August 16, 2016
In working with my past writings, I was both awed and a little embarrassed by just how much of it was time specific. In response, I wanted to come up with better topics on which to spend my insignificant amount of writing time. However, I came across a couple posts that I never finished that were more timeless; it helps that the pieces were about company’s that don’t like to change, like Microsoft.
Today, I wrote a tweet that summed up my feelings on Microsoft only as good as 140 characters can, predicated on their unwillingness to change. In short, while the world moves toward the sentiment that everything can be considered a computer, Microsoft continues to peddle its wares on the assumption that the only thing we should be calling a computer is a device running Windows.1
What Microsoft doesn’t seem to want to come to grips with is just how bad they are at stewarding their own OS, with sputtering starts and stops that have become the default view from technologists and informed the approach to support in the technology support field. Largely, tech support people believe that skipping a release of Windows at this point is normal. Windows 7 and Windows XP were replaced by versions that were generally seen as inferior with Microsoft changing something, even trying something new, only to back out at the last moment.
On Windows 8:
Windows 8 was a bold attempt to fix this, and to throw out much of that accumulated debris. And, surprisingly, it has worked to a pretty respectable degree. Windows 8, particularly when running Metro apps, is an operating systems that is much simpler than any other desktop OS. And Windows 8, unlike iOS, has managed to achieve this without losing much, if any, of the power of a traditional desktop operating system.
Admittedly, when in the don’t-call-it-Metro interface, Windows 8 was an enjoyable computing experience, especially when used with a touchscreen. Of course, it was still saddled with the baggage that Microsoft will seemingly never be able to remove: the rest of the Windows OS. I have nothing against desktop operating systems and I have yet to go iPad only, though I probably could for the majority of my work. My issue comes with Microsoft’s lack of backbone, its inability to change due to the vocal few who will complain no matter what the company changes and/or due to an institutional distaste for change.
On unwillingness to change:
A company that plays this game for too long becomes set in their ways, and any chance of real change simply becomes impossible. Microsoft is there, and has been for a long long time. Their product lines have stagnated, creating customer lock in is prioritized over creating customer value, and the supply chain is controlled by an iron fisted monopoly. Any attempt at innovation with a Windows PC has been shut out for over a decade, woe betide anyone who tried to buck that trend. The history books are littered with the corpses of companies that tried to change the ‘Windows experience’.
Put these thoughts into the context of a company currently circulating ads that make fun of the iPad for not being a “real” computer comes in laughably sharp contrast to Microsoft’s history of unwillingness to even change the branding of their OS to accommodate new styles of computing. The ad’s title is “What’s a computer? Just ask Cortana.” And I have to assume that Microsoft is not asking rhetorically.
UPDATE: The interesting thing about writing up an article that references other pieces from years ago is the fact that the information may be wrong or obsolete. In this instance, I don’t think that is true, but TechCrunch put up an article regarding Microsoft’s open sourcing of PowerShell. I wouldn’t normally post about such things because it has no bearing on me or my work, but one of the themes of the article was how Microsoft is changing.
PowerShell is Microsoft’s command line shell for Windows power users, as well as an extensible scripting language for automating system tasks. It’s not unlike Bash on Linux (and now Windows, too), but with deeper hooks into Windows. Microsoft is changing, though, and as its CEO Satya Nadella is prone to repeating, it’s aware that it now operates in a “multi-platform, multi-cloud, multi-OS world.” That means the company is now regularly doing things that would’ve been inconceivable only a few years ago. Building a Linux sub-system into Windows 10 and open sourcing some of its core tools? That’s now par for the course.
I wouldn’t go so far as to call this a sudden ability for systemic change, however, so much as a realization that you are losing and need to go to where the users are, a last gasp for air when submerged after a lifetime of smoking. And a notable time for the rest of us to say “Finally!” if anyone cares enough.
Oddly enough, they have changed their angle somewhat on what should be considered Windows, as they have versions of the OS for mobile devices of all sorts, no matter how unpopular those devices may be.↩