Why Microsoft Will Fail

Sep 21, 2007  |  Michael Wurzer

Greg Swann has been writing about his frustrations with monopoly software vendors, and now it’s my turn. A few months ago, I purchased a new x61 tablet PC from Lenovo. When I purchased it, I had no choice but to order Vista Business with it. From the moment I booted the tablet, I’ve had nothing but problems. Despite having 2 GB of RAM and the latest dual-core ULV processor from Intel, the thing has been nothing but a dog. Worse, it’s a dog that barfs on my shoes about once a day, and then stares back it me with this really big blue eye.

In July, we had our annual client Summit and I was about to present to 80 people when I slipped in a USB drive to play a video for them only to watch in horror as Vista froze and failed to re-boot. The thing was toast. We had to get another laptop for the presentation, and I went through the rest of the Summit without a laptop. Only after it was all over was I able to spend time to recover it. Of course, these days no one ships disks with the computers you buy and so I had to figure out how to recover it without a disk, because I certainly wasn’t smart enough to burn the ever-necessary recovery disk.

Since then, I’ve struggled and limped along, basically enduring the agony because I don’t have six or eight hours to rebuild the OS or whatever it will take. This afternoon, however, I thought I saw the light. One of my co-workers knew of my woes and sent me a link from CNET indicating that Lenovo was providing a “downgrade” option for those frustrated with Vista. I was psyched by this, because it seemed far easier than trying to get Vista to work.

So, I called Lenovo and asked them to ship me the downgrade:

“Sure,” they said, “can we have your credit card number?”

“For what?”, I responded.

“Sir, the downgrade costs $45.”

First, silence, then, with Greg’s blog posts rolling around in my head, I muttered, “that’s morally objectionable.”

(Actually, I was thinking, why didn’t I buy a Mac? Oh, yeah, Apple doesn’t have a tablet.)

“Seriously, you want me to pay to fix your problem? I bought the extra warranty already, doesn’t that get me something?”

“No, the downgrade costs $45. What’s your credit card number?”

“I’m not giving you one, please transfer me to your supervisor.”

“There’s nothing he can do for you either, sir, is there anything else I can do for you today to make you happy?”

“Sure, send me the XP disks.”

“Can I have your credit card number?”

“No, transfer me to your supervisor.”

Around and around this went, with me finally getting to a supervisor, only to hit the same brick wall. I finally said, “Look, I’ll pay the $45 but first I want you to say that Microsoft and Lenovo suck and charging me the $45 is illegal and morally objectionable.”

“Sir, I can say that Vista has issues but I can’t say the rest.”

I said, “Sure you can, just do it and we can end this call.”

He responded, “If you pay me a million dollars, I’ll say it, but not for $45.”

“I knew this was all about money. Alright, here’s my credit card . . . I hope AMEX doesn’t question this million dollar charge.”

If Microsoft was not a monopoly, they’d be apologizing every day for the piece of crap they unleashed in Vista on the world. Instead, they blithely believe it is okay to charge people to downgrade. This hubris will be their downfall.

Update: For proof that Microsoft is not alone in its hubris, check out Phil Hoover’s post on his experience with the iPhone.

15 Responses to “Why Microsoft Will Fail”

  1. Greg Swann says:

    Utterly priceless. Thank you for that.

  2. Kevin Boer says:

    I’ve been running my Lenovo X41 Tablet Laptop with XP HARD (and I mean HARD) for 2+ years now, and it’s a beauty of a machine. XP ain’t the greatest OS either — with all the programs I have running, a cold re-boot takes fully 10 minutes — but when it’s up, it runs fairly well. Sorry you’ve had to spend an additional $45, but at least now you’ll have a working machine.

    I’m trying to imagine a comparable conversation with a new home builder:

    Customer: “I really don’t want this 6-burner Viking Range stove. I’d prefer the older 4-burner model.”

    Builder: “Not a problem. What’s your credit card number?”

    Customer: “My credit card number? Why do you need that?”

    Builder: “Downgrading to the 4-burner model costs $1500.”

  3. Robbie says:

    Sorry to hear your experience has been so painful. My Vista experience improved markedly over the last few months since nVidia finally released stable Vista drivers (which has had well known issues.) Also the flood of patches from MS has improved things as well.

    The problem with the Windows eco-system (and Linux world shares this problem to a lesser extent), is that it supports thousands of hardware devices. To maintain that support across versions, it requires the support of hardware vendors to update their drivers when new a major new OS is released. Some hardware vendors are good at this, and some aren’t. Unfortunately, Microsoft released Vista before it’s hardware partners had mature enough driver support for it. On the plus side, things are getting better.

    Of course, Apple doesn’t have this problem, but it’s hardware choices have been more limited and/or more expensive than Win/Lin equivalents. Apple has also played musical CPUs during past 20 years 680×0 – PowerPC – X86 which has also hurt it’s backwards compatability story. So far, the market has favored the approach that MS & Linux has taken (separation of software & hardware), but that approach has it’s down sides…

  4. Kevin: To make the analogy closer, the 6-burner would have only two working burners, and then the builder would want to charge to get the four-burner.

    Robbie: I kept praying that one of the many updates would help. Nothing. There’s no excuse Microsoft can or should make; they should either fix the problems faster (it’s been months) or they should refund the cost of the OS to those of us who have endured the pain. What other business works this way, where you can release a completely flawed product and then charge to fix it? Seriously. Do you know of any?

