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1/19/2007
11:03 AM
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Will 'Craplets' Put Windows Vista At Risk?

After a week of anticipation, I finally got Microsoft on the phone to discuss these so-called "craplets," crappy applets that an unidentified Microsoft official told a reporter at last week's Consumer Electronics Show would interfere with Vista if they were loaded by PC makers and system builders onto computers running

After a week of anticipation, I finally got Microsoft on the phone to discuss these so-called "craplets," crappy applets that an unidentified Microsoft official told a reporter at last week's Consumer Electronics Show would interfere with Vista if they were loaded by PC makers and system builders onto computers running the new operating system. At first I thought this was a refreshing bit of honesty from Microsoft. It was unhappy that someone else in the PC ecosystem was interfering with its biggest OS launch ever. But the fact that Microsoft's PR firm strung me along for a week without an interview should have told me something. It was in spin mode, trying to figure out how to step over the craplets problem.I'd made some general inquiries into the issue of third-party software's negative effects on Vista, but then I got busy with some other assignments, including the recently announced theft of credit and debit cardholder information from TJX. I pinged Microsoft daily and got back encouraging messages that they were locating the right person for me. As the week dragged on, I became concerned that the story was getting stale. Worse, I started to worry that I'd never get to safely use the word "crap" in an InformationWeek story.

Juggling three stories yesterday and on deadline, I'd finally lined up an interview with Microsoft, which seemed ready at last to discuss the issue. I got on the phone with a marketing director (already a bad sign) who completely distanced Microsoft from the anonymous source who used the term "craplets."

While this marketing director did admit that the word "craplet" has been thrown around inside Microsoft's campus, he told me that the term neither referred to third-party software nor to a problem with OEMs loading uncertified software on PCs that run Windows Vista. Instead, I was told, the term "craplet" refers more generally to any poorly written code.

During our conversation, Microsoft completely contradicted what the anonymous source had said at CES without claiming the source had been misquoted. I asked Microsoft why someone from the company would talk about craplets and uncertified third-party software if this wasn't a problem. The marketing director told me that whoever made the comments doesn't have to work with Microsoft's OEMs as closely as he does.

I was taught in journalism school--yes, I did go to school--to never be the one to end an interview. Keep asking questions until the source says they have nothing more to say or simply hangs up in your ear. I was pretty sure my conversation with Microsoft was over, but I tried one last question about whether InformationWeek's readers should be on the lookout for anything that would impede the performance of this highly anticipated operating system (which promises a number of improvements, not the least of which is security -- my beat).

Microsoft told me that, as long as customers got their PCs from an OEM such as Dell, Hewlett-Packard, or another reputable manufacturer, the issue of craplets was not a problem. The marketing director did acknowledge that he couldn't make the same guarantee if customers got their PCs through a "system builder." I asked him to clarify the difference between an OEM and a system builder, and he said it has to do with the volume of PCs they ship. Those that build and ship large quantities (he didn't know the exact number offhand) are OEMs. Smaller shops (white-box makers) are system builders.

So there you have it, my attempt to sniff out the mystery behind Vista and craplets. I don't mean to pick on Microsoft (it makes the news, after all; I just write about it), but I do get the sense that Microsoft was trying the old trick of using the media to send out a signal while at the same time leaving itself some room to reposition if its OEM partners took offense. Shrewd move, given all that Microsoft's invested in Vista and the fact that the company can't actually tell OEMs or system builders what they can and can't put on their PCs.

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