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Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer talks about biggest regret: Windows Vista

Ballmer

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer took 15 minutes to sit down with ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley to talk about his announced departure, biggest regrets at the company and what the future holds. We covered news from this morning that the popular figure at Microsoft will be stepping down as CEO to begin to enjoy retirement. So, the most pressing question is: what was Ballmer's biggest regret?

Windows Vista. Come on, it's really no surprise, right? Here's his answer to Foley's question:

"Oh, you know, I've actually had a chance to make a lot of mistakes, and probably because, you know, people all want to focus in on period A, period B, but I would say probably the thing I regret most is the, what shall I call it, the loopedy-loo that we did that was sort of Longhorn to Vista. I would say that's probably the thing I regret most. And, you know, there are side effects of that when you tie up a big team to do something that doesn't prove out to be as valuable."

Other interesting parts include how Ballmer's proud to be part of the birth of computing technologies, witnessing how technology has positively impacted millions of lives. Be sure to head on over to ZDNet to read the full interview. It's well worth checking out. Not everyone will agree with how Ballmer has gone about many things, but he's been an absolute blast.

We - of course - wish Ballmer all the best in the future and to say thank you for all the amazing videos and gif images that have been created.

Source: ZDNet

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Reader comments

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer talks about biggest regret: Windows Vista

141 Comments

while Vista is the biggest change since XP, but it doesn't mean that it will pull many customers to upgrade to Vista, on that time. But instead, that biggest change makes the developers and manufacturers to push their hardware and apps to be in line with Vista. That's what in my mind about Vista. And without Vista, maybe there will be no major improvements like we have seen in Windows 7 and 8.

That's I want to tell Ballmer about Vista. No need to regret so much. Everything is useful.

Yeah, me too, and I'm getting so curious when Vista was released before. It has so much improvement here and there, more than I have seen on XP. My devices which was Intel Celeron, before, can't get inline with Vista on that time, which means so laggy lol. But it does matter as heavy improvements are implemented in Vista.

Windows 7 was Vista Service Pack 1, and I mean that in a good way.  Basically it was Vista, but slightly optimized, less annoying UAC (but still fundamentally the same), and a new task bar UI so people could say "Oh, this is a different OS from that Vista I heard was so bad".  Honestly, Windows 7's biggest reason for success over Vista was that OEM's and software developers had 3 or 4 years to conform to Vista's requirements.  The Vista/7 experiences just shows me how profoundly important execution can be for a product launch.

Since actually Vista had Service Pack 1 itself, I would prefer to say Windows 7 is Vista's Feature Pack 1. Why? Because it's not only fixes bugs which was on Windows Vista before, but also improves and adds features that aren't on Vista before. And like I said, Vista is the point where devs and manufacturers are pushed hard to make better hardware and apps.

Spot on. Vista wasn't amazing on performance, but the main problem was that hardware wasn't ready for it. Then when OEMs realised that they needed to be outputting faster hardware, Windows 7 came along and ran like a dream on Vista-ready PCs.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not under the illusion that it was 100% perception. Windows 7 ran better on my 'Designed for XP' netbooks than XP did. But a lot of Vista's criticisms were to do with perception and lack of hardware readiness.

"but the main problem was that hardware wasn't ready for it."

Same for the release of W8, no? We are seeing proper hardware almost a year after release.

I agree with Nik Rolls says about Vista. The hardware available at the release of Vista (on 2006) wasn't ready for its demanding work and process.
Yes, it is the same hardware reqs as Windows 8 (Windows 7 too!), but the hardware available today is able to process most demanding processes in Windows 8, 7, and even Vista. Try Vista on your current hardware, if you still don't believe it. ;)

That's why the current hardware is now able to run Vista smoothly. I'd really wanna go back to Vista, as the 2nd OS next to Windows 8.

Pretty much, except the issue here isn't resources but form factors and touch screens.

Apple can drive the market forward on their own (like they did with the iPhone and iPad). They also have a user base who are excited to try new things.

Microsoft has to drive the market forward by giving the OEMs no choice. OEMs are always slow to pick up on this. Microsoft also has a user base that hates change. So they can't really win at these transition points, but everyone realises what a good move it was when they look back at it later.

It's funny how no one complains about the negative aspects of Vista that are still exactly the same in 7 and 8.
Vista wasn't even all that bad. Microsoft just tried too hard to move forward.
 
Anyway, the way in which the file explorer detects clicks since Vista and up is a sin.

