MS finds new ways to push Vista

Microsoft Corp. has launched a promotional campaign, temporarilyoffering free phone support to small business users buying new hardwareloaded with Windows Vista operating system.

Gregg Keizer of Computerworld filed this report

Microsoft offers free Vista-to-XP downgrade help
Microsoft Corp. has said it will offer free technical support to smallbusinesses that buy new PCs with Windows Vista in the next threemonths, its latest attempt to convince users that moving to Vista is agood idea.

And if those efforts are for naught, Microsoft will help those usersdowngrade from Vista to Windows XP, the same maneuver several largecomputer makers, including Dell Inc. and Hewlett-Packard Co., have usedin recent months to continue offering the older operating system tobuyers.

The offer, dubbed Windows Vista Small Business Assurance, isavailable to businesses with fewer than 50 employees or 25 PCs, and itprovides free telephone support through the end of October to companiesthat buy new PCs with Vista Business or Vista Ultimate between now andSept. 30, according to details posted on the Microsoft Web site.

Only businesses buying new hardware can take advantage of the freesupport; companies upgrading existing computers from, say, Windows XP,don’t qualify.

Microsoft has set up a toll-free number that will be manned weekdaysfrom 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. PDT. Typically, Microsoft shunts users tocomputer manufacturers for operating system support.

“We have such confidence in the state of Windows Vista that we’regoing to all U.S.-based small businesses and we’re offering freesupport, one-on-one coaching and assistance via phone to help them gothrough and make the transition to Windows Vista,” Brad Brooks, theexecutive who heads Windows consumer marketing, said in a keynoteaddress at Microsoft’s Worldwide Partner Conference yesterday.

Brooks also acknowledged the problems, real and perceived, thatusers have had with Vista since its general release early last year.“We had an ambitious plan. We made some significant investments aroundsecurity in this product,” said Brooks. “And you know what, thoseinvestments, they broke some things. They broke a lot of things. Weknow that.”

But Decisions on Microsoft analyst Michael Cherry questioned whetherfree support will convince users to switch. “It will give some people asafety net,” he said, “but if you have a machine truly configured forVista, you probably like Vista. My biggest problem is still thehardware footprint for Vista.”

To make his point, Cherry quoted from a catalog he’d recentlyreceived from a “major OEM,” a reseller that targeted small and midsizebusinesses. On the cover, he said, was a PC priced at US$500 thatincludes 1GB of memory. “I don’t see that as being really adequate tothe task,” said Cherry. “But the base for all the systems [in thecatalog] seems to be 1GB. I still worry about the amount of RAM inmachines being sold with Vista.”

Small businesses aren’t putting off Vista because they think they’llneed more hand-holding, or even because they believe compatibilityissues plague the operating system. “There’s some compatibilityproblems, but those are kind of being resolved,” said Cherry. “That’snot their fear. Their fear is spending that much money on hardware fora PC that can run Vista.”

Microsoft’s help desk representatives will answer any Vistaquestions, help users with application and peripheral compatibilityproblems, and point out key features of the operating system, said thecompany. The support isn’t permanent; it ends Oct. 31.

The program, said Microsoft, is only temporary because it’s designedto help customers make the transition to Windows Vista. “As Windows XPavailability begins to wind down, we want small businesses to knowwe’re behind them to provide special support during this transitionperiod,” said Microsoft in the program’s online FAQ.

But if Small Business Assurance can’t make users happy, Microsoftwill walk them through a downgrade to Windows XP. “In cases where asmall business customer cannot overcome an incompatibility issue andhas the PC’s recovery media disc for Windows XP, we are equipped tohelp with a downgrade over the phone,” said Microsoft on its Web site.

Small Business Assurance is available only to U.S. customers,although Microsoft didn’t say whether it might expand the program intoother markets.

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