Robert McLaws: Windows Edition

Blogging about Windows since before Vista became a bad word

An Open Letter to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer

Dear Mr. Ballmer,

Let me start by saying that I’ve admired your company since I was 10 years old. I think what Microsoft does for the industry, and the world, is amazing. I think Windows is, and has always been, the best operating system on the market.

However, I have to take issue with your recent statement that Vista beta testers failed you. The testers did not fail you sir, your development and beta processes did. Your feedback mechanism is notorious for closing bugs entered within a matter of hours. This would normally be an amazing thing, if they were actually getting fixed; however most were closed “No Repro” without contact from the person trying to repro, or worse: “By Design, Won’t Fix” (which is like a giant slap in the face).

In addition, many beta testers sounded very public warnings that Vista wasn’t ready. In fact, my post on the matter (the year my Windows MVP wasn’t renewed, BTW) gave specific causes for alarm, along with specific, actionable options for adding another Beta to the cycle. This post garnered half a million page views (my single most-viewed piece EVER) and my opinion was echoed by many major tech heavy-hitters, including Scoble, Ed Bott, Chris Pirillo, Marc Orchant, Dwight Silverman, Paul Thurrott (though he took several potshots at me in the process) and others.

Fortunately for you, Steven Sinofsky & crew have done a fantastic job cleaning house on the engineering side. Adding internal testing to the planning mix had a drastic positive effect on the quality of the product cycle, and showed that the Windows Team truly does respect the term “Release Candidate”. The only complaint that I have about the Windows 7 Beta engineering process is that there were too few builds released to testers to validate the work that was going on.

However, many issues with the tester feedback loop still remain. The general feeling from the tester community is that Microsoft only likes us when our feedback is positive, and couldn't care less otherwise. And that drives an animosity that will not be beneficial to Windows (or Microsoft as a whole) in the long-term. My personal opinion is that Scott Guthrie still runs the best teams at Microsoft, and his community engagement methodology is one that every Microsoft team should strive to emulate.

So, with all due respect, Mr. Ballmer, before you go insinuating that beta testers didn’t do their jobs with Vista, maybe you should look into how your own people kept you insulated from the screaming we were all doing about how bad Vista was. We tried to warn you, it’s not our fault the message was not relayed to your bubble.

Robert McLaws
Early Windows “Longhorn” enthusiast and satisfied Windows 7 customer



  • Denny Crane said:

    Just a small note, "could care less" doesn't make sense. Unless you meant to say Microsoft do care somewhat; in which case they would be able to care less. "Couldn't care less" is the correct phrase, as it indicates they care so little that it would be impossible to actually care less.

    October 14, 2009 4:31 PM
  • Thanks Denny, fixed.

    October 14, 2009 5:19 PM
  • mark said:

    Nice post, I've heard a lot of complaints from beta testers on the Win 7 team going back a year ago including from Paul Thurrott. Although Vista had driver and compatibility issue's the fault was with the vendors and Microsoft not the beta testers. Vista's driver model being so different than that of XP's it was bound to happen, Ballmer dumping blame on testers is pathetic he's CEO doesn't he use this stuff, where was Gates? Beta testers are good for that last 10% you have to be 90% sure of your product based on your own testing and Microsoft has the resources to test it on a wider variety of hardware and applications than anyone else.

    October 19, 2009 1:17 PM
  • Bob said:

    Your warning that Vista needing more time was right on. Too bad they didn't listen and apparently even penalized you for trying to help. On this one, Ballmer probably has no real idea what went on with Vista, just like he doesn't understand what went on with WM7.  He doesn't have the technical background to really get into these issues and more importantly believes in being hands off, even though it keeps resulting in one failure after another.

    October 19, 2009 1:38 PM
  • 7 Lover said:

    yeah well windows 7's out so who cares..lets move on

    October 24, 2009 11:28 PM

    You are so right. As a former engineer at Microsoft since the early days, I witnessed a change in General Manager and Regional Vice President level management, where they punished converyors of realistic feedback and only escalated good feedback to show good results on their commitments so they can get promoted and get good performance reviews, then move on to higher paying jobs. It got worse around the Vista timeframe. From what I hear from my former friends, this has not gotten any better.

    Their actions helped advance their careers, while customers suffered, and their actions effected the company's bottom line and public pereption on Microsoft's core competency product.

    October 28, 2009 10:33 PM