In addition to the click thing, there's a bunch of minor annoyances that I can't really grasp. One weird thing is that there seem to be two stages of focus for the file explorer. Sometimes it's in focus but behaves like it wasn't in focus for certain purposes. (I think I have this issue mostly with hotkeys, but I can't really remember currently. I don't write this stuff down) Sorry, at the moment I can't remember the stuff that isn't connected to the file explorer.
 
In case this is relevant:
I've had Vista (On a computer with hardware damage. Back then I thought the crashes were Vista-related because everyone was whining about it. Ubuntu didn't fare any better when I installed it) on one computer, 7 on two and now 8 and RT on one device each. I spent most of my teenage years using two notebooks with XP (really heavy use due to notebook class and videogames and teenager curiosity) and had Windows 3.1 and 98 in my childhood.

There's two hitboxes for each item.
If you want to mark them, you can just click the outer box. Doing a right-click afterwards on that box sometimes opens the context menu for the object, sometimes deselects it and opens the context-menu for the folder.
If the item is unselected, you are forced to right-click on the thumbnail, not on the outer hitbox, to have it register as a right-click on the item.
Thumbnails vary in size, which really frustrates me because I right-click all the damn time.
 
Also, when the computers freezes the mouse now does the same thing. And the task manager doesn't open reliably in those situations anymore.

You know you can adjust that right? There are customization options for how the mouse interacts in the file explorer, it really makes a difference but I can never remember exactly how to do it though lol =P

I still don't understand what you mean about the two 'hit-boxes'. I've never experienced anything like that, everything is consistent for me.

I don't think he said his biggest regret was Vista. It seems to me that it was that it took them so long to ship it. Anyway, Vista was and still is a great Windows release. Anyone who says otherwise does not know what they're doing.

Not true... There were huge issues on launch, requiring hardware upgrades and then finding there were no drivers available. I know a lot of people forced to go back to XP for a year or so. Many businesses stuck with XP, skipped Vista and went to 7. I waited until well after SP1 to get it and once I'd turned off UAC I was pleasantly surprised at how much they'd improved over XP. The transition from Vista to 7 was seamless by comparison as all the Vista drivers were generally available, if 7 versions were not .

If you were attempting an in-place upgrade and weren't aware of a driver that wasn't compatible with Vista prior to your upgrade then I'm sorry, but you do not know what you're doing.  If you got Vista on a new laptop then you already know the drivers are there!  That you turned off UAC also shows you do not know what you're doing.

I had no problems with Vista at all, as it was after SP1 and I was buying new hardware with all the driver issues sorted out long before. It is a fact that many drivers weren't available when Vista came out, or if they were available they had issues with legacy hardware. Many printers, webcams, scanners, specialised PCI cards etc all had to be replaced or kept on an XP machine until Vista drivers eventually came out, if at all. I know industry veterans who still shake their head when Vista is mentioned. To say "anyone who says otherwise does not know what they're doing" is completely false.

Also, turning off UAC meant I knew precisely what I was doing and accepted the "risks". Many people happily run everything as Administrator without any issues. UAC is fine for people that are afraid of computers and like their OS to baby them. It was only overly annoying in Vista anyway, and has been vastly improved in W7 so that it can generally be left on.

I would suggest the problems with Vista actually involved the dysfunction of the PC industry as a whole. When we got our Vista PC's it didn't seem like all the players were working together in unison trying to produce a coherent package. Of course, the public has been conditioned to view a PC as a Microsoft product and blames everything about PCs on Microsoft and Windows. Once I set our computers up properly (e.g. remove bloatware, redundant utilities, updated drivers, etc.) our Vista machines ran fine for three years. In fact, our desktop that came with Vista in 2006 was later upgraded to Win7 and now Win8 and is still running strong.

Yeah, the PC industry were generally blaming Vista for requiring digitally signed drivers and because a lot of software also had to be overhauled. Once all the teething issues were sorted out (especially after SP1) it was actually quite a good OS to use. I still use a Vista PC at work from time to time (main PC is Win7) and that's been going great for at least 6 years.

I know, it seems like the main issue is being told how to do heir computing, which in my opinion were just becoming lazy, complacent practices...I mean, OEMs think they could just get away w/ doing the same thing for 10 years straight and not do something exciting? =s

The transition from Vista to 7 was seamless because Vista had paved the way and been the 'bad guy' to get all the work done. Similarly, the transition from 8 to 9 will also be seamless, and everyone will say 9 is fantastic even though it's just a tweaked version of 8.

