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Microsoft software satisfaction rating hits record high

But high ratings can't solve slumping sales

May 17, 2011 06:41 AM ET

Computerworld - Americans are more enamored than ever with Microsoft's software, according to a national customer satisfaction survey released today.

Microsoft scored a record 79 points in the newest poll conducted by American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), a consumer survey started by the University of Michigan.

The three-point increase over 2009's results -- representing a 7% gain -- put Microsoft's rating at its highest level since ACSI began quizzing Americans about the quality of computer software in 2006.

And it shows that Microsoft's put the Vista debacle behind it, said David VanAmburg, the ACSI's director.

"Microsoft's continued improvement over the last three years suggests that we're out of the Vista phenomenon," said VanAmburg, referring to the hammering Microsoft took after it launched Vista in early 2007 with nearly-instant bad reviews.

MIcrosoft's ACSI rating has improved each of the last three years after dipping as low as 69 in 2008, the second year of Vista's general availability.

Its successor, Windows 7, launched in October 2009 rave reviews. Microsoft recently said it had sold 350 million licenses to Windows 7 since then.

But VanAmburg cautioned against reading too much into Microsoft's record score. "While this is good news for Microsoft, its rate of improvement is about the same as the industry as a whole," said VanAmburg.

ACSI's "Other" category for software, which includes products made by any vendor except Microsoft, climbed two points to 79, an increase of 5%. That category's rating was also a record.

"So Microsoft is just keeping pace with a growing sense of satisfaction in software," said VanAmburg.

He attributed the increase of satisfaction in software to a maturation of the industry. "Software has generally gotten easier to use over the years, and has had fewer glitches," VanAmburg said. "Gone are the days when software would come out, followed immediately by patches. We don't see that as much now."

Even as Microsoft's satisfaction numbers climb, however, sales of its Windows software just slipped, VanAmburg said, citing Microsoft's most-recent earnings statement, which acknowledged a 4% drop in Windows revenues for the first quarter of 2010.

VanAmburg put the blame on economic conditions, and said it wasn't an indictment of the quality of Microsoft software. "Clearly customers are satisfied with Microsoft software. Economics, specifically fewer PCs being sold, played the biggest part."

Microsoft said the same during the quarterly call it held with Wall Street analysts last month, when it also recorded a 21% jump in revenues from its popular Office suite.

VanAmburg contrasted the slow sales of Windows -- Microsoft's most prominent software in consumers' eyes -- with its high satisfaction rating, and saw problems down the road for the company, an opinion he shared with analysts who have noted Microsoft missing the surge in tablets.

"Microsoft has an interesting challenge ahead of it," said VanAmburg. "It's in an aging industry and will have to deal with a slowing of customer growth in its traditional markets even though those customers are by definition more satisfied."

ACSI has noted both Vista's impact on Microsoft's satisfaction ratings and the rebound of those ratings. In earlier surveys, ACSI concluded that Vista had a lot to do with dropping satisfaction scores for PC manufacturers. Last September, however, the group credited Windows 7 for an almost-across-the-board boost in PC makers' ratings.

The ACSI survey scores and commentary can be found on the organization's Web site.

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Microsoft's software satifaction rating has climbed out of the valley of Vista.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at Twitter @gkeizer or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed Keizer RSS. His e-mail address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

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