Living with Vista

You may have seen news coverage around the Vista launch (link, link) about a special beta program called ‘Living With Windows Vista’. 50 families from around the world participated in the program, which involved them using Windows Vista in their home as their primary PC. The brave families were beta testing builds of Vista as early as Beta 1. Microsoft employees met with them periodically to check on their progress, and listen to what they had to say about Vista. Some families were recruited because of particular interests they had (like music, or photos).

Photo Families
There were several ‘photo families’ in the US, and some of our team members went along to visit these families as part of their regular meetings with Microsoft. These families were recruited specifically because of their use of digital photos and/or video. These families were of particular interest to our team, since they were likely to be using and providing feedback on the Photo Gallery, Movie Maker, and DVD Maker in Vista.

Send a Smile, Send a Frown
One interesting aspect of this program was the ‘Send a Smile’ utility. This is a small tool that was installed on the families’ machines, and let them quickly send comments to Microsoft at any time. The comment could either be something that they liked (a smile), or something they didn’t like (a frown). The utility sent a screen capture of whatever the family was doing at the time, along with their comments and the smile/frown. This feedback was constantly reviewed by the product teams at Microsoft. This allowed us to get immediate feedback from the families at any time of day or night, and required very little effort on the part of the families to report something that either delighted or frustrated them.

So what did the families like?

  • The hover effect over thumbnails

  • Fix functionality – especially red eye removal

  • One-click e-mail with automatic photo re-size

  • Quick and easy import

Where did they run into problems?

  • Tags: Some families didn’t understand, or didn’t use the tagging features

  • Gallery vs. Explorer: Some families were confused by the fact that there were two places (Photo Gallery and Pictures Explorer) that they could find and interact with their photos and videos. They didn’t understand the differences, or why there were two places.

  • Save As: The save model in the Photo Gallery took some getting used to. Most families initially expected to find a ‘save as’ feature, and didn’t realize that their photos were saved for them automatically (as well as a backup).

Making a Difference
All of the feedback we received from the families was valuable, but there are several areas where we can point to the finished product and demonstrate that this program made a measurable difference. One of the families was having trouble burning CDs from within the Photo Gallery. They had discovered how to perform this operation from the Windows Explorer, but the entry point wasn’t obvious enough in the early Photo Gallery builds. As a result of this feedback, there’s now a top level ‘Burn’ button in the Photo Gallery task bar. Several families also had issues with AutoPlay when they would plug in their cameras to import photos. They didn’t always select the best AutoPlay option the first time through, but early builds of Vista remembered this setting by default, and automatically performed this option in the future without asking. Based on the feedback from these families, we were able to change the default behavior for AutoPlay to give all users a better experience!

All in all, this was a very successful program. Not only did we get some valuable feedback that helped make the product better for millions of users, but it also gave our team members the opportunity to visit users in their homes, and talk to them first-hand about the impact that the software we build has on their lives (both positively and negatively). Thanks to all of the families who participated in the program – you made a difference!

Living with Vista press coverage @ CES

Video: Family on Vista at CES 2007

The Regan family pushes the button to launch Windows Vista at CES

Video: Vista Launch Clip

 – pixblog