I never understood what the big deal was over Vista. I ran it for years and didn't have any issues with it once I tweaked it a bit. It was also the initial stepping-stone to Win 7 which was, by everyones account a huge sucess.

Service pack 1 fixed many of the quirks.  His statement might have been about the initial quirks, but I agree it was the stepping stone, a trial-run if you will to Win 7.

Well, they were hoodwinked by PC makers...like they all missed the launch and what was expected, but there's Microsoft communication for you. =P

The problem was that the minimum specs didn't run it all that well, and it had been so long since people had faced an upgrade that when they tried to run it with their five year old 1.5GHZ P4 and if choked, they got upset. Because MSFT told them it would be ok.

Actually, my understanding is the "Vista Ready" campaign was something Intel pressured Microsoft to go with because they had a backlog of processors they wanted to sell off. Microsoft shouldn't have conceded to it but like I said earlier, the PC industry was so dysfunctional at the time. No checks and balances, nobody looking after the consumers interests, OEM's adding all kinds of bloatware, replicating or replacing things Windows already did fine, etc.

Exactly what i was going to say. Vista worked almost perfectly for me. It seems they bombarded it with features that some computers couldn't handle but mine did pretty well, even with live wallpapers enabled always.

That wasn't it. Vista had severe performance issues. They fixed the memory consumption for its window manager, for example, in Windows 7. Performance wise it sucked, and had only the Start menu search feature as something positive. Even the UI sucked bad, with column headers being visible in all list modes in Explorer, etc.

A lot of drivers simply weren't available as OEMs were slow to transition from XP. That forced people to buy more gear or go back to XP to wait for drivers to be released. Those days are behind us, but it was horrible for many in the first year or so.

I say Ballmer and Gates make one last goodbye music video.... On second thought, that wouldn't be as awesome as it was a couple years ago. I call it the Star Wars effect lol

Same here. The real problem is the devices that didn't work so smoothly with Vista's standards. Since then, manufacturers are pushed to make better devices that is Vista ready.

Nothing is vista ready... Its an obsolete OS. And the problem with vista was all low end computers struggled to run it. That is the opposite of what an OS is supposed to do. Windows 7 and windows 8 run many times faster on a netbook that released with Vista, hell even XP ran better, so it went backwards there for a bit.

Agreed, but just up to 2007. That year was the year when the devs and manufacturers were making devices and apps that was Vista capable, so I half-agree with you. As I mentioned in the comment above my last comment, Vista had very much improvement here and there, which made low end computers rendered useless when using Vista, but does matter as it has much heavy improvement above XP.
Also, Windows 7 still struggles when installed on netbooks, and I think Windows 8 and XP are the better choice for netbooks.

Good one. Also:
- The launch of Xbox One
- Launch of Windows 8
- Launch and maintenance of Windows Phone 8
- Windows RT

Huge fan of Microsoft (I even like Ballmer) but it is hard to ignore how they manage to screw up launching every new product. Making the same mistakes over and over again is something that the company can ill-afford now.

I have to say I did not run into any issues with Vista at all. But I personally liked 7 much better.
I may be on the loosing team here but I'm a fan of Windows 8. I love my WP8, I love my desktop running Win8 (with a touchpad) love my ultrabook running Win8, love my VivoTab running RT, my Xbox 360...have a X1 one on order, I
To me Microsoft has come out with some great products, it's horrible marketing that kills them.

He biggest regret should be allowing the people that keep calling Zune a failure to keep breathing, I really feel like Ballmer should've came off more like the godfather...lol #ifonly =P

Just to be clear, he's talking about the prolonged DEVELOPMENT of Windows Vista, not the product itself, which ran just fine for me and many others part of the silent majority.

I'm replying to this to emphasize that he was not talking about the end product. Longhorn to vista was a process from dev to RTM. Never an easy thing.

Glad you posted this, as I was about to do the same thing. It wasn't Vista itself. It was the promised features of Longhorn that never materialized, causing a complete restart of the development process, which led to Vista. As for the outright "failure" of Vista out of the gate, that was on OEMs for selling crap machines that weren't capable of running the OS, and on component manufacturers for not having the appropriate drivers ready for the new OS. Personally, it worked great for me on my hardware, but I also jumped into 7 as soon as a beta was available.

