It’s no news to regular Neuromarketing readers that people’s experience with products is heavily influenced by their expectations. Expensive wine tastes better than cheap wine, wine from California tastes better than wine from North Dakota, “powerful” pills relieve pain better than others, and so on… even when in all of these experiments there were no differences between the products. Apparently, this applies to software, too. Microsoft’s latest operating system, Vista, has suffered from bad press from the outset. Early users encountered bugs, corporate IT execs demanded that they be allowed to keep using Vista’s predecessor, Windows XP, and Apple heaped scorn on Vista with its PC Guy/Mac Guy ads.

Even after initial bugs were cured, opinions about Vista have still been negative compared to past OS introductions. This was no doubt annoying to Microsoft execs, just as if a North Dakota winery was shipping superb wine but found that people still found it less tasty than inferior wine from California. So, in a move out of the neuromarketing playbook (does Steve Ballmer read this blog?), Microsoft conducted a study that asked people to test-drive and rate a new operating system, “Mojave.” The new OS was, of course, actually Vista.

Lo and behold, software users turned out to be as impressionable as wine drinkers, pill takers, and the rest of humanity. 94% of the users rated Mojave higher than they had rated Vista, and Mojave (post-demo) scored 8.5 on a scale of ten vs. Vista, which was scored at 4.4 (pre-demo). Read about the experiment here.

Unfortunately, this experiment wasn’t as controlled as I’d like – the ratings of Vista were scored before the users saw the demo and hence were really more of an opinion survey. Microsoft could have altered the approach by simply running the same demo for two groups, with one group seeing a “Vista” demo and the other “Mojave.” I’d guess that even under that circumstance, Mojave would still have outscored Vista by a wide margin. A test like that would have done even more to demonstrate that at least part of Vista’s reputation problem is, well, irrational…