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Can Microsoft Fix Broken Windows?

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Gates' behemoth struggles to overcome its image problem.

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In 1995, Microsoft (MSFT) scored a huge hit in a promotional campaign for their revolutionary new operating system, called Windows 95. The commercial featured The Rolling Stones' classic "Start Me Up," which coincided with the platform's prominent Start button. The spot was memorable, and consumers were excited.

In 2008, that excitement has dwindled significantly.

In January of last year, the company released Vista, its latest OS, to very little fanfare. The software was repeatedly delayed, necessary drivers were slow to roll out, system requirements were huge and, overall, the Vista experience proved to be slow, glitchy and frustrating. Meanwhile, Microsoft spokespeople tirelessly heralded the OS's dubious achievements and largely ignored the complaints. Worse still, it put an expiration date on the far more popular XP version, thereby forcing users to make the switch.

The backlash was massive and extreme: Some users avoided the upgrade like the plague, and would even install an older version of XP over Vista on new computers. Some stuck with Vista at work longed for the stability of XP.

And some who weren't willing to stick it out with Windows any longer became brand new converts to the Apple (AAPL) cause.

Finally, after 16 months of customer dissatisfaction, Microsoft finally acknowledged the damage and launched a new ad campaign -- "Windows: Life Without Walls" -- untroubled by the fact that a wall might be required to support a window. The company plunked down a reported $300 million in advertising to revitalize the brand - but confused its customer base, scoffed at criticism, and then had the audacity to play the victim.
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