The Entire Windows Vista Story (from my perspective)

As I stated in an earlier post – Microsoft called me today.  We chatted for quite some time.  I thought it would be useful to go back through the events and see how we got to this point.  (links all open in new windows)

On July 31st Robert Scoble wrote a blog post that basically said Vista wasn’t ready.  Based on my experience with it, I agreed with him (see the comments, #5).

About a month later I downloaded build 5536.  I blogged about that release here, and linked back to Scoble’s original post (see above Scoble post, comment # 131).  That caused a lot of links, and a lot of positive coverage of the progress Microsoft was making with Vista.  It was Digg’d even.  My own little blog got a lot of hits over that post.  Personally, I was very happy – I had a version of Vista that ran extremely well.  Scoble followed up with a link to my post with this new post on his blog

Just a few days later someone at Microsoft (who I won’t name) sent me a link to download build 5552.  I installed it, and blogged about it here.  Overall it showed more improvement, it was stable, I liked it.

I blogged about build 5600 (RC1) here, and here, and here, and RC2 here (where it gets interesting).  Interesting as I think it relates to this complete ordeal, I mean.  I did NOT think RC2 was ready for prime time, and stated as much.  I think this post is what caused my “contact” at Microsoft to send me the RTM build “6000”.  On November 13 I installed build 6000, and was very pleased.  Looking back over my emails and IMs it is now pretty apparent to me that the Microsoft employee wanted me to get the newest build so I could see the progress Microsoft had made from RC2.

On November 17th I made this blog post, referencing an article on that said all Beta Testers who submitted a bug would get a free copy of Vista.  I was pleased – I like free.  This is important only because it demonstrates that I didn’t really have any motivation to pirate Vista (and to be clear – Microsoft made it clear in the phone conversation today that they are not accusing my of pirating or hacking anything).

Additional Vista posts from me were quite positive, including a highly hit post called, “Ten Reasons to Buy Microsoft Vista“.  You can see all of my Vista posts by clicking here.

So from the time I installed the “RFM” build 6000 (and entered my product key, which was accepted by the OS) until last Saturday, Vista and I were getting along pretty well.  I was an advocate. I was very vocal with friends and families looking for new PCs this holiday season – I told them to make damned sure it had the “Made for Vista” sticker, and that it included the upgrade coupon.

But Saturday morning a lot of things happened that caused me to be very irritable with Microsoft – we can assess blame later – although I am telling you now that I certainly accept a good part of the blame.

First, I woke up early, because I had work I needed to get done for a client.  I was already behind due to some unrelated things the week before.

When I woke my monitor up I saw a dialog box that gave me two choices – Activate Windows, or go online and get help.  I don’t remember exactly what the dialogs said, but that’s close.  I didn’t think much of it, and clicked the Validate button… and moments later I received a dialog that said I had an illegitimate (however it was worded) copy of Windows.  I was offered the opportunity to visit the Microsoft Web Site to look for more information.

While there was information, there were not any solutions – I could not buy a retail copy of Vista.  But I also couldn’t spend my day dealing with this – not until I got my work done.  So I used a pretty well-known mechanism to get Internet Explorer to launch me an Explorer Shell so I could get at my documents – and I went to work.  An hour later all of my open documents (Word, Excel, many tabs of research in Internet Explorer) suddenly disappeared – with no warning whatsoever – and much to my realization a few minutes later – without saving any of my work.  I was presented with the same dialog telling me my copy of Vista wasn’t valid.

I really didn’t know about the “Reduced Functionality Mode” at that time.  I didn’t realize that Microsoft would let pirates run their machine for an hour before shutting it down.  At this point I am frustrated – but not at Microsoft – not yet. 

So I re-launched Word, Excel, etc, and started back to work.  An hour later, it all shut down again – and I realized I was in for a very bad day.  At this point I am angry.  I wrote a blog post (on another machine) and then copied a snippet of it to the Microsoft Windows Genuine Advantage forum.  Granted, it wasn’t very professional – it had the word “shit” in it (which MS forums replaced as “s**t”).

But it’s Saturday about noon at this point, and I was not able to accomplish anything of substance.  I had no idea why Microsoft would have time-bombed me.  I thought the Beta had run out 6 weeks or so before it was supposed to.  I didn’t realize that a new version of WGA had been downloaded and installed while I slept.  I had Windows Update set to “fully auto”.

Minutes later my post to the MS forum was gone – deleted.  I am not sure if I attempted to repost the first message, or if I posted a new message – but the second message was deleted as well.  Now I was _really_ less than happy.

I wrote another blog post (ongoing theme here – when I am ticked off, I tend to write about it).  I also commented on Scoble’s blog, because he’s the closest guy to MS that I knew.

Scoble picked up on my comment and did his own post.  And then everyone knew I was pissed at Microsoft!

I tried posting several more comments (12 total, I think) to the MS WGA forum, and each were deleted.  Finally my passport account was blocked from the forums).

I had played with Ubuntu a little now and then – mostly just installing it on an unused partition and then, well, not using it.

I shuddered to think of going back from build 6000 to a previous build of Vista.  And there is no way I was going to put XP back on this machine I built for Vista.  I decided to try something different, and I immediately prepared a partition – moved my Vista documents and replaced Vista with Ubuntu 6.10 (which is nice, by the way).

Since I had work to do over the weekend, and since I was fighting my computer, I never turned a TV on.  I never saw there were severe storms in Washington.  I didn’t know Microsoft was having problems at their campus.  Not that I think that changed anything – but honestly, I might have been less irritated with them if I knew what they were experiencing (I went through four hurricanes in about 6 weeks in Florida – I know it’s no fun).

