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A Gloomy Vista for Microsoft

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Last year I was meeting with the CEO of a PC company who offered to give me a demo of his company's gorgeous new top-of- the-line notebook, a machine that cost several thousand dollars and came loaded with Windows Vista, the latest version of Microsoft's operating system. He flipped open the laptop, pressed the power button, and … nothing. We waited. And waited. It was excruciating. He tried control-alt-delete. He tried holding down the power button. Finally he removed the battery and snapped it back into place. The machine started up—slowly—while the CEO sat there fuming. Speaking in a carefully measured tone, he acknowledged that he had been less than pleased with Vista, and confided that he'd visited Microsoft's headquarters in Redmond, Wash., to express this displeasure in person. I would not have wanted to be across the table from him at that meeting.

"Nobody here looks at Vista as a fiasco," says Brad Brooks, a Microsoft marketing vice president. If that's true, and nobody at Microsoft thinks Vista has been a public-relations nightmare, then the company is in trouble. Vista first shipped in January 2007, after several delays, and immediately had problems. It was sluggish. It had trouble going to sleep and waking up. It wouldn't work with some printers and accessories. Users launched a massive online petition begging Microsoft not to discontinue its old operating system, XP, which is stable, fast and, after six years of patches, pretty reliable. Many consumers like me, who'd bought new PCs loaded with Vista, reloaded them with XP.

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