Do computer users hate Windows Vista?

I'm asking because, well, analysts are asking. They're wondering why Microsoft's (Nasdaq: MSFT) operating-systems division produced just $4.03 billion in first-quarter revenue, $300 million less than the consensus estimate, according to The New York Times.

Gartner researchers might say it's because businesses have been slow to adopt Vista. Mr. Softy, by contrast, says there is no problem, claiming to have sold 140 million copies of the OS.

Is the revolt against Vista real? Or is it hooey, as Microsoft asserts? Let's turn to the web for the answer. A search for the phrase "I hate Vista" brought back:

  • 5,620 hits at Ask.com
  • 42,200 hits at Google
  • 149,000 hits at Yahoo!
  • And 26,800 hits at Microsoft's own Live.com.

There you have it. Some users hate Vista. Very, very much.

But it gets worse. Searching Google for "I hate Windows" returns 60,800 hits. Searching for "I hate Macs" returns 22,600 hits. "I hate Mac OS X" returns a measly 585 hits.

To be fair, these results could be as much about market share as anything else. Of course more people hate Windows. More people use Windows PCs.

Even so, the backlash against Microsoft generally, and Vista specifically, is undeniably real.

Is Mr. Softy really this stupid?
Ask trade magazine InfoWorld. In January, editors there launched a campaign to save Windows XP because its successor, Vista, wasn't an improvement. Here's how executive editor Galen Gruman put it at the time:

Over the past year, CIOs and CTOs have consistently told me they see no significant benefits to Vista, and really don't want to spend the time and money to update all their computers, retrain their users, and deal with application incompatibilities for a cosmetic upgrade.

Ouch.

But InfoWorld isn't alone. More than 160,000 have signed a petition at the e-zine's "Save XP.com" blog.

Obviously Microsoft has heard complaints. CEO Steve Ballmer told reporters last week that, while the plan is to stop selling XP on June 30, "if customer feedback varies, we can always wake up smarter."

Hitting the snooze button
Mr. Softy has since backed away from Ballmer's comments. Though the retreat is probably a PR move -- necessary bluster to defend an OS that has suffered from endless delays and a lukewarm following -- it nevertheless lays bare the disarray plaguing Redmond.

And I do mean "disarray." Microsoft last week told users that it would post the latest update of XP to users on April 29 via public download. But paying subscribers to private networks TechNet and MSDN -- services frequented by professional techies that deploy Microsoft software in their companies -- would have to wait till May 2, at least. The techies, not surprisingly, cried foul.

Odder still: Microsoft pulled a similar stunt in February over an update to Vista. Subscriber complaints forced Mr. Softy to relent then, too, ComputerWorld reports.

Can Microsoft really be this stupid? The company that became a world-beater by courting developers and techies in a way that Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) never could?

Steve Jobs: Smart and lucky?
For its part, Microsoft said in a statement emailed to ComputerWorld that it was meeting high demand for a Vista upgrade, and that it needed to optimize bandwidth for would-be XP downloaders.

That sounds like blame-shifting toward Akamai (Nasdaq: AKAM), which has long provided Mr. Softy with download support. If so, I'm not buying it. Microsoft does business with Limelight Networks (Nasdaq: LLNW) as well as Akamai, and it operates several data centers of its own. Obviously, Mr. Softy has the capacity to do both jobs.

And even if Akamai were the bottleneck for last week's download problems, that still wouldn't explain Mr. Softy's intransigence over XP, especially when so many users -- professional users, mind you, the guys who control budgets -- want to see it continue. Why not wake up smarter, Steve?

It makes me wonder if Apple's Mac market share gains are as much the result of Microsoft's stupidity as Apple's ingenuity.

Interestingly, PC makers may harbor similar feelings. Dell (Nasdaq: DELL), for example, plans to take advantage of a loophole in the Windows Vista licensing agreement that would allow it to sell XP to customers who request it, even if those requests come after June 30. Expect Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ) to explore similar options.

For decades, the simple difference between Apple and Microsoft was that Mr. Softy, for all its faults, listened to customers. Apple, by contrast, convinced them to try something entirely new. Both approaches have and can still work.

But only if Microsoft stops plugging its ears.

Apple and Dell are Stock Advisor selections. Microsoft and Dell are Inside Value picks. Akamai is a Rule Breakers recommendation. Get 30 days of unfettered access to the research and recommendations of these market-beating newsletter services.

Fool contributor and Rule Breakers writer Tim Beyers owned shares of Akamai at the time of publication. The Motley Fool's disclosure policy likes soft pillows and a hard mattress.