- Upgrade difficulties are compounded by increased hardware requirements, prompting many users to wait to migrate to Vista until their present systems are replaced by new, more powerful PCs. In the meantime, these users will remain on their existing platforms.
- Administrators of larger Windows installations want to maintain consistency across their computers and so prefer to remain on the XP operating system, even to the point where they are performing downgrades from Vista to XP on new machines.
- The lack of significant improvements to user productivity under Vista has undermined acceptance of the new operating system.
- In response to consumer demand, some PC manufacturers are offering customers a choice of Vista or XP as their OS. Not surprisingly, XP is still holding its own.
- Many IT managers are looking into alternative operating system platforms like Linux or even considering a move to the Mac OS.
- Computer users worldwide are no more eager to migrate to Vista than are users in the U.S. Further, the blessings of Vista by corporate auditors have been slow in coming, and only a few endorsements can be found at this time.
Vista in the News
Since Vista's general release, some interesting developments have surfaced—most of them negative toward the new OS, but some positive as well. Several news stories have emerged as details of Vista's implementation are examined.
Windows Genuine Advantage
Among many would-be Vista users, perhaps the most detrimental impact to user acceptance has come from Microsoft's Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) system. This much-criticized "feature" of both Vista and XP, it is said, is an advantage only to Microsoft because its sole purpose is to allow Microsoft to identify illegitimate Windows operating system users.
Since mid-2005 with XP, and more extensively under Vista, each Windows PC will "phone home" each time the computer is turned on or whenever the user allows Windows to download non-security types of Windows updates. If the legitimacy of the installed operating system cannot be verified, XP systems will display an annoying message, but Vista PCs can be placed into a limited function mode called Reduced Functionality Mode (RFM). Under RFM, some features of Vista, like the Aero user interface, can become disabled and applications may refuse to launch (except Internet Explorer, and even IE can be used for only an hour at a time.)
WGA Server Failure
In late August 2007, the server-side mechanisms at Microsoft for verifying WGA requests suffered a meltdown. Beginning late on a Friday night, some Windows users began getting messages as their computers could no longer phone home. The Microsoft WGA forum bristled with scathing remarks and less-than-satisfactory responses from what seemed to be the only person working at Microsoft's WGA department that day. The initial word from Microsoft instructed users that the problem would be fixed by the following Tuesday, and, in the meantime, users should not turn their PCs off so the contact to MS that occurs at boot-up would not be invoked, and users should refrain from performing any Windows updates. Affected users were livid. The forum moderator pleaded with contributors to please use appropriate language.
As it turned out, the problem took only 19 hours to fix, and users could then validate their machines, but the hard feelings had already been spawned. The negative PR generated from this sort of false-positive is substantial. Honest consumers who have duly bought and paid for their operating systems are, in effect, accused of piracy and threatened with a heavy-handed tactic like sending their computer into Reduced Functionality Mode. This makes people angry—angry enough to seriously consider abandoning Microsoft altogether in favor of competing alternatives, like Linux.
This quote from the WGA forum is typical of the Vista users' sentiments:
"I was and still am quite mad at Microsoft. I'm pretty sure I'm going to switch to a Mac because of it. I certainly don't feel like I've been rewarded for being a good citizen and actually buying my copy of Windows. Microsoft just doesn't understand how WGA affects real customers that are legally trying to use their software. I appreciate that this happens rarely and that they need to make money, but that money doesn't have to come from me anymore."
Microsoft might actually lose ground in the piracy battle due to this kind of snafu. In an article in TechNewsWorld, Yankee Group analyst Laura DiDio said, "Honest people could ask why they're bothering to be honest. This could have the unintended consequence of turning people to the dark side, as they throw up their hands and say, 'I tried.' "
The One-Click Activation Crack for Vista
It's been said that building secure software is a temporary thing at best and that there will come a time when Vista's validation system will be cracked. To some degree, that time has come in a form that ironically exploits the business agreements Microsoft has with large computer manufacturers. Called the Vista BIOS Emulation crack, this piece of software defeats Microsoft's activation system by making an illegitimate computer appear to be manufactured by Dell, Lenovo, HP, etc. Microsoft has agreements with these companies to allow OEM installation of Windows Vista on their machines. The crack makes the PC appear to be from one of those manufacturers by emulating a legitimate BIOS identification string, causing Vista to bypass the validation process.
Interestingly, the crack is regarded not so much as an illegal and unethical thing but rather as a "self-defense" option users have available to defeat an equally unethical activation and verification policy from Microsoft. The authors of the crack and a company that improved the crack's packaging openly take credit for its development (although the developers urge users of the crack to run only legally licensed software of all kinds.)
Certainly, this crack will eventually be defeated by the WGA system as the universal key codes are detected against invalid serial numbers, but another crack will just as certainly take its place.
A year ago, when it became apparent that the release of Vista would be delayed, Microsoft initiated a promotion program with computer manufacturers in which the manufacturers would place a "Vista Capable" sticker on their machines. Computer buyers also received a coupon with their new machines, entitling them to a free upgrade to Vista once the Vista OS was shipped. This program was intended to help with sales of new computers during the 2006 back-to-school and Christmas shopping seasons.
As it turns out, some of the lower-end PCs sold during that period can only support Vista's most rudimentary version: Vista Home Basic. This fact was represented by a two-tier logo scheme, a distinction lost on many consumers.
In a lawsuit filed in Seattle, consumer advocate Dianne Kelley asserts that consumers were not aware that they would not get the compelling features of Vista, like the Aero interface, and that the stickers amount to a misleading business practice. U.S. District Court Judge Marsha Pechman agrees with her and denied a motion by Microsoft attorneys to dismiss the case. Ms. Kelley has been joined by another consumer in her quest and hopes to bring the suit to class-action status.
Vista Audio Playback and Network Performance
It has been reported that Vista's network throughput suffers whenever an audio or video file is being played on that PC. Apparently, whenever audio content is sent to a sound card, network performance is immediately diminished. When the audio is stopped, the network throughput climbs back to its normal level.
Some Vista users contend that the reason for the performance hit is network processing and traffic associated with verifying the validity of the audio content over the Internet. To the contrary, Microsoft says the reduced network throughput under Vista is an expected result of assigning audio playback processing an extremely high priority—higher than the network driver. This is managed by Vista's Multimedia Class Scheduler Service (MMCSS) and is not a consequence of media content protection.
Progress for Vista Adoption
With over 90 percent of the market, Microsoft's challenge is to continually produce an operating system that is a significant improvement over its own preceding product. As of June, less than 5 percent of the computers that accessed the Internet were running Vista. That's up from 0.5 percent in February, indicating some growth in Vista acceptance, but it's still a small number. During the same period, however, the percentage of Mac machines used to access the Internet has shown no growth.
A mechanism like WGA is likely to attract user criticism under the best of circumstances. When a malfunction in the mechanism occurs and the impact is systemwide, the damage to Microsoft's image is severe. Microsoft faces a difficult challenge as it moves its business into the future. Since MS does not actually manufacture computers, like IBM or Apple do, the product will always be a complement to independently produced hardware. As such, any hope of controlling intellectual property will be fraught with restrictions that limit what Microsoft can do without ticking everybody off.