Anyway – that’s just another “thing” that happened that helped this situation get to where it is.

So today I got a phone call from a Director at Microsoft.  He got my phone number from Scoble’s blog – where I left it – asking someone from Microsoft to call me.  I won’t share his name (he didn’t ask me not to – I just don’t think it adds any value here).

We talked at length and it was clear to me that his primary concern is how I could have 1) been locked out (in Reduced Functionality Mode) and 2) why I didn’t get a 30 day grace period and 3) What happened in the forums?  Why were my posts deleted?.  We don’t know the answers to these questions yet although my bet is that the “preview copy” of Vista build 6000 from a Microsoft contact wasn’t the real final code – that it is a version that MS never intended WGA to run against.  That might explain issues #1 and #2. 

The forum issue is something this Director said he would look into personally – he said they’ll retrieve my deleted posts, review them, and determine if someone violated MS policy on dealing with posts (he didn’t say it, but I got the feeling he wanted to say, “In dealing with pissed of customers”).  And he offered that if the policy turns out flawed, they will address that.  I’m fine with that.  Not much more I could expect from them on this aspect.

Microsoft also explained to me why this WGA code was dropped now – and I can’t fault their explanation.  Just a few days ago I blogged about Spam trying to sell me Vista for $79.00, and it appears this is a real problem.  Some people actually fall for these scams, and they are buying copies of the FrankenBuild Vista that *will* be dead-on-arrival.  That’s not good for the customers, and it’s not good for Microsoft to have a bunch of people pissed of at Microsoft because they bought a hacked copy of Vista.  That’s why MS dropped the new WGA code now – to try to curtail that market before too many people were hurt by it.  I see no reason to doubt the explanation.  It fits all of the facts I have at my disposal, and it’s what I would do – minimize damage to my customers and my stockholders.

So, you may be thinking me and MS have kissed and made up.  Not quite.  I still want an explanation for the behavior of the forum administrators – I honestly think this would never have gotten to this point if the forum was more helpful – even if I was being an ass.  It’s their job to help me.  They get paid for it.

I’m still wary of how WGA will act “in the wild”.  Only time and experience will tell.  I’m not likely to trust it any time soon.  I don’t like DRM, and this is just another flavor of DRM in my opinion.  And I do think MS could find a lot of ways to monetize Vista without needing WGA/DRM, whatever.  But that’s my opinion – and not directly related to this post 🙂

Shortly after I got off the phone I received a very nice email from Microsoft offering me direct contact information.  They also expressed a desire to “Win me back”. 

I have 14 computers here, and right now 12 of them still run Windows.  And I can’t live without my XBOX 360.  So they haven’t lost me as a customer – but for now at least, they have lost me as an advocate for Vista.  I told them my intention is to continue exploring Ubuntu to see if it meets my needs.  Maybe it won’t.  Maybe I’ll be purchasing Vista sometime in the future.  I don’t know.  It’s easy to say “never” when you are angry.

I’ve learned a bit from this experience myself, of course.  First, don’t assume.  You would think I knew that by now – but I keep forgetting.  I assumed MS was purposefully targeting people like me who had Consumer Product Preview (CPP) keys, when in fact, people like me with only CPP product keys probably shouldn’t have been running build 6000 anyway (it was never made publicly available to CPP customers).  I was wrong.  They were targeting the spammers that cracked a leaked Vista 6000 build and were trying to profit by selling it to trusting (yet naive) people.

I know now that my hands are not entirely clean here – I was running an “unauthorized” version of Vista – although I had no idea that that was the case.  What I states in my first posts about this are true – I was a valid beta tester.  Both the Product Key and the Windows Software I received came from Microsoft.  I had no reason to believe I was in any violation because my CPP key worked.  I knew it wasn’t a fully licensed version, because as I posted on my blog in November – my desktop still said “Evaluation Copy”.

I took the opportunity to make a couple of suggestions to Microsoft – first, don’t FUBAR a beta installation unless you have an alternative solution for the customer (basically, let me buy it before you kill it).  I understand based on the FrankenBuild why they weren’t able to do this.  They didn’t say as much, but I think that was their intention – to wait on the more strict WGA until after the consumer version of Vista was available.  Pirates and Spammers screwed that up, so I just as pissed at them now as I was with Microsoft on Saturday morning.

Second – the RFM (reduce functionality mode) should be a little bit nicer – just in case something unexpected comes up.  It should save and close documents.  It should explain WHY everything is shutting down.  Currently it just shuts everything down – right in the middle of what you are doing – without warning and without explanation.  Vista is already off to the printers, so these changes won’t be in the first release – but hopefully something more friendly, and more graceful, can be put in place in the future.

So I think that’s about the whole story.  I’m sure I am leaving something out.  I do thank Microsoft for taking the time to contact me directly.

I also thank the Ubuntu community for encouraging me to try this OS.

I look forward to that.



  1. Jonathan and robo74 – thanks for your comments. I’ll continue to post about Ubuntu – both here in the main pages and on the Ubuntu page on top.


  2. After reading Rob’s story about the MS SNAFU, I have also downloaded Ubuntu to give it a whirl. I have yet to install it, but right now it seems like all the big tech companies are getting into a “pissing match”, and all of us are getting hosed.

  3. Great post summarizing everything. I hope that you continue to enjoy your time with Ubuntu and get things working correctly for you. I will be interested to continue to read updates on how things are going for you.