ITXPO - Mum grills Microsoft CEO over Vista difficulties

Mother's ire puts Ballmer on defense over Vista

For a few minutes during Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's appearance at the Gartner conference in the US, emotionless management-speak gave way to a mother's frustration with the Vista operating system.

"I'm one of those early adopters of Vista," said Yvonne Genovese, an analyst who was interviewing Ballmer along with fellow analyst David Smith on stage at a conference forum. "My daughter comes in one day and says, 'Hey Mum, my friend has Vista, and it has these neat little things called gadgets -- I need those.'"

Said Ballmer: "I love your daughter."

"You're not going to like her mum in about two minutes," said Genovese, while the crowd laughed.

She went on to explain that she installed Vista for her daughter -- and two days later went right back to using the XP operating system. "It's safe, it works, all the hardware is fine, and everything is great," she said of XP.

Genovese also argued that her experience with Vista is broadly shared: "What we're seeing and what we're hearing from users is a very similar thing. It's difficult to implement. What should we be seeing that we're not seeing?"

"Let's start with the end user. Your daughter saw a lot of value," said Ballmer.

"She's 13," Genovese shot back.

Ballmer was good-natured about the critique as he defended the operating system. "Users appreciate the value that we put into Vista," he said. But, as with earlier operating system releases, "there is always a tension between the value that end users see -- and frankly, that software developers see -- and the value that we can deliver to IT."

One of the top requirements from IT customers was for "the most secure release of Windows you can humanly make," said Ballmer. "We have had better security, we have had fewer vulnerabilities, fewer issues with Windows Vista in its first six months then any OS that preceded it.

"I think there is a lot of value in Vista," he said. Ballmer went on to argue that the real issue for some customers is ensuring that everything they need to support the operating system -- such as device drivers -- is ready before they make the transition to Vista.

"When we initially shipped, fewer device drivers were ready for Vista then I would have liked, but we constantly worked with the device vendors to get new drivers available and implemented through our Windows update service," he said. And because of the changes made to the operating system to improve security, there were things some applications that vendors needed to update as well, according to Ballmer.

He then listed a number of a number of corporations that have installed Vista, including Citibank and Continental Airlines. "We are in, from ... a corporate and enterprise side, an early adoption cycle," said Ballmer.

Service Pack 1 is in beta "and addresses a lot of the customer feedback," said Ballmer. Moreover, because of the "instrumentation" built into Vista, Microsoft knows what problems people are facing, what drivers are missing and what application compatibility problems they are having, he said.

Ballmer also said that Vista is bigger than XP, and "for some people that's an issue, and it's not going to get smaller in any significant way in SP1. But machines are constantly getting bigger, and [it's] probably important to remember that as well."

"Good, I'll let you come in and install it for me," said Genovese.

How did the back-and-forth between Ballmer and Genovese play for the audience? One person at the conference, Alvin Naterpaul, a process management engineer at Baptist Health Care in Miami, said he liked the fact Genovese was "challenging him, so we are getting both sides of it."

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Patrick Thibodeau

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