BY-NC-ND: M Francis McCarthy

The Mojave Experiment: Making the donkey hurt itself on a stone

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In an attempt to get some of the negative attention off of Windows Vista, Microsoft starts a marketing campaign called ‘The Mojave Experiment‘. In this campaign, users who don’t want to upgrade to Windows Vista are shown the new Windows version, codenamed ‘Mojave’, which is actually Windows Vista in disguise, and they are recorded with a hidden camera while being asked about their feelings about Windows Vista, while they see a demonstration of the ‘new’ Windows Mojave, and when they are told that Windows Mojave is actually Windows Vista with a different label on it. A few days ago, Microsoft published these video’s, to convince everyone who doubts that Windows Vista is a good choice, that it actually is a good choice. Read on to see why this experiment horribly failed, and only has the potential to make Vista’s reputation even worse.

The variables

While you’d expect Microsoft would invite the people who actually experienced Windows Vista’s bad sides, Microsoft decided to ask people who have never worked with Vista before; People who based their opinion on hearsay. A strange thing is noted here. Apparently, Windows Vista has such a negative sound nowadays, that not so tech savvy users are already choosing to not go with Windows Vista, without even trying it out. You may wonder why I call them not so tech savvy, without any explanation, but I think that it goes without saying that any person qualifying as tech savvy, has already tried out Windows Vista, and possibly also one of the beta’s or RC’s as well. Though, most of these users (the not so tech savvy) are smart enough to not take any advice because someone said it. I mean, there has been enough positive marketing about Windows Vista, to make sure people won’t just take the comments from the friend of the son of the woman your friend works out with at the gym, for granted. There has to be negative experiences, and actual disrecommendations, from people they trust, and know as being tech savvy. It takes courage to stand up and correct the salesmen, and take Windows XP instead of Windows Vista, or to say ‘no’ to all the positive marketing. People want the best for themselves, especially when confronted with it, and apparently they are so convinced that Vista isn’t it, that they never even bothered to try it out.

Microsoft created a product that couldn’t sell itself, and won’t even sell when pushed. With previous Windows versions, there has always been some negativity, but usually that came up later. People used it for a while, and they grew tired of adjusting their workflow to accommodate the downsides of the Operating System. This mostly came because of the technologies advances after the Windows version had been released. You bought Windows a year ago, and now it won’t work with that brand new shiny peripheral you bought yesterday. Even though it isn’t completely fair, this gets blamed on the Operating System. After all, the peripheral is brand new, so it can’t be broken already, now can it? However, with Windows Vista, people are already getting tired of it, before the rest of the world even had the chance to advance technologically. It ‘sucked’ straight out of the box, instead of after a year or so had passed. And not just for one or two people, with extra-ordinary peripherals nobody uses anyway, but for so many people, that Microsoft had no issue finding 140 people who never used Windows Vista before, because of only hearsay. I watched the video’s, and they all appear to be US citizens, so this is only 1 country we are talking about, and maybe even one state, or even one city. Imagine how many people are already convinced Windows Vista is a bad choice, without even trying it, in the whole world? Add to that number the amount of people that did actually try Windows Vista, but became so disappointed they started disrecommending it to other people, and you start to wonder if anyone actually uses Windows Vista, and is so happy with it, that they believe the product is worth it’s money to upgrade from a previous Windows system.

A remarkable fact should be noted here too. Many tech savvy users claim that Windows Vista is basically Windows XP with some minor changes, some added features, and a new skin. Although there is no way of proving it since Windows is a closed-source product, if this were true, Microsoft actually managed to change a version into something so bad, people massively choose the original version over the changed version. Not only that, it also took them the longest amount of time of any Windows version created. Untill the release of Windows XP, Microsoft always released a new Windows version every 1 or 2 years. Even better, they worked most of the time on two separate codebases, as the NT kernel was not used in the client versions till Windows XP. Since Microsoft merged these two together, the release schedule came to a grinding stop. Besides Windows Server 2003, released in 2003, which got released in 3 different packages (Windows XP 64bit 2003 and Windows XP Professional x64 Edition are basically the same thing, without the Server parts and with the client parts from Windows XP), there has been no release till Windows Vista hit the shelves in early 2007. For one reason or the other, Microsoft needed an extra 4 years to create a new Windows version, which came out worse than the version they made 6 years before it’s release.

