The Madness of Microsoft

October 9, 2013

Update: I wrote this article exactly a year ago, and now MS have revealed that the next OS after Windows 8 will be… Windows 10. the madness continues.

Microsoft (MS) are having a tough time of it at the moment. They built their empire on the back of the dominance of the desktop and laptop computer, but those forms of personal computing are being overtaken by tablets, phones, and the World Wide Web. Microsoft’s response to this has been confused and uncertain, and suggests a company unable to stop a slow decline into obsolescence.

MS have often been accused of monopolistic practices, and they don’t take kindly to upstart competitors. And while it’s certain that Microsoft at the top of their game for the best part of a decade, the current mobile revolution has not been met by the company with innovation or humility.

1) The Partnership with Nokia

This was one of the early signs of the madness. MS hadn’t yet managed to respond to the mobile phone revolution instigated by the iPhone and Android. Windows Phone had been at the Palm-Blackberry level for years, and version 6 was little-used outside the corporate sphere. Windows Phone 7 had tried to change all this, introducing a brand new touch-centric interface and ‘live’ tiles. Nokia was another company which had once been the Goliath of its industry, but was now getting left behind by Apple and Google. The software on its own handsets – Symbian – was looking old and creaky, and the CEO even likened his own company to a ‘burning platform‘, from which the only choice was to jump.

And so, in 2011, these two failing companies joined forces, hoping to out-do the winning opposition by embracing another losing team. As the excellent site The Daily Mash put it, phones no-one was using now ran an operating system no-one liked. Windows Phone 8 still runs on all of Nokia’s phones, and still no one really uses it.

2) Buying Nokia

With the partnership having failed to save Nokia or Microsoft’s fortunes, and with Nokia really struggling, MS decided that the only sensible idea was to buy Nokia’s phone business. There’s a thing called the Sunk Cost Fallacy, which no one at Microsoft has heard of.

3) Windows 8

A major symptom of Microsoft’s malaise, as we’ve just seen, is the insistence on carrying on with stupid decisions. Whether this is through bloody-mindedness, or a vain hope that eventually consumers will give in and buy into its One Microsoft ‘ecosystem’, is open to question.

Windows 8 has been the cool thing to hate since it came out. There’s no Start button, it has two interfaces (which can never be the right idea) – it won’t satisfy keyboard users or screen prodding finger users. It was a bold move, and Microsoft should be applauded for trying something as daring as this. They also debuted the Surface and Surface Pro, which ran Windows RT and Windows 8 respectively. But no one knew what the differences between the two versions of Windows were (and they’re important), and the Surface was as much of a trade-off between keyboard and touch as Windows 8 was. Sales did not impress.

And now Windows 8.1 looms on the horizon, and Microsoft is promising ‘many more Surface tablets‘. One of the biggest beefs with Win 8.1 is the fact that the‘re-instated’ Start button is nothing of the sort. It puts a few essential functions (such as ‘switch off’) back in a place that’s sort-of handy, but a left click simply brings up the much-maligned Live Tiles screen. Although we can boot our computers to the desktop now, if we want, we’re not escaping the writhing mass of distracting information that is the ‘Modern’ interface completely.

So two Microsoft technologies, which are essential to Microsoft’s future (but not ours) will be repeatedly foisted upon users, and the nature of the Windows monopoly means all new PCs will have it.

4) “We’re the worst because we want to be”

Microsoft’s own anti-virus software, Security Essentials, drew the ire of the internet security industry because it risked stealing market share from their paid-for products. This complaint only got worse when it was bundled with the much-loved (ahem) Windows 8. But at the same time a damning report by PC Pro’s publishers showed that it was the worst of the bunch. I myself stopped recommending it, and switched to Avast.

But now we hear from Microsoft that this is exactly what they want! They’reapparently a ‘baseline’ – a last line of defence if users have no other anti-virus software installed. Information collected by Security Essentials can also be shared with competitors, thus improving those other products, and making sure they at least also come up to MS’s ‘baseline’.

So Security Essentials is no good as security software? Oh no, says MS. It can stand on its own just fine. So we can use it on its own? Oh no, you should have some other stuff too. So it’s no good on its own? Oh no, it’s fine alone. And so on, and so forth…

Madness, immaturity, or childishness?

Microsoft soared in the 1990s and 2000s when it was the only game in town. When you needed a computer, you used Windows, and users came to equate Windows with computers. The situation didn’t change until relatively recently.

Broadband emerged, then smart phones, then tablets. Linux hung around in the shadows, powering online-only equivalents of those things which had helped Microsoft become the billion dollar behemoth it was. Now there were perfectly acceptable, accessible and often free equivalents for Outlook, Internet Explorer, Office and more. And then people began using their computers simply for online activity. All 80% of people need these days is a tablet and a sofa, and Microsoft don’t make either of these, or at least not good ones.

And yet their response has been confused, sulky, and much-criticised. They’ve made friends with their enemies’ enemies, refused to listen to their customers, and failed to out-innovate on their rivals’ turfs.

I’m increasingly finding that Microsoft are irrelevant to my computing needs. Even if I have their software installed, it’s hardly essential to my work. How long before the rest of the world comes to realise this too?