It’s extremely hard to change the public perception of a product once the balance of opinion has deemed it a dud.

Regardless of the fact that millions of people are using Windows Vista quite happily, the operating system (OS) is regarded by whole swathes of the tech community as Microsoft’s most unpopular yet. The knock-on effect is that many ‘normal’ users are tempted to steer clear of it.

However, while it’s fair to say Vista has its flaws, Microsoft would tell you that anyone who tries the OS without any pre-conceptions will be blown away. That’s what the software giant has concluded from an experiment it conducted in July, anyway.

Tricksters in Microsoft’s marketing department invited a group of 120 ‘ordinary’ people to try out a prototype version of Windows called ‘Mojave’ in an apparent effort to gauge public reaction to exciting new technologies earmarked for a future edition of the OS. Microsoft staff showed the users videos to demonstrate various aspects of Mojave and highlighted the improvements they argued would revolutionise the Windows experience. And the guinea pigs loved it.

According to Microsoft, the test group said Mojave was “awesome” and “really cool”, while its speed was described as “incredible”. Ninety percent of the people in the test expressed positive opinions of the prototype OS.

However, it turned out Mojave was actually Windows Vista, and not even in disguise. Microsoft set the whole thing up in an attempt to change the public perception of the OS and encourage Vista bashers to give it another go.

Did the scheme have the desired effect? Has it encouraged people to reconsider the value of Vista? Most commentators said the experiment was flawed – and you can see their point. I’ve been to countless software demonstrations over the years, and the majority of the products looked decent when a representative of the company behind it was on hand to show off the best bits. It’s only when you get to use the product in the real world that its failings become apparent, and that’s the case with Vista. And as our very own Matt Egan pointed out in his PC Advisor blog, demonstrating snapshots of features to create a favourable perception of Windows was exactly what got Microsoft into trouble with Vista in the first place.

That said, as software becomes more powerful, it’s fair to say more and more functionality can get lost to the naked eye. We tend to use the bare minimum of features to get by, and fail to make the most of the real cleverness that runs in the background. In that respect, you can understand Microsoft’s attempts to try and highlight the best bits of Vista, when the critics do so much to highlight the bad.

Can’t be persuaded?

Ultimately, if you’re unhappy with Vista, or even XP, there are things you can do to improve it. If you don’t like Vista’s Aero user interface, tweak it so it looks like XP. If User Account Control is too much of a nag, turn it off. And if you’re envious of features that come as standard in other OSes, such as Mac OS X, and are frustrated that Microsoft hasn’t included them in Vista or XP – well, do something about it.

This month's cover feature is designed to help you do precisely this, picking out the best features Microsoft should have included with Windows, and showing you how to get them. Pick up the October issue of PC Advisor, on sale now.

PC Advisor October 08