Learning to Hate Microsoft All Over Again

I hate Microsoft.

 

There, I said it.  It kind of feels good to do so.

 

The thing is, I don’t want to.  I like WIndows 10 as a desktop operating system.  I like the interface on Windows 10 Phone and think it’s much better than anything Android and iOS have to offer.  The email and calendar apps were great.  Cortana is actually a pretty cool digital assistant that I think actually works better than Google Now or Siri.  That just isn’t enough though.

 

I’m a Microsoft hater from way back.  One of those people that resisted every attempt at progress.  DOS was good enough for what you needed a computer to do, all that Windows crap just wasted resources and got in the way.   It was only there so people too stupid to use a computer could point and click without having to learn anything.  I jumped to Linux early on and was smugly superior in my choice.

 

And I still defend that.  Well, I defend the argument that Linux was technically superior to Windows.  I can’t completely defend my arguments against the GUI and such.  I really wouldn’t be happy having to live my life completely in the command line these days.  I also now realize that blindly resisting any change is ridiculous and that people shouldn’t have to be computer experts to use a computer.  It’s kind of like saying that I still wish we were driving around in Model T’s, or that if you can’t rebuild an engine you have no business driving a car.   But most people never really understood just how difficult it was to get a Windows system up and running and keep it running.  Windows was horribly unreliable.  Installing new hardware was a nightmare, updates were often painful.  And licensing was a confusing crapshoot.  Those were the days when configuring Config.sys and Autoexec.bat were an esoteric art that only complete nerds could grok.  But those nerds were necessary, because no normal person could make that crap work.  So Linux, while also difficult, was more stable, was technically free (though I paid for the convenience of buying physical disks back in the day before broadband) and you didn’t have to worry about if you were running a legal copy of it.  

 

Things changed though.  And about the time that Windows XP hit SP2, I had to admit that the WIndows Desktop was as stable as my Linux systems and a lot easier to use.  It still had it’s issues, but my objections to Windows was becoming more philosophical and less technical.  This trend continued.  I actually thought that Vista was a step in the right direction.  It did a lot to improve hardware management and security, though it also annoyed a lot of people.  When Windows 7 came out, I actually became a fan of Microsoft.  Here was an operating system that just worked, and worked well.  It was stable, had an attractive and usable UI, and was easy to install and manage.   Windows 7 became my preferred operating system and I quit using Linux as desktop OS.  Even though I still had reservations about Microsoft, especially their licensing practices, the ease and convenience of using Windows 7 won me over.

 

Then came Windows 8.  I didn’t hate this the way most people did.  I did however get the feeling that they were basically saying desktop computing was dead and optimizing everything for a tablet interface.  Even so, it was a stable system and you could bypass all the Metro UI stuff and use it just like Windows 7.  They really started to integrate things with the cloud, and pushed people to use a Microsoft Account so you could sync things between different systems.  Lots of people objected to that, feeling that it was an invasion of privacy.  I wasn’t as worried about it.  The world was moving that direction and there are so many advantages to using cloud synced services.  I like being able to access my data from any device, and the better that integrates with the operating system, the easier it makes my digital life.  And unlike Google, Microsoft does not make its primary revenue from selling ads, so it may actually be safer to trust them with your personal data.  Windows 8 Mobile brought a new and awesome interface to phones and tablets as well.  There were many promises of universal apps, programs that would work seamlessly across desktop and mobile devices.   It was a bold vision of digital convergence and I was on board.  

 

It never really materialized though.  Microsoft kept the lid on things so tightly that they didn’t even give most of their developer partners early access to the OS to be able to have any decent applications ready at launch. There was a long list of planned apps.  That wasn’t a big deal to me on the desktop, but it crippled the phone and tablet market.  There was misstep after misstep with Microsoft changing directions and switching development platforms.  This just ended up alienating a lot of developers which meant that quality apps were not getting made for their ecosystem.  And they really made a mess out of the idea of seamlessly moving between devices and systems as well.  They offered Microsoft Accounts with custom domains, then dropped support for that.  Signing up for services became a mess because if you had purchased consumer products with your Microsoft Account, you couldn’t then use it for business services. Trying to manage and merge services across different accounts was a maze of problems and failures.


 

With Windows 10, it looked like a lot of the mistakes that they made with Windows 8 were going to get fixed.  The UI was revamped so that it was sensible on the Desktop.  And really, it’s a pretty great interface.  I like it.  It is stable and performs well.  In another move that I mostly support but which has proved very unpopular, they got a lot more heavy handed with updates.  Updates occasionally do cause problems, but more often, they fix them.  In the connected world of constant security threats, it just doesn’t make sense not to keep up to date with patches. And to defend Microsoft for a moment, they’ve not done a bad job of QA and testing of their patches.  It’s a Herculean task to test updates with so many different configurations and everyone on different versions, sps, and patch levels.  I’m amazed it works at all.  Microsoft would like to get everyone to be pretty much on the same level. It would simplify things and probably increase stability and reliability a lot. But, that’s a whole other discussion.

