I’ve got a new post up at ZDNet: Five things every Windows beta tester should know.
I tried really hard not to take any personal shots at anyone, including Paul Thurrott, who was highly vocal last week in a pair of posts on the subject. But Paul decided to call me out in the headline for his reply this morning:
That’s pretty inflammatory, and it’s based on some interesting selective quoting. Here’s the chunk of my post that Paul quoted,. Notice what he chooses to emphasize in bold:
Frankly, I’m having a hard time working up any level of sympathy for those doing the complaining, partly because I heartily approve of the way Windows 7 development is going right now and partly because I have seen the feedback process up close and personal. Microsoft is getting a bad rap from a group of people who are mourning the reality that they’re no longer being treated as privileged elites.
It’s almost like he didn’t notice the second part of that sentence, the part he chose not to boldface. Here, let me do it: “partly because I have seen the feedback process up close and personal.” Funny how that just slipped past. No, I don’t think the end justifies the means. I disagree with Paul’s thesis that Microsoft isn’t listening. On the contrary, I think they’re doing a better job of incorporating feedback today than they did in the Vista era. Smarter, too.
The reality is a lot of people, including Paul and me, have been talking with Microsoft developers about Windows 7 for a long time. A little over a year ago, I had an NDA meeting with the Media Center team where they showed me some of the stuff they were working on and asked for my opinion on it. Some of that feedback has made it into the product, and some hasn’t. I has a chance to sit down with usability professionals that week as well, and saw firsthand how they were working closely with users to flesh out the goals and design of how Media Center would work in the next release. We also talked a lot about blogs and forums like The Green Button and went into some of the detailed feedback from those sources, much of it solicited directly from forum members by Microsoft developers.
Now, that’s just one example, but it’s a good illustration of something that Sinofsky wrote about in his E7 blog post:
Feedback about Windows 7 of course starts before we’ve written any code, and by the time we’ve got running code thousands of people outside of Microsoft have provided input and influenced the feature set and design of Windows 7. As we’ve seen, the input from even a small set of customers can often represent a wide variety of choices–often in alignment, but just as often in opposition. As we’re developing the features for Windows 7 we work closely with PC makers, enterprise customers, and all types of customers across small business, education, enthusiasts, product reviewers and industry "thought leaders", and so on. We shape the overall "blueprint" of the release based on this wide variety of input. As we have design prototypes or code running, we have much more targeted and specific feedback by using tools such as usability tests, concept tests, benchmark studies, and other techniques to validate the implementation of this blueprint. Our goal with this level of feedback is for it to be representative of the broad set of Windows customers, even if we don’t have a 1:1 interaction with each and every customer.
Once upon a time, it might have made sense to get design feedback from a widely released beta. That is not true today. If you’re building an entire operating system just to get feedback on its design, you’re setting yourself up for failure. The Windows 7 design was largely set before the beta code was released and that design incorporated a lot of feedback.
Anyone who looks at the Windows 7 beta and expects that a design change request has a significant chance of being incorporated is living in the past. The purpose of the Windows 7 beta is to gather automated feedback data from millions of real world installations and identify issues that can be fixed.
PS: Paul and I will be sitting at the same table this Thursday for a very small meeting (just a handful of people) to talk with HP about their plans for Windows Home Server. As always, I’m looking forward to chatting with him about this and other topics.