Why do we (love to) hate Microsoft?

Why do we (love to) hate Microsoft?

Summary: Tired of the endless 'but what have you done for us lately?' comments that follow Microsoft's every move, no matter how successful, communications head Frank Shaw rounded up some fun statistics to underline the fact that Microsoft is still the heart of the PC industry and the PC industry is still the heart of mainstream computing.

TOPICS: Windows

Tired of the endless 'but what have you done for us lately?' comments that follow Microsoft's every move, no matter how successful, communications head Frank Shaw rounded up some fun statistics to underline the fact that Microsoft is still the heart of the PC industry and the PC industry is still the heart of mainstream computing. My personal favourite is the snide but true comment that Salesforce's CEO Marc Benioff can't make it through a single public announcement without mentioning Microsoft; Microsoft might be late to the cloud (if you can be late to a technology that's still nascent) but it's growing faster than rivals.

Shaw's point is partly that Apple (and to a certain extent Google) get way more publicity and respect than their comparative sales figures actually deserve, partly that when Microsoft does well in a sector it's dismissed as stodgy and boring and mostly that hey, Microsoft is doing well and doesn't need to feel defensive.

You can debate individual statistics (I've seen Linux fans suggesting that it's unfair to count all those boring office servers that actually run businesses when it's Apache Web servers that really matter) but most of the negative reactions I've seen to the figures tend to either centre around claims that Microsoft doesn't innovate or just express the general 'Microsoft? Meh' response that Shaw is trying to address.

Does Microsoft innovate? I’d say yes - but in my view the problem is that it doesn't always follow through. Tablet PCs did more than the iPad years ago; but they weren't cheap, lightweight or advertised as something everybody wanted. Windows Mobile was the first smartphone that took your address book out of your mail client and put it in your hand wherever you were and internal wrangling and mismanagement threw away market share like beads at Mardi Gras. Microsoft Research developed the equivalent of Photoshop's content-aware fill and put it in Microsoft Picture It; when Microsoft's photo apps died the death the feature languished for years (until the latest version showed up in Office 2010 and the new Live Essentials Photo Gallery).

Good ideas that get out keep their rough edges for far too long; Mesh may be finally emerging as a sync tool, but the mobile side seems to have vanished and when you sync an Office file to Skydrive it isn't a live link to the Office Web apps. Office 2010 is closer than ever to being a unified suite - but Publisher lacks most of the great image tools that are in PowerPoint (even Excel has the new image tools - how is it more important to remove the background of a photo in a spreadsheet than in a Publisher document?) and OneNote's spell check feature is years behind the other apps. It's all about attention to detail (and, yes, resources - when I complain about these kind of issues someone at Microsoft will always remind me that they don't have infinite resources and they have to choose what to concentrate on, which is absolutely true and still doesn't solve the problem).

And then there's the fact that it just isn't fashionable to like Microsoft.

Windows 7 generated a burst of enthusiasm, but iPad and Android and the future of a tiny but sexy part of the computing market seems to have overshadowed that. The key features of the key Office apps are on the Web for free and I think the fact that we hear so little about them says something about how the market isn’t actually ready for sophisticated Web apps (or maybe useful is intrinsically less interesting than underpowered but novel). Hotmail wipes the floor with Gmail in terms of user numbers and - apart from two features (rule-based forwarding and nested sub-folders) - does everything and more that Gmail does, and without mining your email stream for Google's machine learning, but it has the reputation of its distant ancestor. IE9 is the exception; implementing standards and using hardware acceleration to do it screamingly fast and remind you why it is you actually want a PC rather than a big phone in the first place. But even then there's the spectre of IE 6 and Windows XP and the old mistakes that will not die.

Microsoft has history. Not just copies of a nine-year-old OS that you can still get on a new PC; not just jokes about the Clippy feature that wouldn't have popped up to interrupt you in Office any time in the last seven years. Microsoft is still paying for the bad old days of arrogance and dubious business practices. I think they're the bad old days - I spend a lot of time talking to Microsoft insiders, partners and competitors and the attitudes I see have changed, inside and out. The level of supervision that the DoJ has over Microsoft's relationships with top OEMs is unparalleled. When the Vista-era Windows president Will Poole broke an agreement with HP to do Intel a favour, Steve Ballmer sent in Steven Sinofsky to clean house and the perpetrators quietly left the company. If I want to experience old-fashioned Microsoft-style arrogance today I go to Google IO and it's Google, Apple and Intel who are learning that with dominance comes scrutiny. But there are still plenty of people who think Microsoft is a wolf with a fluffy lambskin coat, an evil empire, automatically malicious, careless and autocratic - and with assumptions like that, evidence doesn't always matter.

