-wearing guy representing PC and the skinny cool guy representing Mac. Those ads are brutal. And hilarious. It's one of the strongest marketing techniques of our time -- and one of the meanest. Microsoft might be able to play off of the sympathy card with those. However, eWeek's Joe Wilcox offered a great way to respond to those commercials, where a Mac emerges and introduces himself in the familiar, "Hello, I'm a Mac" fashion. Then one after another, hundreds of PC people enter and say, "And I'm a PC." There is silence. The Mac guy looks at the thousands of PC people and mutters, "Wow." The punch line: "You can be alone. Or you can have friends."

B&M also has a lot more work to do in countering the allegation that Windows Vista is as a dud. The truth is, the OS never should have been installed on the thousands of systems that were not powerful enough to make it look good. Unfortunately for Microsoft, the company didn't enforce a stricter policy of hardware requirements from their vendors. It compromised at some point.

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Apple never does that. The company controls both hardware and software and ensures that every system is one they can be proud of in terms of performance. Granted Microsoft has a different style, a different model -- and it if weren't for Microsoft's model, how many companies wouldn't exist today such as Dell, HP, and so forth? But it causes a hit-or-miss experience with Vista that has damaged the reputation of the Vista OS undeservingly.

Personally, I've used Vista since Beta 3 on all sorts of different systems. They were all perfect for Vista (2GB of RAM and a solid processor speed). I couldn't be happier with the OS and I'm not alone.

Yet Microsoft does appear to feel users' pain -- and is willing to accept some responsibility for it. Last month, at Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference in Houston, Brad Brooks, corporate vice president of Windows consumer product marketing, spoke very honestly about Vista and the disappointment people feel toward it -- and Microsoft.

He said, "We had an ambitious plan. We made some significant investments around security in this product. And you know what, those investments, they broke some things. They broke a lot of things. We know that. And we know it caused you a lot of pain in front of your customers, in front of our customers. And it got a lot of customers thinking, and even yourselves and our partners thinking, 'Hey, is Windows Vista a generation that I want to make an investment in?'"

Indeed, Microsoft realizes the mistakes it's made. The company is willing to make up for it, and it's poised to rise up like an awakened giant to engage in a battle that has been brewing for a good year now -- little guy Mac taking one slap at Microsoft after another with no response thus far. More marketing campaigns will be attempted; some will fail, and some will succeed. But overall, from my enterprise perspective, it's the quality of the product, how it runs in our environment, how it works with our other applications, how comfortable and productive our users are with it, and the price; these are the things that are going to determine the future.

Brooks tried to encourage folks not to wait two more years for Windows 7, but to make the investment now because it will be based on the same Windows Vista architecture. People have been cursing the new OS, but perhaps with the new marketing, perhaps with more admissions of error on the part of higher-up Microsoft players, perhaps thanks to improvements in the OS with SP1 (such as driver compatibility problems), that "wow" that Microsoft promised may eventually come through.

What about you? Are you done with Microsoft, or just frustrated? Can you see your users moving to Mac or Ubuntu? Do you think they are ready for that extreme interface change? Do you have the training resources available to get them through it?