One could argue that executives within Microsoft made the wrong decisions. What they figured the user would like, turned out to be something the user hated, and damaged the overall product. Either because of the feature itself, or the way it was implemented. Though that doesn’t take 4 years. People can make bad decisions in an instant. No, I’m only kidding, I know it doesn’t work this way in a company as large as Microsoft. A more likely explanation is that Microsoft maneuvered itself into an impasse with the release of Windows XP. While you may argue with me now, Windows XP was good when it was released. Not just good, no, really good. I don’t know if you can remember running it back then, but it was a relief to users in many ways, and people liked it. Of course, over the years, the product became less good as technology advanced. But at the moment of writing, it is widely considered to be better than Windows Vista, even though it was released over 7 years ago, while Vista just hit the shelves, hence the need for the Mojave Experiment.

Microsoft came to a point that they decided that Windows XP wouldn’t be for sale any longer, and people actually tried to argue with that. Do you remember how many people argued when Windows ME wasn’t for sale any longer? I bet most people didn’t even notice it. So, with a current release that good, Microsoft had to come up with something better. Now that’s hard. It’s easy to make something better if the current version has noticeable shortcomings, or if it is just plain bad. But if the product is really good, it’s a whole other story. If you installed Windows 98 five years after it’s release, you would be seriously limited in your choices. Not all applications would work, and a lot of hardware wasn’t supported. Besides that, the product itself wasn’t that good either. Sure, it was a lot better than Windows 95, gave a lot more new features (USB support rings a bell?), but after 5 years, it wasn’t considered an option anymore. Yet, Windows XP will run on any brand new system 7 years after it was released, it runs all applications that are currently widely used. Of course it does have some shortcomings, but it’s still a really good option. Partially, this is also caused by the 3rd party support. Manufacturers and developers stopped supporting Windows 98 a year or two after the newer version came out, and with Windows XP there wasn’t a newer version, so they pretty much had to support it. Though there was no newer version, as the market didn’t demand a newer version. Windows XP was so good, it didn’t have to be replaced after 1 or 2 years, while older versions had to.

In previous Windows versions, Microsoft had an easy task. They created an OS that beated the shit out of the current version, and people bought it, because it was better. No matter how much shortcomings it still had, it was already a lot better than what people had. It’s the perfect marketing strategy, though I doubt it was intentional when they started the spiral. But after Windows XP, that spiral ended, and a whole new era had begun. No longer could they just bring their old version up to par with the current technology, support things that were already supported by ‘competing’ products, add in a couple of new features, and be done with it. Now, the era of the visionaries had begun. The market was now theirs, and they had to start to lead the way. But, what do users actually want? What will make their jobs easier, and their life better? What happens if we make the wrong decisions?

The test

The video’s on the website show a remarkable fact about the actual test. Microsoft put some work in it to disguise Vista as being Mojave, and then gives these users, who never worked before with Windows Vista a demonstration. These users don’t touch the product itself, no, to prevent the users from getting disappointed when trying to do their daily stuff in their normal workflow, a Microsoft technician shows what’s cool. Of course, this technician knows which stuff will impress new users, and which stuff Microsoft rather not talks about. It should be noted too, that the system is already pre-installed, and optimized for the presentation. Microsoft has put several man-hours into pre-configuring the system, making sure it would achieve the best results. Wether this is being done by choosing pre-selected hardware, choosing to run only Microsoft applications, or by choosing to show only a pre-selected set of features, it will never show the user how it will work when the user itself uses the product. Users don’t need a product that runs perfect on somebody else’s hardware, is completely compatible with an application which they’ll never use, and excels in features that are only distracting in their normal workflow. To get a realistic test, those people should have had to bring in their own computers, with all their 3rd party peripherals. Then they would have to do an upgrade from their current Windows version to Windows Mojave, with only the help of the manual, and a phone line, to call friends or Microsoft support. After that, they would need to do what they always do with their computer. Wether that is IM-ing with Microsoft Messenger, or reverse engineering a C++ application. That is where the issues arise. Nobody had any issues, when watching the promo video (which is basically the same as watching a Microsoft Technician demo the product on one of their own systems), the issues started appearing when people had to use the product themselves.