The truth is Microsoft is a business (as are Google and Apple and Opera and Salesforce and Red Hat and most of the players in this game). It's a very pragmatic business and that's why it's survived this long, in the face of competition and its own mistakes. Neither cloud nor open source - nor any other single technology development - is a universal panacea; commercial software companies like Microsoft (and Apple ) and on-premise and client apps are going to be around for a long time and Microsoft's best response to any challenge will always be to make its own products better and get people excited about them.

Getting their light out from under the bushel of assumptions is a good start - and the open communication between Microsoft employees and developers and consumers through the hundreds of Microsoft blogs has been a big help - but the message of Microsoft's success is oddly hard to communicate.

What would Microsoft need to do and say to you for you to be happy to call yourself a fan?


Topic: Windows

Simon Bisson

About Simon Bisson

Simon Bisson is a freelance technology journalist. He specialises in architecture and enterprise IT. He ran one of the UK's first national ISPs and moved to writing around the time of the collapse of the first dotcom boom. He still writes code.

Mary Branscombe

About Mary Branscombe

Mary Branscombe is a freelance tech journalist. Mary has been a technology writer for nearly two decades, covering everything from early versions of Windows and Office to the first smartphones, the arrival of the web and most things inbetween.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Just as you mention, Microsoft has a long history of arrogance, and I think that it's still affecting customers' views of them. I am a strong advocate of Linux, and therefore I catch a lot of arrogance still today from Microsoft. I am sure it's because Linux is growing and it's a direct competitor to Microsoft, and their once comfortable position on the throne is starting to be threatened.

    Back in 1995 I was a huge supporter of Microsoft. Over the years running both Windows and Linux in home, enterprise, and educational environments, I realized that Linux itself is just plain simpler to maintain and just works. After a few late nights being called in and working on crashed Windows servers, I started to get a bitter taste with Microsoft products as a whole. Why? Because I didn't have these same problems with Linux. I gave Windows many chances to prove itself, but I continued to have the same problems no matter what version, where or what hardware it was running on. Problems that would just pop up randomly, that were not hardware-related. Problems that could not have been prevented.

    I've been put in the seat of trying to make companies legal with their Microsoft software licensing. After seeing the licensing conundrum for their programs, I favored Linux because it doesn't have any licensing to worry about for the end user.

    Today I still work on Windows servers, but not by choice. Today their operating systems don't seem to be more stable than they were back then. I still run into strange issues while helping people fix their problems. All Windows versions (server or desktop) need to reboot from updates, which we all know that frequent rebooting can be a huge headache. Again with Linux, I can install updates on the fly and there is no rebooting necessary.

    So between my personal experiences and now seeing how Microsoft is reacting towards entities that are a direct threat (lawsuits, strategic undermining, bending and twisting close allies), I've been pushed away from them. I don't think there's anything that could get me to become a fan again.
  • As a Free Software fan they really wouldn't have to do very much to make me happy, in fact they'd just have to add 3 letters to all their code, GPL.
  • Ooh ooh. I know this one. Start here: http://www.groklaw.net/staticpages/index.php?page=2007021720190018

    Read until you're sick, from their own internal documents and communications as disclosed for lawsuits. No reasonable person can read this stuff and be a fan.
  • I must concur with apexwm. Up until 5 years ago I was solely a user of Microsoft products, from Windows to Office, but I too discovered Linux and 3 years ago made to choice to make a complete switch away from Microsoft products (with a combination of the two in the interim). Ever since I have been much more productive, free from licensing, and a few hundred quid better off.

    I have had never ending calls from Windows users with random issues and stability problems that should not occur, especially with an operating system that users must buy. Some issues I could not fix, and in taking their computers back to the respective outlets that sold these abominations, they were told that a re-install of windows was the only fix; Something I have NEVER had to do with Linux for myself or any friends/customers that have converted.

    So to answer your question "What would Microsoft need to do and say to you for you to be happy to call yourself a fan?". They would need to create stable, fast and productive software that is worth paying the premium/Worth paying for at all. I use the example of Office software, where OpenOffice costs nothing compared with Office Home and business 2010 currently retailing at £239.99. This offers me nothing more than OpenOffice, yet they expect a payment for this. Not on your nelly!

    I could go on about what they should do with regard to dropping lawsuits, using GPL when its good for software and stopping their FUD campaigns, but this would all fall on deaf ears. If they do they have more time and money to concentrate on developing good software products, but they won't, so I will probably never call myself a fan again.
  • Well I think they'd have to keep very quiet about the new super cheap technet subscription. That really is a bargain considering the product keys never run out, even if the subscription does after 12 months!

    As a heavy live mesh beta user, I'd like to think the thing will keep on functioning until I'm ready to upgrade to live sync. I've trimmed my data down to the new 2gb level for my-self, but I hope that people will not be losing any data during the transition. Keep it seamless please!!

    The speed I've seen office 2010 opening up on a customers old Pentium 4 XP (yawn) workstation blew me away! Top marks for that one.

