What's the value proposition of Windows Vista for consumers? Specifically, for consumers who have a PC running Windows XP?
I took a look at Microsoft's Vista site to try to find out. There, I learned that "the wow starts now." Okay, so what's the wow?" An animated graphic promises that it will be easier, safer, more entertaining, and better connected.
Those are all good things - well, the "safer" when your current product has a reputation of being a security nightmare is heading into dangerous ground - and so I wanted to know more.
"Easier" seems to revolve around better search functions. That's nice; the search in Apple OS is far, far better than XP's (and from what I've heard, Vista's), and is one of the few Mac things I actually miss. Along with the "easier" copy there are highlights of partner's names, apparently companies using Vista to offer things so exciting that they merit a prominent mention.
Things like this: you can connect your camera to it. You can print things. You can run Quicken. I'm still waiting for the wow. (As for the search, well, download Google Desktop for free and you've solved that one.)
How about "safer?" Copy informs us that, well, this time it won't be a train wreck. (Maybe.)
More entertaining? Well, apparently you can go to the Fox site and look at sports information. And download video - which of course we can all do already.
And better connected? I learned that there are webcams. And routers. And Verizon will sell me wireless broadband.
What's so striking about all of this is the sheer lack of excitement. There are lists of features that are pretty much all things you can do today with your XP PC or a Mac. Some of them require third-party apps (like searching) to work well, but those are often free applications. All in all, though, there's no wow here.
And I found myself wondering if the marketers at Microsoft - who I know are very smart people - ever sat down and said, "Okay, why would an XP user upgrade?"
In other words - what is the value proposition?
News coverage, like the information on Microsoft's site, suggests confusion about this topic. In USA Today, I read about "connected experiences."
"Vista is the biggest thing for us in years," Gates said in a telephone interview. "It is at the core of everything we do."
Vista is the hub of Microsoft's unfolding "connected experiences" strategy, a treatise on how consumer-electronics gadgets — be they TVs, game consoles or music players — connect and their content is delivered to PCs and cellphones. The convergence of digital devices has dominated recent Gates speeches, including his keynote address at the massive Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this month.
Again, these are all things you can do today - though few people seem terribly interested in any of it. Microsoft's not alone in flogging this - there's Apple TV (which works on Windows machines) and AT&T HomeZone - but nobody else is talking about this as selling point for an operating system. (And given Apple's transformation into a consumer electronics company, which do you think will be easier - plugging in their box or upgrading your PC's OS?)
Funny thing about value propositions: they need to be relevant to the customer, not the marketer. I have no doubt that, as Gates says, Vista is the biggest thing for Microsoft in years. Nor do I doubt that it's a good product (all initial reviews suggest that) which improves on XP in all kinds of ways. Or that it will make it easier for Microsoft to continue to improve its OS, and make the development process easier. Yes, Vista is important.
Just not to someone sitting working on their PC asking, "Why should I upgrade?"
And that makes the hype about it (admittedly, more restrained than previous Microsoft OS releases) a little embarrassing. You can hear the flailing in the background.
As big as this may be to Microsoft, for users, it's a glossed-up Windows XP that should work better. That's a nice thing, but aside from a few hardcore early adopters, why upgrade? I haven't figured out any reason to, and have no plans to; I figure I'll get Vista when I buy a PC with it preloaded.
And so the launch comes off as a plea for revenue, not an exciting product offering. It's a launch that's not guided by offering the customer real value for their cash. And it's a reminder to marketers that before you start envisioning your new mini-site and dreaming up ads and coming up with talking points for executives, you need to put yourself in your customer's shoes and ask, "Why should I care?"
That's when the wow starts.