Has Microsoft Lost Its Way?
Boy... Things sure seem to be rocky at Microsoft
these days. No doubt you have heard all the
scuttle over Vista, the lauded and much delayed new
operating system that seems to be a step backwards for
PC users. Internet Explorer is loosing market
share, despite improvements in version 7.
And now it seems that Microsoft's Office Suite is
starting to take hits as well... And deservedly so in my
This rant has been slowly stewing in my head for a
few months now... I wasn't entirely sure that my
concerns were valid. But, I think the more and
more I read what's out there, the more I think Microsoft
has somehow gotten off track.
Where did this start?
You may have seen my
previous rant about Internet Explorer. If not,
I can sum it up pretty quickly: Microsoft bundled IE
with Windows and seemed well on the way to a near 100%
usage level. However, this domination may have
made Microsoft complacent to the point where they could
foist a very poor product on the marketplace with no
repercussions. IE versions 5 and 6 were such
products... Rife with security holes, very slow, and
choosing to ignore accepted web standards. A
better alternative appeared in the form of Firefox, and
the public started to realize that maybe Microsoft was
mortal after all.
The far bigger issue in my mind was that lacking
any meaningful competition, it seems like Microsoft
decided to stop trying. With something nearing 90%
adoption of Windows among the general public, combined with the
ubiquitous Windows Updater, Microsoft had no incentive
to produce a "good" web browser. People were going
to take whatever they were given, and using Windows
Updater, and holes could be filled in later.
Microsoft did introduce IE 7 which fixed many of
the problems in IE. And I actually think IE is now
a pretty good web browser, although it still feels
slower to me. But, at this point I trust my
Firefox browser more, and I'm used to how it works.
My suspicion is a lot of other folks feel the same way.
So does this sort domination lead to complacency
Or was IE just a one time thing?
The Internet Explorer debacle may have just been a
hint of things to come. Next on the hit list is
Vista, the five-letter-word of the information age.
Some have compared it to the atrocious and half-baked
Windows 98 ME operating system. Vista was
delivered about two years later than initially promised,
and had many of its initially promised features stripped
out. The hardware requirements are intimidating to
say the least, and the marketing gurus at MS have seen
fit to offer SEVEN DIFFERENT VERSIONS of the OS.
Now comes word from
Information Week that performance tests indicate
Windows XP outperforms Vista in virtually every
benchmark. In some tests, XP machines could
perform tasks in half the time of Vista.
A recent survey of businesses indicates fully 30%
intend to NEVER update to Vista... EVER.
What's really worrisome now is that some of the major PC manufacturers (Dell and
Gateway among them) after trying to phase out XP, are
now starting to offer the older operating system on
"select" systems. That's not a good sign since most
their operating system when they buy a computer.
Very few choose to buy Windows off the shelf and then
install. Personally I applaud the manufacturers
for doing this. Ramming Vista down the throats of
consumers is not going to fix Vista.
A lot of tech gurus are standing by Vista,
claiming it works fine and is just misunderstood.
I recently heard somebody on one of
Laporte's radio shows saying Vista is perfectly fine
That may be, but there is an oft used idiom that says
"perception is reality" and in this case lots of people
perceive that Vista has problems... While I highly
regard what Leo and his cadre say, I don't think they
are even close to being typical computer users.
My personal advice: Avoid Vista. If you are currently
running XP, there is really no compelling reason to
upgrade, and potentially many pitfalls. Vista
LOOKS GREAT, but other than that... And from what
I can gather, the first service pack is little more than
a collection of existing hot fixes.
The Office Suite
What finally pushed me over the edge and gave me
the momentum to write this was the
latest Office Suite... Specifically Outlook 2007.
I'm using a dual processor Dell workstation with plenty of
RAM, Windows XP Pro, and a bottomless hard drive.