    The fact that power point now has everything you need to edit video on board and better still; You can turn a PPT presentation into a video natively and upload to youtube etc is well....great really.

    The dragon 32 OS was from microsoft was it not?

    I'm starting to see XP wig out when gigabyte i3 mother board drivers are installed and a few times on the i7......just me or are there issues? Not that I'm complaining. If a request for Downgrade rights to XP comes my way, I will always try to encourage XP mode. Thing is, if downgrade rights were scrapped and XP mode came out of the box for pro versions would this be a good thing? An XP disk is always present in the box of a Windows 7 pro Laptops regardless of vendor as far as I've seen.

    I think the clincher would be to see the motion wavy gesture stuff materialize in Windows 8, Touch hasn't seemed so essential when there is a touch pad and keyboard in front of me.
    Great for the phones and slates though I'm sure.

    Lets keep the legacy stuff virtullized and see a real break from the past with windows 8. After all, if people don't like it what are they going to do? Switch to Mac?

    Update the X BOX to i core levels of power, and keep backwards compatibility. It must be possible, I mean there are laptops out there that can perform better now.

    Deploy the the funny ball computer in the public arena with a mixture of touch and gesture controls......and dare I say this? Acknowledge XP as the story of the deckade (Paul Thurrott said this) and maybe release a gold, or service pack 4 version/\it needs it and people insist on using the thing.
    roger andre
  • @lprove
    I don't feel that's in any way a fair comment about the Gates Foundation; I hear universally positive reactions from the charity and research communities about the Foundation - you can dislike capitalism and profit, but I'm not sure how spending his money on scientific and medical research is a tax fiddle. I think it contributes more to humanity than a racing yacht, say.
    Simon Bisson and Mary Branscombe
  • So long as there's not a choice of Operating System at the nearby computer store (e.g., Linux)... msft should be seen as the enemy of free will. So long as the de facto standard, as set by msft, does not conform to an open and interoperable standard, as in msft vendor-locks every person that uses their systems, msft should be taken out.
    Msft makes so much money... over 4 billion dollars revenue in a quarter in 2009... and does it serve the greater good of open technology and science? No, it creates a product.

    Down with vendor-lock, restriction of technology, and greedy tactics to lock the market from allowing free will and choice.

    msft will go down because it is not the future of human-contributed technology... and per their track record, never will be.

    Freedom, Technology, Liberation, Future. GNU+Linux is where you need to be. Are you ready to become a hero?
  • I think what's telling in this string of comments is the lack of positive feedback. Not one response that says "Microsoft could do this, this or this and make themselves better in my opinion", other than to convert to a GPL/FOSS basis. Conversely, look at how many people have said "I used to like/love/use Microsoft/Windows, until I finally got sick of it, sick of them, sick of being treated like either dirt under their feet or nothing more than an open pocketbook that they tried to figure out how to dip into as frequently as possible". I am firmly in that category. I used windows, from 3.1 onward. Go back and look at the first 20 or so posts in my blog, as I was saying that I liked the way Vista looked, I wanted so badly for it to work properly, and I tried it over and over and over again. After a whlie one gets to the point where nothing Microsoft could say or do which falls in the realm of realistic possibility would make any difference whatsoever. Fixing their operating system so that it works properly and reliably, and providing that fixed version to the users who have paid them over and over and over again for defective products would be a start, but that is never going to happen, first because they have proven many times over that they aren't capable of it.

  • "What would Microsoft need to do and say to you for you to be happy to call yourself a fan?"

    Well, if their enterprise value keeps nose-diving at its' current rate of descent they'll be bust in four years. I'll be happy to dance fanatically on their grave, or at least a hefty plank of wood placed over the grave, as a MS grave would probably crash inwards...
  • A lot of the feedback on this is from people that have used Microsoft products, as well as other products like GNU/Linux and other open source software. And the pattern is definitely clear, that a lot of us realize that there are better products out there besides what Microsoft has to offer. Personally, I don't see how Microsoft would ever get back customers that have switched to other products. Especially those customers that have overpaid for software all of those years, or that have been locked in to Microsoft and realize what happened. Many people don't know that there are alternatives to Microsoft, or they are just set in their ways to prohibit change. It's a lot easier to carry on with business as usual. However I think the move by Google recently to completely throw out Windows company-wide, should put out a wake-up call to other companies to at least evaluate the alternatives, and see which one best fits their scenario.
  • not following through on its promises
  • First thing, for me, patents.
    For the obvious and compatibility patents, give a broad, free, opensource compatible licence to all opensource developers. I'm thinking, at the very least, FAT32 long filenames, here, but anything in a similar vain (covering samba, openoffice, etc).

    Stop the FUD against linux infringing patents. At the very least come clean with all 200-odd patents that MS claim are being infringed.

