Microsoft responds

My post the other day has resulted in a response from a David McGhee, an employee of Microsoft Australia, in which he makes several points about my conversion to the status of "Apple FanBoy". In it, he clearly reveals his own Microsoftie Fanboyism as he makes statements which go the whole point I was making about the Apple experience:

"A new machine always runs faster than one that has been running for a while… fresh, it can be without bloat-ware, over-installations and configuration".

I cringed when I read this, because it is only Windows that exhibits this kind of behaviour. It doesn't happen on Linux, nor on OS X. It certainly doesn't happen on any of the thousands of high end servers and mainframes we run at the bank. Only Windows. And going to my point about engineering for rudeness, since when did actually using a computer (over-installation and over-configuration, in David's typology) mean that it should stop working? If that's not engineered for rudeness, I don't really know what it is. Unless its engineered incompetence. I prefer the former, since I worked at Microsoft earlier in my career, and I know that Microsofties are almost all very smart people.

He then proceeds to say this:

"…if you have been around technology for a while you will appreciate how Microsoft has commoditised and taken the user experience, devices and network beyond the black screen, the mainframe and point to point.  And at the same time software is now more accessible, cheaper and better than when it was a mass of small disconnected applications"

Firstly, I wouldn't really credit Microsoft with taking the user experience beyond the black screen and the mainframe. I think that honour goes initially, to Xerox and then, um, Apple. But whether that point is conceded or not, I can't argue with the fact that Microsoft has, in fact, made software more accessible and cheaper. It may even be better than before. Microsoft has changed the world, and for the most part, the changes have been good.

The thing about the "mass of small disconnected applications" is that engineering for politeness in the base operating system is one way of making sure that, overall, we as users get a decent experience. On iPhone, for example, what you have is a mass of small, disconnected applications, and I suspect the success of AppStore has proved that a decent user experience is the result when you make the operating system polite.

But the final argument from David is really the one that really drills home the point for me:

"No-one designs software to be rude… but old software can be frustrating…. My suggestion [for frustration] is to keep current".

As a current Vista users, a current XP user, an evaluator of Windows 7, an ex-user of Windows Mobile, and lots of other Microsoft products besides, I've got to tell you David, that just having your latest stuff does not fix the underlying problem of engineered rudeness.

Engineered rudeness is a cultural problem at Microsoft. It's the result of a feature-centricity, and needing to shove more code into the tin in every release to justify upgrades. It's about what Robert Scoble calls a "strategy tax" – the engineered dependence between multiple products (whether that makes sense or not) so that your company can expand its share in aligned markets.

Ultimately, it is the result of focusing first on what can be sold, rather than what we might like to buy.

The reason I'm a convert to Apple is they do exactly the opposite.

7 Responses to“Microsoft responds”

  1. July 23, 2009 at 12:19 pm #

    I’m reminded of a documentary I saw on user interface design of the Boeing 777 vs. the Airbus ???. Both design teams were trying to come up with a user interface that would help prevent pilots flying planes into mountains.
    The Airbus approach was to ensure that the pilot had a seamless experience, with the data they need right at their finger tips. A significant amount of time was spent on how to visualize terrain (the stuff you don’t want to hit) so that the pilot could easily understand the implications of their current course.
    The Boeing approach was to determine what situations resulted in “powered flight into terrain”, and to find ways to detect when it was happening (altitude, yaw, …). Human factors was a question of which lights to flash, sticks to vibrate, and annoying announcements to make, to prompt the pilot to change their cause of action.
    Very different philosophies in resolving the same problem.
    I know which I prefer and it’s not Microsoft, sorry Boeing.

  2. July 23, 2009 at 12:26 pm #

    Found it:
    Why Planes Fail

  3. Samantha
    July 23, 2009 at 12:30 pm #

    LOL. Poor David. He hasn’t a clue what he has gotten himself into when responding to you!
    As we both intimately know, upgrading to become current is a well worn phrase beaten into the MSofties. This will solve ALL of your problems. You eventually start believing it yourself!
    You don’t understand how wrong this is until you actually run away and join a customer. Then you learn that being current has nothing to do with making the MS software work well 🙂
    But don’t be too harsh on David – he has yet to learn the truth as he is still trapped in the mothership!

  4. July 24, 2009 at 1:52 am #

    Love the comments and discussion. James posts are always well written with thought and importantly passion.
    James you may remember we briefly met at Amplify 😉
    For clarity my comments were meant as a commentry on technology as a whole. As an experience I would be interested in James experience down the line. Keeping current
    Im very priviledged in that I enjoy tackling technical problems. It is important to view things from the every day user. In that sense friction, and the lack of it, is important.
    Frustrating experiences I dare say, is not limited to one platform or product.
    Reading various twitters yesterday for example, various friends with iPhones did not have the same seemless experience as James. Reconnecting a new phone scrambled the UI.

  5. July 24, 2009 at 10:56 am #

    I completely echo your view on this one, James. And it is annoying.
    But maybe its Microsoft who has failed to “upgrade to become current”. So what do I mean?
    Go back to the early days. Users knew little and needed to be hand-held. But now, we’re generally a lot more savvy and the old hand-holding and “are you sure you want to do that”, granny state attitudes are inappropriate, intrusive and maybe a bit too condescending.
    Could it be that Apple, the Open Source community and others simply respect us and treat us like adults while Microsoft still treats us like kids?
    After all wasn’t this the greatest criticism leveled at Vista?

  6. Chris Skinner
    July 24, 2009 at 2:05 pm #

    Is 2007 the year Microsoft committed suicide?

  7. Spencer Day
    July 25, 2009 at 5:25 am #

    When I forwarded this post to my nephew (a Microsoft MVP developer, VSLive conference stars, and one of the many MS ‘architect evangelists’), he kind of flipped. His main point was that the ‘market has spoken, and MS won’ based on market share. So, when I happened upon a Seeking Alpha article on this very topic, I sent it off to him and here it is for the Bankervision crowd:
    The only Apple product I own is an iPod, which has in fact changed my life. It contains every CD that our entire family owns, and it still is only 45% full (80 Gb classic). We have put away all the CDs – there’s no reason to keep them around. Even our Prius can consume either iPod link or MP3 discs. Now I await a good time and reason to get an iPhone… while at work (a very large US bank) there are no Apple products at all, and I struggle with my XP laptop daily (now it will not even operate unless it is attached to a docking station). The more it is configured, the worse it gets. This blog thread therefore resonated with me, a lot!

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