Microsoft to fight 'Mac vs. PC' ads, address Windows Vista problems

At the Worldwide Partner Conference, Microsoft finally starts sticking up for Vista. Is it too late?

HOUSTON -- Microsoft yesterday acknowledged the problems Windows Vista has caused partners and vowed to fight the negative publicity that has plagued the operating system.

Windows corporate vice president Brad Brooks said during his Worldwide Partner Conference keynote that Microsoft is drawing a line in the sand -- a line that Apple, and the legions of Vista-haters it helped spawn, better not cross by spreading myths about Windows Vista problems.

"Today we're making a statement," Brooks said. "We're going to do things differently. We're going to tell our story -- the real Windows Vista story."

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Microsoft yesterday announced the Windows Vista Small Business Assurance program, which gives small business customers free phone support when they buy new PCs with Vista. That announcement was met with skepticism from some partners, who don't think it will be enough to entice Windows XP users to upgrade.

The company also announced the Windows Vista Compatibility Center, a website that lists all of the applications and devices supported by Vista, to show that Windows Vista's problems with hardware and software compatibility are a thing of the past. In addition, Brooks confirmed that Microsoft is undertaking a massive advertising campaign to combat Apple's long-running and popular "Mac vs. PC" spots.

"The reason Apple's got two years of traction is because [the ads] are well done and funny," said Dave Sobel, CEO of Microsoft partner Evolve Technologies in Washington, D.C. "If Microsoft can do it well, it can go a long way. … What I really want to see is something fun. Make it a buzz-worthy campaign."

Microsoft's brand name is ubiquitous, so the company's new ads need to highlight specific Vista features -- "not just your passion and your dreams," Sobel said, referencing past Microsoft campaigns. "Show something that it does and a way that it makes a person's business or personal life better."

In his keynote, Brooks talked about some of those positives. He offered these figures to dispel what he said were myths about Windows Vista problems: There were 20% fewer security problems on Vista than on XP in 2007; Vista PCs are 60% less likely to be infected with malware than PCs running XP Service Pack 2; and Internet Explorer 7, which comes with Vista, blocks 1 million phishing attacks every week.

But Brooks also recognized the problems caused by the architectural changes from XP to Vista.

"They broke some things," he said. "They broke a lot of things. And we know it caused a lot of pain for you in front of your customers."

Skeptics maintain that while Microsoft says Vista has a perception problem, it's one the company brought on itself by overpromising and underdelivering -- and delivering late at that.

Privately Microsoft insiders acknowledge that low adoption rates of both Vista and Office 2007 have sparked concern at the company.

Senior news editor Barbara Darrow contributed to this report.

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