Perception vs. Reality: Vista vs. Leopard With a White House Spin

Climbing to the top of the charts last week was a book titled, What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington’s Culture of Deception. The stated purpose of this book is to showcase how politics in Washington turned a presidency that started as revolutionary into one that was a disaster. It’s also a heads-up to McCain and Obama who, with similar ideals, may be blind to the fact that the Washington machine may change them more than either can change it. It tells a story of what can happen if folks focus too much on marketing and not enough on reality.

I spoke to Jim Allchin, the guy who owned development for Windows Vista, before this product was developed, and his motivation and goal was to correct the embarrassing problems with Windows XP. He actually deferred his retirement for this project just so his legacy wouldn’t be a product that didn’t meet his expectations. Yet, given that many seem to think XP is actually better than Vista, and that Apple’s OS X Leopard is better than both — even though some that have used both Vista and Leopard find the two are much too similar — perception clearly seems to be trumping reality. Or, the problem with Vista could now be not enough focus on perception.

My product of the week this week will be a service like eBay, but for services from experts in Third-World countries. The example that got me excited was a logo project that would have cost several thousand dolars actually was done for a couple of hundred by some very talented Third-World experts.

Before we get started, if you ever wanted to know more about me — and really, who doesn’t? — there is a cute “10 Things You Didn’t Know About Rob Enderle” piece out there.

Vista: What Happened?

One of the things I think that drives a lot of us in the industry nuts about Vista — who actually use it — is that it is actually substantially better than Windows XP. I’m not blowing smoke up your skirt. When it runs right, it is a pleasure to use, and since SP1 most of my own difficulties with the product were eliminated (except for some systems that simply refuse to suspend).

What I’ve learned is that the Vista experience depends much more heavily on the hardware and drivers than Windows XP did and that some of the things Allchin originally told me about the product requirements may have in fact been valid.

Unfortunately, a decision was made to lower the hardware requirements below where Jim — and, I imagine, a number of other folks at Microsoft — thought prudent, and this created a series of issues. Added to this was that Microsoft’s delays with the product caused a huge number of third parties to pull back from their development efforts resulting in some really nasty driver and support issues during the first year, which created a cloud over the product that won’t soon dissipate.

Last week I wrote about EMC’s quality process, which in my experience is unique and could — if applied to this problem — have resulted in not only a better product but also prevented Microsoft’s own executive team from being blindsided by the last unexpected Vista delay.

Microsoft didn’t have that kind of a process, and the end result was a product that didn’t initially meet our, and I’m speaking for the industry, quality requirements.

I also talked about Apple’s quality process, which puts their CEO at the center — and for Vista, this could have worked as well — and suggested a blend of the two might be critical to ensuring that products focused on individuals meet or exceed expectations. But Leopard had issues as well and actually gained the nickname “Leoptard” for awhile. But why didn’t that name and those problems stick as they did with Vista, now that both products have been heavily patched and improved?

The Death of Leoptard

In a word, “Marketing.” The difference between Microsoft and Apple is that Apple is marketing-driven and Microsoft is technology-driven. Apple marketed through its problems much like the Bush Administration marketed through disagreements, according to the What Happened book, and bad news surrounding things like the Iraq war.

Both instances showcase the power and the problem with marketing. Marketing, as the book Inside Steve’s Brain points out, allowed Apple to promote products in the early days of Jobs’ return to Apple that he clearly was on record as saying were crap before he took the job, and still believed were crap after he got it. If he hadn’t done that, there probably wouldn’t be an Apple today.

With Leoptard, the pre-patched Leopard, Apple simply marketed through the problems and ensured that its own voice was louder than those complaining about the problems while focusing everyone on Vista, which no one — including Microsoft — was defending.

It has to be very frustrating for the rank-and-file Microsoft employee who, upon seeing the Mac vs. PC TV adds, wonders why management doesn’t stand up and cry foul when Apple was clearly misrepresenting the product that defines their company and, to a certain extent, the quality of their own work. As I’ve gone on record as saying, if someone ever did this to a company like Oracle, you wouldn’t be able to find the body. In fact, I believe, if someone tried the same thing with Apple, you’d likely be wondering what happened to their body.

Apple, Steve Jobs and the Washington machine clearly know that the world lives on perceptions, and another book I recently cited, True Enough: Living in a Post-Fact Society, also uses examples that span politics and uses Apple to make a similar — though much better developed — statement. In short, perception is 100 percent of reality. Leopard is perceived as better than Vista, therefore it is; Apple killed Leoptard with strong — some might argue brilliant — marketing.

Microsoft did just recently get a new Advertising Agency known for its brilliance, but the success of this will likely depend on changes inside of Microsoft more than anything the agency brings to the table.

The lesson we should learn from all of this, however, is you need both high quality and great marketing to make a success. Fixing the quality problem without marketing didn’t help Vista much, and focusing too much on marketing and forgetting quality –at least according to What Happened — can lead to dire consequences suggesting that between the two, quality must come first. Even in Apple’s case, it wasn’t until it fixed the quality of the Apple products as well that it really saw the combined benefit. Both perception and quality are important; quality is just vastly more so.

Product of the Week: SerebraConnect

Here in California, and I imagine in much of the U.S. these days, you can go to a major hardware store and outside are a bunch of folks with a variety of skills who will do good work for a relatively small amount of money. What SerebraConnect does is create an online equivalent to this where you are basically hiring someone at their local rate to do remote work for you that would have cost many times more had you used a local service.

You can have these folks build Web properties, do advanced graphics creation, or basically anything that has an electronic deliverable (actually, you could probably have them build you stuff and ship it to you, but there might be tariff issues the service doesn’t address).

There are some incredibly talented people in the emerging markets. In some if these markets, what might be seen as a high hourly wage here could represent a good monthly wage there. For instance, the example I used at the start was for a logo that was just what the client wanted costing about 1/5 what they would have otherwise paid and yet it still represented a windfall profit for the folks who did it. It is not often you see a situation where the buyer gets an incredible deal and the seller is just as ecstatic.

Because this is the way I think the Web should work, because it fills a unique need, and because it is a great deal for both the buyer and the seller, SerebraConnect is my product of the week.

Rob Enderle is a TechNewsWorld columnist and the principal analyst for the Enderle Group, a consultancy that focuses on personal technology products and trends.


  • You seem to be implying that Apple used aggressive marketing to sell the public a turd. Yet you accuse Jobs & Co. of trying to hang the new Windows OS around the neck of MS, of who you basically say "hey — they never claimed Vista was actually any good." Doublespeak much?

    I submit that it was MS that has successfully marketed a turd — by seducing high-profile pundits like yourself, strong-arming PC makers into loading Vista on their new machines, counting units in the channel as sold, and basically using every trick in the book to push a product that, except for a layer of Apple-inspired eye candy, is inferior to the one it replaces.

    Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

  • While you bring up some good points there is an obvious bias in your writing. I currently use all 3 systems, Leopard, Vista and XP. First of all the issues Leopard faced where never at the same scale and they were actually RESOLVED! The notion that Apple simply marketed them away in to thin air is immature at best. That is part and parcel of new releases as was with Vista. The issues with Vista though go far beyond release bugs. There are serious compatibility challenges with hardware and MS software. It is undoubtedly easier for Apple to design an OS around one hardware system but that does not simply give Microsoft a free pass to get it wrong again and again.

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