It's official, Microsoft's Windows Vista operating system gets the prize for being the most overhyped, underperforming information and communication technology (ICT) project. Windows Vista garnered 5,222 of 6,043 votes (86 percent) entered via the Web to snag top honors in the first-ever Fiasco Awards announced in Barcelona, Spain, today, beating out other contenders, including Google's Lively virtual world, the One Laptop per Child computer (developed by the Nicholas Negroponte-chaired One Laptop Per Child Association, Inc.) and Second Life. Second prize went to SAGA, the oft-malfunctioning administration and academic management system developed by Spain's Catalan Education Department for public school teachers in Catalonia.

Vista was announced in July 2005 and hit the market in January 2007 after a mega PR blitz by Microsoft, which promised it would be a slick, secure successor to the company's popular Windows XP operating system. Vista came with an eye-catching graphical user interface, and Microsoft positioned the operating system's Windows Media Center software as a tool that would make the PC the new hub of home entertainment systems. What Microsoft made less clear was that many customers couldn't run Vista without upgrading their PCs.

What's more, the Fiasco Awards Web site points out, the new operating system was complicated to navigate and had compatibility problems with many programs and hardware drivers, leading many people to just stick with Windows XP. Vista was such a dismal failure that many PC makers even recommended that consumers steer clear of it.

The company's recent introduction of Windows 7—Vista's successor after only two years—indicates that even Microsoft views Vista with disappointment, according to the awards organizers. The lesson, they said: more testing should be done to check reliability and performance before rolling out major product-marketing campaigns.

The purpose of the Fiasco awards is to "promote critical spirit and a positive attitude towards failure, which is a necessary stage in the road to success," say the award's organizers, who are identified on the Web site only as a "group of people linked to the ICT (information and communication technology) sector." The site  notes that Thomas Edison made more than 1,000 attempts before inventing the light bulb, "so he learned how not to do it in more than 1,000 different ways."

Other finalists: Second Life (the virtual world's Web software must be downloaded on one's PC, which excludes people who don't own their own computers), One Laptop per Child (a plan hatched by the developed world to bring computers to the developing world at $100 a pop, only they it ended up costing nearly twice that), and Google Lively (a virtual world that relied more on the company's brand than on any interesting features to compete with Second Life; it was put out of its misery at the end of 2008, after just five months of operation).

Image © Adam Balatoni