    Stop attacking companies that release linux devices on patent or copyright fronts. If the claim is that patents or copyrights are being infringed, work with the source of the infringement to clear them out - ie, lkml/google, not tom-tom or htc. If companies are taken to task for patent infringement, do not hide the terms of the settlement - particularly not the specific patents which are being licensed.

    The current business practice is designed to prevent the patent infringement from stopping, thus extorting licensing fees from companies. Whilst this is a great business practice for them (and no doubt legal under the current patent regime), it is an ethically bankrupt means of preventing competition.
  • How about allowing their OEM's to sell non-server boxes with or without one of their OS's with no penalty. Elmininates the Windows-refund if you don't agree with the EULA scam you get from both the hardware vendors and Microsoft. There's no way to get a box without PAYING more for it without the OS... Even if it's going to function as a network router or firewall...
  • @Rcomian. Yes, the current practice by Microsoft is extortion if my understanding of Patent Regulations is correct. I believe the regulations are specifically designed to prohibit profiteering by not disclosing infringements as soon as they are identified. It seems to me that Microsoft are in breach of these regulations when they either allege unspecified infringements in the Linux Kernel or when they make all these secret deals with non disclosure clauses.

    The obvious conclusion is that Microsoft are again subverting the processes.
    The Former Moley
  • Microsoft's biggest problem today is the same as it was 15 years ago--lousy advertising. Honestly, considering the way that Microsoft is trashed by the media every day, it's amazing that it's still as relevant as it is. The reality is that Microsoft's products (with a few exceptions) are just as good as the competition (and sometimes better). With a first-rate (and memorable) advertising campaign, Microsoft could go a long way in pushing back against Google and Apple. A recent example is Microsoft's new campaign for Internet Explorer 8. It's a good campaign and IE's total market share is now increasing--increasing three times faster than Google's Chrome. Maybe it's an anomaly... or maybe it's proof that PR matters.
  • Just one other note... anyone who believes that Apple and Google are any less "evil" than Microsoft are simply fooling themselves. How many times does Google have to sell your private information or Apple try to lock you into its ecosystem before you realize that? It's business, folks. It's how the game is played.
  • I honestly don't know what Microsoft could do to convince me to even start using Windows again, let alone become a fan. XP was my Vista, and in 2002 I started playing with Linux. Since 2003, I haven't used anything else. I'm not a Windows "Hater", per se, I just don't need anything Microsoft has to offer. I wasn't even tempted to try Windows 7 when the beta version was temporarily available for free. I still have to use XP at work, though. It's OK for e-mail and other basic stuff, but generally only serves to remind me that it's the same clunky mess it was 8 years ago. When I need to do something useful or productive, I rely on my Linux box. As for Vista or 7?... Don't know, don't care. I'd rather spend the money on hardware.
    As for Microsoft changing their business ethics, maybe at the corporate level they've made a few baby steps in the right direction, but I've got a bunch of their former retail customers running Linux since they got tired of dealing with the usual Microsoft issues. Until they make some progressive changes in that area, I suspect I'll be quite busy.
  • @empirestatebuddy. The fact that Google and Apple may also be 'evil' is not a justification for 'evil' per se. It is that exercise of 'evil' prevalent in the modern business world, and in which Microsoft are experts, which needs to be rectified, and trust restored.
    The Former Moley
  • @Mary

    I think these two articles explain very well "Why do we (love to) hate Microsoft", and incidentally that the Leopard has not changed it's spots and likely does not intend to.

    They are well worth the read.



    Consequently, the answer to your rhetorical question "What would Microsoft need to do and say to you for you to be happy to call yourself a fan?" can clearly be inferred.
    The Former Moley
  • "What would Microsoft need to do and say to you for you to be happy to call yourself a fan?"

    There is nothing Microsoft could/would do, or say, to make me a fan, ever...

    I am going out on a limb here, but I believe the only reason Microsoft owns the desktop is because they own the document formats that individuals and businesses need.

    Consider a future where common office document formats are excluded from software patent / trade secret protection. In this future, these must be completely open, as in public domain, and unencumbered. Other productivity software, on any operating system, can then be used to open/edit/create documents written with any other productivity software without having to reverse engineer a proprietary file format.

    Your lovable, warm-and-fuzzy, new Microsoft has done everything possible to fight this future, including ruining careers of civil servants pushing for ODF, and even attempting to kill ODF itself. Who knows what other dirty tricks have been used.

    Why? Because this one little change in our IP laws would force Microsoft to complete on quality and cost. No more forced upgrades and price gouging because they own 95%+ of the productivity suite market. No more customers buying Windows client OSs only because they need Office.

    I may never again be a fan of Microsoft because of past practices and because of the harm Microsoft has caused. I may respect Microsoft, however, if they actually had to compete and produced good products as a result.