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Microsoft still hoping consumers see 'Wow' in Vista

Software maker is hoping that with a year to work out the bugs, consumers will be pleased with the Vista machines that arrive under the tree this holiday season.

Microsoft is hoping that with some of Vista's wrinkles ironed out, customers will start noticing more of the advantages the year-old operating system has over its predecessor.

In an interview Wednesday morning, Corporate Vice President Mike Nash acknowledged that the initial experience for many consumers was a frustrating one as they found their old software might not work right or that their hardware lacked the proper driver.

But, he insists, the situation is much better now. Not only are the hardware drivers out there, they are readily available.

"You don't have to go on a scavenger hunt," Nash said. "They are on Windows Update."

Just this week, Microsoft said it was releasing three patches that aim to fix some of the most nagging lingering problems with the operating system, including wireless networking woes and USB-related problems that account for 1 percent to 2 percent of all reported crashes.

Microsoft is also toying with a new way of improving its operating system--through its Windows Live online services. For example, the company has offered a photo management program and an e-mail client that essentially replace the versions that are built into Windows. Such a move offers consumers the possibility of a better experience, but without making the kinds of core operating system changes that would force businesses to perform added testing.

"What we've decided is the way to deliver those experiences, whether it's communications or memories, is with Live," Nash said, referring to things like the Windows Live Photo Gallery. "Photos with Vista today is way better than when we shipped Vista a year ago."

By contrast, Microsoft plans to keep its first significant update to Vista itself--Service Pack 1--limited to bug fixes, reliability improvements and so forth

"Service Pack 1 for Vista is not about features," Nash said. "SP1 is about maintenance. Windows 7 is a new version of the operating system."

While mentioning the next version of Windows by its code name, Nash did not offer any new details such as features or timing, although the target has been seen as around 2010.

But there's still the perception issue. While Apple has a new series of ads that poke fun at Vista and the fact that some people are downgrading to XP, Microsoft's Vista-related marketing, at least in prominent ways such as print and TV advertising, has slowed to a trickle, with most of the marketing being done either in-store or online, or through partners.

It's not like I think Microsoft should develop an Apple-specific campaign, but right now the one talking loudest about Vista is Apple. That doesn't sound like a good recipe for Microsoft.