  5. Matt Cohen says:

    Worse yet, Vista was supposed to be a rewrite – a secure rewrite at that, which should have resulted in two obvious things:

    1. They should have been able to pare Vista down during the rewrite so that it ran faster on less hardware than previous versions of Windows – which it does NOT! Imagine what we could do with our technology if Microsoft had not been gobbling up every resource made available via Moore’s law over the past couple of decades…

    2. Vista should not be needing the types of security patches that it has. Also, note that it is difficult to centrally manage Vista security from a network/system/domain administrator point of view.

    I advise all clients to stay far, far away from Vista – at least for the time being.

  6. Apella says:

    Thank you for the post! And to think that I was all alone in my wanting to buy something with the old XP. Sure if it was only that easy. This Vista thing must end and it starts with me and my dollar buying something… anything that does not have it! Keep up the Great Work, I’ll be reading!

  7. There are several realities to your Vista problem:

    1. Vista was 3/4 baked when it was released. This was due to Software Assurance and investor pressure. Let’s not forget that the whole project was scrapped and rewritten after already having been in development for 2+ years.
    2. Backwards compatibility is killing Microsoft. Because of the value of their megacorp customer base, Microsoft is largely beholden to maintaining every little backward compatibility quirk in Windows, so that Boeing can run their desktop COBOL app written in 1987. This, in my opinion, is the #1 reason that Macs are generally so much more stable than Windows — they regularly rewrite, break compatibility, and force everyone to upgrade their entire software platform (apps and all). Microsoft basically can’t (or genuinely won’t) because of the riots that would ensue.
    3. Vista hardware driver stack. Making things more secure and available to Trusted Platform Modules and an encrypted file system has created several new bottlenecks in how the OS accesses the underlying hardware. Compared to the heady days ’98 when software could directly address IRQs and buses, a lot of hardware’s success hinges on a pristine path through the OS. Of course, Vista was a moving target for hardware vendors, too, and one that MS’ OEM licensing agreements didn’t allow for a lot of leeway. Microsoft has *refused* to allow OEMs to license XP after next month (extended from June). Fast, sloppy, untested code is the result. Ask nVidia.
    4. Windows Permissions. Hi, everything you’ve done to date regarding hardware support software has to be thrown away because now users aren’t Admins of their own machines. You have 12 months to test this against our ever-changing public builds. Enjoy!

    All that being said, it certainly doesn’t help things that you’re buying hardware from a company (Lenovo) that hasn’t made tablets before. Or laptops, for that matter. Lenovo started moving these devices to in-house manufacturing early this year, after the long-standing contract with Quantum (who also produces HP, Toshiba, and Dell equipment) expired. They have absolutely zero prior experience producing compact-form-factor devices, so you’re paying for their learning curve. It’s also why the reviews for “IBM” portables (which used to set the standard) have gone from 5- to 3-stars.


  8. Matt L.: Good explanations. You might enjoy an apologist party with Robbie. Just don’t invite me. 😉 MS must have known Vista was crap and chose to release it live anyway, and then forced OEMs to take it over their objections. That’s behavior only a monopolist would dare.

    P.S. You seem to have been MIA the last month or so, not making Boston, etc. I hope all is well and you’ve just been busy with work.

  9. Actually, I re-read your comment and you don’t seem to be apologizing much for MS. Sorry.

  10. Steve Belt says:

    I have no doubt that Microsoft will not fail. The plight of Vista is very similar to XP when it was released. Savvy business owners, of which you should include yourself, were slow to move to XP, and for good reason. The first release was not ready for prime time.

    In the meantime, let someone else be the guinea pig. There are many, many things you should never buy the first year/release of: cars, operating systems, iPhones, etc.

  11. Here’s the problem with the “wait” theory: MS put every bit of pressure they could on manufacturers to only offer Vista. When I ordered my x61, I was offered no choice.

    I was being a bit over the top when I wrote the title of the post, because, as you state, it will take a lot for MS to fail given their huge market share. But, things are vastly different today than when XP came out, with many other options. I use no Microsoft products other than their OS, and I only use that because of the tablet functionality. Many people today are living nearly web only computing lives and they don’t care about the OS, only the browser. I think MS is now bruised and even a bit bloodied and if they don’t get Vista fixed soon, their reputation may become permanently damaged enough to cause market share loss.

  12. Tony says:

    Although I spent all of my time in Windows division on one of the big name product teams when I worked at Microsoft, I actually can empathize with your plight. It’s a big reason why I left.

    To Matt: It isn’t Backwards compatibility that is killing Microsoft – it’s the release of major versions that are perceived (in many cases rightfully and as minor upgrades. Of course, the new versions never start out that way – the most interesting new features seem to be gutted after the dozens of reviews at all levels. The lifecycle policy failed to exclude certain versions of apps that had been viewed as interim releases (IE5.5 for instance was released as a major IE version despite only having print preview as new functionality along with some additional small changes).

    Toss in the fact that product teams have historically been almost completely isolated from customers (although blogging has helped to some degree, it still does not always translate into the correct bug fixing decisions). For instance, as of when I left, there was almost no usable visibility for product teams into the Compass database used by Product Support Services when customers call in with issues. We only received a very high level top 10 issues report rather than the capability to drill down into useful data.

    Just to really get you thinking, if you believe that Vista is a big disaster, just wait until the server and client code bases are merged….

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