After the demo, which of course is psychologically constructed to bring the ‘Wow’ effect, people are impressed with the new version of Windows. They just got amazed by several new cool features, which they can’t do in Windows XP. Remarkably, no one asks about the shortcomings of Windows Vista. Of course not. That’s the last thing on their mind right now, as they haven’t experienced the issues themselves at all. And they didn’t get a thorough tour through the new version. They haven’t actually touched it either. It’s like shopping for houses on the net. They all look awesome on the internet, and when you narrowed down your list of possible palaces, and you get to the point of actually entering the house, it looks a whole lot different. You couldn’t see the highway running through your new backyard when you were looking at the cozy fireplace. Nobody told you the house is planned to be demolished within the next two years when you read about the romantic hot tub in the amazing bathroom. None of the technicians showing the cool stuff would even consider showing, or mentioning, some of the less good sides of Mojave. You don’t even have to wonder how people would rate Mojave when the demo included lines like “You will have to spend $2000 on new hardware, and none of your current applications will run on it”. Microsoft already did the Mojave experiment before they released Windows Vista. They managed to market their upcoming product in such a way, that a lot of people already tried out alfa, beta, and release candidate versions before the product actually hit the shelves. It comes down to the same thing, they make people hungry for something better than they currently have. The only difference with the Mojave experiment is that Mojave doesn’t get released. It’s only an attempt to get the negative sound off of an released version, which was caused by the people who felt for the first campaign, but failed to be happy with the product, and failed to realize that it was better than what they had.

The results

Another remarkable fact is shown in the results. 140 people were interviewed, yet only 120 people were videotaped. What happened with the other 20? Technical difficulties causing an unusable video? Or did those 20 people ask questions that would hurt the experiment? Of the 120 people that were videotaped, the intended effect is clearly reached. They hate Windows Vista, even though they never saw it, and they love Mojave after seeing the demo. But what they see exactly isn’t clear. Only the person is taped, not what is shown on the screen. Not that it would matter anything, if they skinned Kubuntu correctly and did a demo on that, the subjects would love Vista too. They never used it, so they wouldn’t notice the difference anyhow. Or maybe the screen just says “Act amazed, and you’ll get $500 cash”.

This immediately raises the main concern about the credibility of the experiment. Of course it looks great when a Microsoft technician demos it on a pre-configured machine. But what will happen when these 140 users go home, buy the product, and install it on their computer? Soon they will run into similar issues as they were warned for. Okay, Microsoft will sell a couple more editions of this version, but won’t it ruin the credibility of Microsoft itself for any next version? If users start buying Vista based on the outcome of this experiment, they will still get disappointed, but besides that, they will also become frustrated as they wasted money on something that was disrecommended to them. This short-term thinking might take a turn for the even worse. It may be likely that Microsoft tries to create a new spiral, as the one they finished with Windows XP. But if users don’t switch to the version that should start the spiral, the whole spiral won’t work, which is the issue Microsoft is currently facing. By lying to users, and luring them into buying the new version anyway, the first version will be bought, but it won’t start the spiral either. People will start looking for other options, like Linux or Apple’s Mac OS, as that didn’t lie to them. If a newer version of Windows comes out, it not only has to be as good as Windows XP is, it will have to exceed the expectations big time. The spiral would require a version better than Vista, but the negative result of the marketing campaigns to force users to buy Vista will require a version that is at least the best thing since sliced bread, in the most literal meaning of the word. A dutch saying says “Commonly, a donkey won’t hurt itself twice on the same stone”, and this is exactly what Microsoft will have to overcome, and I’m afraid they won’t be able to do this, but I guess only the future will be able to tell the answer.

