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More on Vista's image problems

As part of a stepped-up effort to convince people that the operating system isn't so bad, Microsoft is offering free support to small businesses that move to Vista.

Microsoft's launched-but-not-yet-ready compatibility tool isn't the only stab the company made Tuesday to help resuscitate Windows Vista's tarnished image.

The company also launched a program that offers free support to small businesses willing to make the move to Vista.

Microsoft Windows marketing executive Brad Brooks told those attending Microsoft's partner conference on Tuesday that the company is trying to put a different face on the 18-month-old operating system.

"Today, we're making a statement," Brooks said. "We're drawing a line right here on this stage that we're going to do things differently going forward. We're going to tell our story--our story, the real Windows Vista story."

He goes on to talk about the company's missteps, admitting its marketing muscle had gotten a bit "flabby."

From my perspective, Vista faces two major issues. Clearly, there is the image problem. For the last 18 months, Vista has been getting poor press, and the loudest marketing has been the negative stuff coming from Apple.

Brooks acknowledged Apple's impact and said the "sleeping giant" had woken up and hinted at the company's forthcoming $300 million multiyear marketing push.

But the second issue, which is beyond the image problem, is what I'd call the operating system's dessert-to-vegetable ratio. Many of Vista's changes are under the hood. They were necessary things like improved security, a new graphics engine and driver model. Those are like veggies. You have to eat them, but you are going to have a tough time getting people to flock to the table.

Although Vista has some tasty treats, like better photo handling and built-in desktop search, its new features haven't exactly taken the world by storm. I doubt I'm saying anything the Windows team hasn't already realized--but the next time they come out with a new OS, they would be well-served to have three or four drool-inducing features that motivate people to get a new PC or upgrade their old one.

The company has taken a step in the right direction in announcing that Windows 7 won't make any major architectural changes (less veggies), but they need to make sure that their entree is appetizing and that the dessert is top-notch.