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Can Microsoft Erase Windows Vista's Nixon-Like Legacy?

Microsoft's response to a recent spate of Windows 7 bug reports suggests a shift in the way in which the software giant handles and responds to user feedback.

With Windows 7, Microsoft has the chance to change all that. And if the Windows 7 beta is any indication, Microsoft is on the road to making that happen.

But if Windows 7 ends up washing away the bad memories of Vista, its success will have had a lot to do with how Microsoft is responding to beta tester feedback. Instead of getting involved in semantic and logistical arguments with customers and testers -- as it did with Vista -- Microsoft now appears committed to listening.

(Well, Nixon also did his fair share of listening, albeit of a different sort.)

With Vista, Microsoft's approach was to make rationalizations for the negative experiences of users. The new security model in Vista was often trotted out as a painful but necessary adjustment that affected software and hardware compatibility. But all Vista users cared about was that their PCs didn't work the way they'd expected.

Earlier this month, when a pair of Windows 7 beta testers reported security flaws in Windows 7 UAC, Microsoft once again took the "That's the way UAC was designed" stance. This time, however, Microsoft wasn't playing the spin game with customers, but with its own developer community. Predictably, this explanation didn't fly.

But that's where Microsoft broke with its past behavior -- by admitting the existence of problems with Windows 7 UAC and vowing to address them. Jon DeVaan, senior vice president of the Windows Core Operating System division at Microsoft, and Steven Sinofsky, senior vice president for the Windows and Windows Live Engineering Group, said Microsoft would fix the UAC issues in the Windows 7 Release Candidate.

With that grudging acknowledgment, Microsoft showed that it's willing to accept responsibility for the way it's perceived, even in cases where it doesn't feel it is to blame. That's the kind of thinking that was absent in Vista, and it's an approach that will help silence critics who believe Microsoft is too slow moving and monolithic to release a game-changing OS.

Richard Nixon apologized for his role in the Watergate scandal when he stated: "I can see clearly now ... that I was wrong in not acting more decisively and more forthrightly in dealing with Watergate." We'll probably never hear such a mea culpa from Microsoft executives over Vista, but Microsoft does appear to be listening instead of talking, and that bodes well for the market's reception of Windows 7.

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