Now that you managed yourself through the long article anyway, please leave your opinion in the comment field below. You don’t even have to register for it! If you believe the article would be better off if splitted into multiple pages, please let me know that as well

~RW

Filed Under: Two Cents

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Released: on Aug 10, 2008 under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs (CC-BY-ND) licenseCC-BY-ND

Comments (7)

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  1. Henk says:

    Great article!
    According to the details (on http://www.mojaveexperiment.com) 94% of the users (who never saw Vista, and just got a quick look on this Mojave) said Mojave was better than Vista. Which they never saw.
    0% of the users said it was worse than Vista.
    That means 6% of the users, who never saw Vista, said it was as worse as expected. 6% of 140 is 8.4 users who didn’t fall for the lie, all the other users said it wasn’t that bad as they expected. Of course, as said in the article, they never worked with it, and never saw the downsides. I’m just wondering what those people say now, if they started using Vista. I guess the numbers will turn around, but as a matter of fact, I just don’t care. Everybody knows you can’t trust Microsoft, and they’ve just shown why.

    As said, great article, and worth reading!

  2. Ivo says:

    Insightful piece!

    Some links to the experiment, the results and/or the video’s would be appreciated though.

  3. Stone says:

    Because of my kindred hatred for Windows Vista I just read your entire article. Microsoft needs to worry about Google now more than ever. Google sees the future as having software that actually operates online. This way all computers regardless of OS can run the same programs. Google Chrome is far from perfect but Google has a tendency to listen to the customers. They also believe in pushing the envelope based on customer feedback, something Microsoft has forgotten. Have you also seen their horrible Seinfield ads by Microsoft…. they are way out of touch with the customer that buys their product?

    My wife’s laptop runs Vista and she hates it. It came preinstalled on her laptop from Dell. At first it seemed cool but now it is annoying. We were able to get it to print to our networked printer for about 2 months through the wifi. Her computer was updated by Windows and since then we haven’t been able to get it to print. Beyond that I just hate it. I would rather go back to a Mac running OS X than use Vista. Next laptop I buy will probably have XP, or I will just berak down and go with the new paper thin Apple computer. The whole reason I still use windows is I am so comfortable with the Office XP products. I have used it over 10 years and it’s like riding a bike. Excel, PowerPoint, Word, & Access are all part of my life. Adobe PS2 is also part of my life but has always ran better on a Mac. There’s my 2 cents.

    Stone

  4. Anonymous says:

    Microsoft and Apple can both go get f****d, because they are both trying to monopolize everything (PCs, phones, television, music, and now vehicles with the SYNC system *bleck!*). This article would have been better without all the needless rambling (i.e. WALL O’ TEXT O_O). It would have been nice if you pointed out exactly what makes Vista so terrible (glitches, bugs, lack of security, the differences between Vista and XP, etc.), and you made quite a few grammatical errors (i.e. “They created an OS that beated the shit out of the current version.” Um, “beated” isn’t even a word!) I’ve read articles on other sites that said pretty much what you did, but using a lot fewer words. Here’s a tip, don’t quit your day job (hopefully you’re not an english teacher.;))

    • Remi_Woler says:

      Rest assured: I’m not an english teacher, in fact, english is not even my native language :). Thanks for your patience to read the whole article though, and for the constructive comments.

  5. Brad says:

    Excellent article. I find it amazing that the big M would create some half-baked experiment, manipulate the process and “data” (I use that term very loosely); and then expect the general public to buy into it. The fact that every single person shown in the commercial was impressed with the amazing Mojave speaks to the complete one sideness of this “experiment”. I’d love to see a truly unbiased usability test through a reputable company and then see it uncut on TV. Of course that will never happen as already dropping sales of vista would tank even further. I personally have an immense dislike for Vista as it’s a memory hog and isn’t all that stable. Unfortunately, it’s nearly a standard install for most every computer manufacturer out there now. I ended up buying a copy of licensed copy of XP Pro off Ebay and doing a complete reload on a brand new system.