Microsoft's image with consumers has had its ups and downs in recent years. However, Windows 7's release appears to be rapidly rehabilitating Microsoft's (NASDAQ) image as it begins to erase bad memories of Windows Vista, according to a new consumer survey.
The annual American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), released this week, shows that the company's low satisfaction scores for the past three years appear to have been vanquished by the advent of Windows 7.
"At the beginning of 2007, when Microsoft released Windows Vista, customer satisfaction plunged 4 percent to an ACSI score of 70, well below the industry average, where it remained for the next three years," Claes Fornell, the Donald C. Cook Professor of Business Administration at the University of Michigan, said in a commentary accompanying the survey results.
That all changed, however, with the introduction of Windows 7 last October.
"It took three weeks for the new software to reach a 4 percent market share compared with seven months for Windows Vista ... by March 2010, more than 90 million Windows 7 licenses had been sold," Fornell added.
After hovering at or just below 70 for three years, Microsoft's customer satisfaction index jumped to 76 in the six months following Windows 7's consumer launch. Meanwhile, all of the other software firms combined held a 75 index for most of the three years of Vista availability, inching up to 77 in 2010.
"Microsoft has achieved high-volume sales from a big boost in customer satisfaction -- its ACSI score is Microsoft's highest ever," Fornell added.
That jump in sales and the boost in customer satisfaction powered Microsoft's third fiscal quarter to record sales and earnings.
It's a big change from 2007 through 2009 when, despite reasonably good sales of Vista to consumers, many of those same consumers were not happy with the operating system meant to replace the aging Windows XP, which had been released in 2001.
Microsoft's CEO Steve Ballmer admitted during his keynote at the company's CEO Summit on Wednesday that Vista had numerous problems from the start.
"The saga of our Windows [Vista] product is probably one of the better chronicled," Ballmer told his audience of global business leaders. "Just not executed well -- not the product itself, but we went a gap of about five, six years without a product."
Those customer satisfaction results, and post-release testing, may also already be stoking IT staffers' desires to deploy Windows 7 soon.
For instance, a recent survey of IT decision makers in January found that 58 percent plan to deploy Windows 7 by the end of 2010, and that 46 percent of respondents are not going to wait for Service Pack 1 (SP1) before deploying Windows 7.