It may not be cutting edge, but it's a pretty stout
machine. It runs most every program very smoothly
The lone exception seems to be Outlook 2007. After
installing Outlook, the performance degradation was
immediately noticeable. When starting Outlook, my machine would more or less hang for up to a
minute while Outlook loaded. Then, it would hang
again, sometimes for a minute or two, while it checked
my POP accounts. I get a lot of email, so to stay
on top of it I have my Outlook configured to check my
POP email address every minute. Needless to say,
having my machine temporarily freeze up solid every
minute or so quickly became very irritating. Turns
out, I'm not alone in this problem. A quick
search turns up lots and lots of complaints about
Outlook 07. I did a few of the suggested tips and
tricks to try and ease the problem, and it did get a
little better (turning off the instant search feature
being a big one) but Outlook still performs like a pig
compared to its predecessor... And as far as I can tell
Outlook 2007 isn't fundamentally improved. There may
be some new anti-spam and anti-phishing filters, but
beyond that... In fact, I find the interfaces for
all of the new Office products to be very
I finally gave up on Outlook and went with
Thunderbird. I should have made the switch long
ago. There's a few quirks I am getting used to but
the performance improvement was immediate. I feel
like I got my old PC back. There is also an add-in for a calendar, which
was really the only compelling feature for Outlook as
far as I was concerned.
Now I'm starting to wonder if I should be
considering some of these open source programs that are
similar to Office. I used to think that was a
crack pot idea, but now it's looking better and better.
So what's going on?
I've never been to Redmond, so I don't know what
the corporate environment at Microsoft is like.
But here's what all of this feels like to me:
Microsoft has been losing touch with the "typical"
PC user. Vista seems to be designed for running on
computers that just a couple years ago were considered
very exotic. Lots and lots of RAM, huge hard
drives, hyper fast processors. I don't know about
you, but seems like most folks I know have a PC that's a
few years old... Perfectly good machines, but not muscle
bound monsters that the Microsoft engineers probably use
on a daily basis. In fact, Dell has made a killing
offering affordable, entry-level PCs for home use.
Microsoft's other core constituency are
businesses. Hardware in a business my get upgraded
more often than in a typical home, but I don't know of
many places that replace their PCs every other year,
much less every year.
Yet it seems like Microsoft is getting very good
at producing slick looking products that use gobs and
gobs of processor power and RAM, yet deliver few
productivity gains. Vista is very good for
managing music and video files, and that's great.
But personally, I don't need to be able to do a lot of
multi-media stuff. I just need my computer to work
cleanly and fast, and it seems like Microsoft is not
delivering that to me anymore.
I wonder if they are testing any of their software
in the real world anymore. Or is it all being done
in some lab somewhere?
And it's not just in IE, or Vista, or Office... I
still use Windows Live Messenger, and it huffs and puffs
when it starts up... And that used to be such a nice
lightweight little program. Windows Live Mail
seems to be the same way... Lots of huffing and puffing.
Looks nice but it's slow.
What to do
Keep this in mind: I'm not one of these Apple
aficionados who claims that everything on a PC is evil.
I used to be a die hard Mac user, and they are great
machines. But in my line of business, most of my
clients are on PCs, and there are still enough
incompatibilities out there to make a Mac less than
practical, at least for me right now.
And don't get me started on Linux desktops like
Ubuntu. I've tried to use it... It looks visually
appealing but I can't figure out how to use it. If
I can't figure it out, that means lots of other folks
can't either, which means it's pretty much useless.
I think the PC is still a remarkable platform with
plenty of potential. When I think about what I can
do now versus what I could do just ten years ago, it
makes my head spin. But I find it very worrisome
that Microsoft seems to be developing software farther
and farther beyond my means to use it.
But for the first time in years, I am thinking
about an Apple. And for the first time in years I
am telling others to think about them too. I don't
like the direction things are going at Microsoft, and if
trends continue and Apple continues to gain traction,
perhaps the incompatibility issue will fall away.
I don't know.