People are often unkind about Microsoft. They tell jokes about it. Jokes like this one: What is the only Microsoft product launch that didn't suck? Answer -- the Windows vacuum cleaner. It's an old joke and as with most jokes about the US software giant, it is the richest man in the world, Bill Gates, who usually ends up having the last laugh. He laughs all the way to the bank as a rule.
Gates was probably laughing like a drain last week when his company announced a massive 26 percent rise in revenues for the quarter to September -- bucking the trend of most other technology companies who are, for the most part, still feeling the icy chill of recession.
But the vacuum cleaner joke strikes a chord with anyone who has ever had a computer freeze on them. Most commercially available software is prone to crashes, bugs, and virus attacks that can render it useless. This is not an exclusively Microsoft problem -- but MS gets the most grief over it because more people are using its software than anybody else's.
There are basically two schools of opinion on the unreliability of software: the doves argue that software is so incredibly complex that it is unreasonable and unrealistic to expect it to demonstrate the same reliability qualities as, say, a hairdryer. Bill Gates recently said in support of this view that .Net was more complex than getting to the moon or designing the 747.
The hawks will have none of this, and insist that if you buy software you should expect it to do what it says on the box, just as you do when you part with hard earned cash for any other product. Hawks like to draw an analogy with automobile manufacturers, arguing that if cars failed as often as software there would be lot more deaths on the roads.
There is no doubt that Microsoft and other software vendors need to improve the reliability of their products. The unsavoury business of lengthy disclaimer contracts that you are deemed to agree to merely by breaking the shrinkwrap -- and the fact that you don't actually 'own' software but rent the use of it -- all these things suggest that the software business hasn't quite got it when it comes to customer satisfaction.
The reliability of Microsoft software will come under a particularly unforgiving spotlight in the weeks and months ahead as Windows Powered Smartphone software begins to ship on Orange and T-Mobile phones.