Sorry, how would you know the experience of the SILENT majority? Some people literally say words and then forget to check if they make sense. Idiot.

Because people just make shit up to back up their claims. They'll say things like "most people" or "the majority of people" or even start claiming that 90% of people support their position, without any basis in fact or reality. e.g. "I like X, and the majority of people do too".

Hey, hey...no need for name calling. You may have pulled a boner or two on the internet, don't lie...and for the record, it is equivalent to a faux pas, but its the American way to phrase it. Keep it clean, lol ;)

Vista was their biggest mistake. 7 was the true successor to XP and because of Vista, people were hesitant with 7. If it wasn't for Vista, 7 would've sold more copies.

If it wasn't for Vista, 7 would have been a huge flop. Vista is what forced OEMs to move beyond cranking out the same crap hardware.
8 has done the same thing. Does anyone honestly think we would have near as many touch-enabled systems (not just tablets) if 8 hadn't come along? This is why 9 will be viewed as a much better success when it rolls out--OEMs will finally completely on board with producing the hardware for a complete experience.

Meh...he needed to head out. I wonder if Bill could breathe some vitality into Microsoft like Jobs did with Apple. But eh, it's only a dream of mine...lol sigh ;)

I've caught myself thinking the same thing, but Gates wasn't exactly a visionary when it comes to the Internet and he's responsible for the structure that promotes all the in fighting that leads to all these brand inconsistencies. They need to find someone new that's more Jobs-like.

no need to regret dude, vista forced the mainstream to go high end, and thats a very important thing for the products we enjoy today, and i hope whoever gets the charge now starts to push things again with vista 2.0 with double the haters vista had, we need tecnology to go forward and that can only happen if vista 2.0 makes 4gb computers low end with all the graphics and useless apps, in the end that helps a girl's laptop to hack the neighborhood's wifi

For its time but I'm sorry, old dogs need to sleep and if you really are content to live in the past, what future is there for you? =[

He got that from Jobs. I have a friend that's been at apple for a long long time and they have always blamed the end user for using the product wrong and not admitting to a mistake.

If that's true, why did they fire the guy for he whole maps issue? He didn't want to apologize either...Magneto was right. =P

My buddy said everyone was shocked but it was the first time that much backlash as a government asked Australian's to not use Apple maps for safety reasons.

Vista was a disappointment but it helped MS to come out with Win7, the best one after XP.

I'm going to miss Steve. Reminder when Bill was around Steve did alot on the back end. He is a business man and damn good at it.

I am sorry, but I can't help say that I think a lot of these posts missed the point here.  It doesn't help that this quote was taken out of context though.  "Longhorn to Vista" - is the kicker right there.  Longhorn was supposed to be the ambitious followup to XP that was going to be huge:  revised task-based (or "iterative") user interface, an extensible, dock-like, Sidebar, and a SQL Server 2003-based storage engine called WinFS (Windows Future Storage).                              
It ended up being too ambitious and scrapped, rebooted if you will, and Vista is what we got instead.  The Aero interface is really the only thing that remained in Vista from the Longhorn initiative.  I may be reading into this but I think Steve regrets having spent so many resources on Longhorn just to scrap it, start over, and release a half-baked product; Vista.

I understand what you're telling about WinFS, iterative UI, Aero, and so much more in Longhorn. And yes, Ballmer was regretting about that failure when the half-baked called Vista was announced, which just introduce Windows Aero, which is the most consumptive component. But with that failure, it doesn't mean it's a total failure. Instead, many developers and manufacturers are motivated to bring their best on their hardware and apps, to make them running smoothly on Vista. And when Windows 7 released... boom! They ran way smoother than we have ever imagined, even on Windows 8.
Well, what I'm talking about is the user experience in general, though.

Agreed...however, from a business perspective the Return On Investment just wasn't there.  Tons of time and money on research and development were spent on Longhorn and ultimately it just ended up being shut down.  Then ramping up all over again to give Vista legs and push it out the door, just to have it perform so poorly in the marketplace had to have been a huge hit to the bottom line and confidence in him as a leader.

Vista was the single most important technological step Windows made in the last decade. That Vista suffered a lot of problems when released was due to the many changes made. However, it laid the foundation for windows on ARM, the Windows kernel on WP, and the very robust W7, which is now greatly praised, despite being little more than Vista wrapped in different cloths and sold under a new name.

