Windows 7 must appeal to geeks--or else

Don Reisinger thinks geeks are more important to Windows 7's success than anything else. Find out why in his latest.

Don Reisinger
Don Reisinger
Former CNET contributor Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.
4 min read

Windows Vista has been a tragedy on many levels for Microsoft. First, it was marked with compatibility issues and annoyances with its User Access Control feature that started a firestorm of epic proportions. But once those issues improved, Microsoft ran into an even bigger issue: it wasn't able to satisfy vendors, nor was it able to satisfy the geeks.

And that's where the biggest issue with Vista really is. The technology space is looked at by many in the mainstream as a higher-level industry that simply can't be understood by the average person. Software? Hardware? Huh?

Because of that, it's the geek that filters opinions and creates a trickle-down effect in the space. Let's face it--if you don't know what you're talking about and you know that your friend does, wouldn't you take their word for it at the least or verify what they're saying at the very most?

And when you verify what they're saying, you'll probably end up researching the topic by going to the countless blog posts and articles by experts in the field to decide if your friend is correct, right?

And what do you find there? A slew of stories written by geeks, for geeks. And throughout the past year, those stories written by geeks for geeks were littered with criticisms of Vista and countless reasons why the company made mistakes. Sure, there were some sites that came to its defense, but the vast majority of journalists took the opportunity to beat up on the OS.

So how did it get to the point where the Mojave Experiment became necessary? How did it get to the point where Microsoft was forced to concede that it was losing the PR game and it needed to tell the world about it?

You can blame it on the geeks and the trickle-down effect that makes the technology industry such a unique space.

Technology's trickle-down effect is simple: a tech company screws up a product in ways that the tech-savvy crowd will notice, but the mainstream crowd won't. Once that happens, geeks start railing on the product and discuss why it's so bad. Eventually, they start complaining to their family and friends, who don't know much about it and the distaste for products starts entering the mainstream. Once that happens, those people will start talking to others and soon it becomes viral.

And that's exactly why Microsoft can't make the same mistake it made with Vista. That operating system didn't appeal to the geeks and they spent the past year telling the world about it. Once that happened, the world started believing it (regardless of whether or not it was true) and Microsoft has paid the price.

So what does it need to do with Windows 7? Make sure the geeks love it.

But making sure the geeks love it will be difficult. Microsoft isn't one of the most well-liked companies in the space and any chance to beat up on the company will make even the most objective geek happy.

Realizing that, Microsoft can't expect to quiet every critic, but it needs to be more proactive in ensuring that more geeks will be happy. First off, it needs to ensure that the geeks' desires are met as effectively as possible: the geeks want better security, more customization, and full compatibility. Secondly, it has to play the right PR game: make Windows 7 about the desires of the tech-savvy crowd and stop pretending like that crowd doesn't matter.

The one thing I don't understand about Microsoft and countless other companies in the technology industry is why they don't realize that the influential people are not the average John and Jane Doe. Instead, the technology industry is dominated by a select few who tell their friends and family why a certain product or service is useless.

And that's exactly why I don't like what I'm hearing already about Windows 7. Microsoft isn't doing enough to appeal to the geeks and it's instead tying its success to the mainstream. From a business standpoint that may make sense--the majority of people are in the mainstream--but from a strategical perspective, the company has it all wrong.

Microsoft needs to start leaking information that discusses some of the features that would make the tech-savvy crowd go wild. It doesn't have to be anything special, just enough to start building some hype. After that, it needs to give the niche press unprecedented access to Windows 7 and create a product that appeals to them. And simply by embracing the niche press, Microsoft can start rebuilding its image in that space.

The technology industry is unique because it's segmented by a perceived knowledge barrier. Because of that, a select few are looked at as the source for knowledge and thus, provide the general public with the opinions they should be formulating. Apple has realized that--just look at the press coverage--but Microsoft failed to do so with Vista and now needs to repair its image before Windows 7 throws the company into disaster mode.

Playing nicely with the mainstream means nothing in this industry unless the niche is happy. And if Microsoft wants Windows 7 to be a success, it better create a product that appeals to that niche and start playing nice with it. If it doesn't, look for Microsoft's PR troubles to continue indefinitely.

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