In his time as CEO that is gotta be the worse decision. Zune was bad but at least the design lanuguage carried over to other products. Windows vista wasn't all that bad and they just fixed the problems in 7, I mean at least I didnt hate it.

What happened to Zune was bad but whoever actually used them loved them completely. Just sucks that they didn't make the right moves and it was so damned expensive, I feel like they should've licensed it...

Vista wasn't that bad. It just required good hardware (2GB RAM and not integrated GPU). On good hardware it had more features and better security then XP.
Windows 8 adds some functionality but removes some e.i. start or aero glass.
The problem with Windows 8 and Windows Phone is that they are designed for use at home not in the office and corporations are best Microsoft customers.

Oh yeah, millennium was really hilarious. I think it was the biggest shit ever made. Most of the time it was crashing, sometimes you even haven't the chance to get the PC on or get to see the Desktop, and if when it was just for fun crashing. That where times...

What I find absolutely mind boggling is that windows vista was good yet alot of people didn't like it. Windows 8 is glaringly terrible yet most like it..

I think the kin is probably the biggest failure in his time as the CEO.Vista was awfully hence the quick release of 7 but it atleast gained some market share. The Kin was removed just as fast as it was released.

Vista was a daring move -need more power and not fully ready....
I hated vista, i tried to like it and used at least 6 months on core 2 duo, with 2 gb ram . beginning it was okay,.. but after a month it was so slow, opening programmes were pain coz i have to wait even to click (with those round symbol of waiting going round and round for at least 5 secs). it looks like an old army vehicle with rusted engine.... my boss had the fortune of having it too and just to reach the desktop it took 8 mins and to really function 10 mins (tried sytem restore..etc never worked)  - Surprisingly UAC was not a very big problem for me.
 Windows 7 comes and installed that and the problems over..i even installed win7 on dual core processor with 1 gb ddr2 ram it still worked fine, i also used win7, on old laptop with 512 mb ram it still worked fine interestingly.
The welcome change with Windows Vista could have been the Windows kernel and more robustness... but functionality is to be seriously questioned.... 
Vista was also the primary reason why even now many still use Win XP and are reluctant to switch to Win7, coz, there is general disbelieve to whether it will work fine. Thanx to Win7 which started creating a positve view of what Microsoft is tinkering
 
 

For me Vista was a great but extremely annoying system, as I was in hardware-software development tech support and installing-reinstalling was my daily task. This part was fixed in win7 and I like it the most, it is my MS OS#1. Vista was designed for 5-6gHz processors, but they never came. Now I feel like the same thing happens to Win8 like with the Vista on day 1. The metro UI is extremely annoying as it is made for touchscreens. It will be a great system after about a year or so, when the availability of touchscreens wil be like 80% on the market. Today I can't go to the shop and ask for a touchscreen display. I need to order it from somewhere for a lot of money. Plus the Start menu. OS is not made for just playing around with UI. For work purposes it is unacceptible to fight with something different. If you dont believe me - count how much time you loose a year just by switching off Win8. it is 3x or 4x more than win7. No time for it. Vista had this UAC stuff. Of course as a geek I would immediately turn it off, but I couldn't because in 100% it is ON, when installed and 90% of our customers had it ON. And in about 80% of cases UAC and Aero were causing problems in software. This is IMHO of course. I skip WIN8 as is. No time for continious "WTF?" expirience.

 

First of all this comment is too damn long, secondly you just complicate your life for no reason other than to feel intellectually superior. Why do you have to turn it off? Aren't there a few dozen things to keep it low power and secure while your away? Old habits are the only thing making 8 bad for you, period. Relax, and switch to decaf... ;)

One big problem (amongst many) with Vista was that many PC's were tagged as being Vista ready when they were clearly incapable of running it.  Both Intel and M$ knew this but lied - and publicly admitted doing so later on.

I wish he and MS had done the right thing and given our free upgrades from Vista to Win 7. They owed their Customers more for the lost productivity and hassles but they should have dine at least that much.

Hopefully some one who knows the difference between shit and shinola will take over.
The last few years have been a total disaster for M$ in the consumer sector.

You are actually a just right. A lot of people are (unbelievably) still running Vista. My other half has a laptop he occasionally uses that takes 10 mins to boot and be usable due to the amount of paging to a slow hd. the venus factor review

I admit, I have not been on web page in a long time.however it was another joy to see It is such an important topic and ignored by so many, even professionals. professionals. I thank you to help making people more aware of possible issues. mikrofaser

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