 

I really had some high hopes that with the new leadership that this time they would get things right.  But they didn’t. Same as before the Universal Windows App platform really hasn’t materialized.  There are a few things out there, but not much.  The Windows Phone platform lags far behind Android and iOS.  If this were just an issue of quantity, that might be forgivable.  But it is also in quality.  WIth so many major apps either missing or hopelessly crippled and unstable, it’s hard to make the argument for Windows Phone despite the superior interface.   And to make matters worse, Microsoft doesn’t even support their own ecosystem. We saw this with things like B&N, that despite a $300 Million investment from Microsoft, never produced a mobile app for Windows.  Microsoft itself though is releasing it’s own apps for Office, SharePoint, Outlook etc first on Android and iOS, quite often months ahead of when they release them for Windows Phone. Apps like Microsoft Health broke support for their newest Band hardware.  And just months after marketing new flagship Lumia models, they stated that mobile wasn’t really their focus, so all of you folks that just paid $700 for our new flagship product, well, sucks to be you.

 

Of course mobile is just one part of the failure. Microsoft is trying to recreate itself as an online services company.  They are pushing their Office365 products heavily.  This is an online suite of services you subscribe to and get access to online storage and office applications for collaboration and sharing.  There are a couple of issues I have with this.  One is that this is moving towards everything being a “service” rather than a product.  I have mixed feelings about.  I’m not completely against the software as a service idea.  I’m not opposed to paying for software and services.  I understand it costs money to develop and deliver this stuff, and I’m willing to pay for good quality products and services that meet my needs.  And that is where it breaks down.  The service is not of good quality.  I have found it completely unreliable.  I have been locked out of editing my own files because they were being edited by another user, even though I was the only user on my subscription and had only accessed them from a single computer.  I’ve also had two different Office365 accounts with custom domains get blacklisted by Microsoft so I couldn’t send email to other Microsoft addresses.   This is Microsoft blacklisting their own mail servers, based on no reason I could see.  At work, the same service has resulted in multiple problems with collaborative editing of documents.  Years have passed with Microsoft failing to deliver on its promises to deliver a reliable sync client to its business customers.  Deadline after deadline has been missed.  If Microsoft was truly innovative and pushing the boundaries of what was possible, I might be more forgiving.  But they aren’t.  Other companies such as Google, Dropbox, Box, SpiderOak, have delivered many of these features for years, and generally in a manner which functions much better than what Microsoft is offering.

 

And now that the services are cloud based you really have no control over when things get updated or how.  As I’ve said earlier, I’m all for keeping things updated.  But a lot of this isn’t just fixing bugs or patching security holes.  Microsoft seems intent on just randomly changing the user interface in seeming random ways.  What I see today may not be what I see tomorrow, or even what my coworker will see.  And don’t become reliant on any particular feature, because it might just go away with little to no notice.  It really feels like anytime a genuinely useful feature sees a  lot of use, Microsoft will inexplicably kill it.  If I was of a more conspiratorial mindset, I’d almost think they were giving us a taste of useful features, then killing them off to drive us to purchasing products from their partners which they must profit from in some way.  And quality issues aside, that is perhaps my biggest issue with the whole software as a service model they are pushing. It no longer feels like any of this is for the benefit of the user. It feels as if everything is orchestrated to extract more and more money and information from us.  Windows 10 promotes apps in it’s menus, trying to drive you to buy things from the Microsoft Store.  It actually will show ads in the lock screen if you don’t turn off some settings.  There are built in identifiers to allow advertisers to track your browsing habits and activity.  Calls to tech support for enterprise level products often end up with them recommending us purchasing 3rd party products to overcome shortcomings of the system.

 

An operating system should be a platform to support the tools and applications I want/need my computer to run.  Not a channel for a company to extract money from me.  My use of an operating system should not be monetized.  Once again, I’d willing pay for my OS.  I always have.  I’ve spent a lot of money buying Windows licenses for all my systems.  It is inexcusable to use my purchases to push marketing to me and to steal my data.  I should have control over what services run on my computer, and a reasonable expectation that features and services won’t just go away or change based on someone else’s whim.  

 

Microsoft is a huge company.  It has deep ties into a lot of enterprises, and it knows how to market to executives.  It will continue to slog along as it always has because it can afford to fail until it gets it right, or more likely, until companies have invested so much into the Microsoft ecosystem that they think they have no other option but to continue down that road.  I for one and tired of the repeated failures, the inability to deliver what they promise, the lack of support for their own products, and the constant forcing of customers down paths they may not want to go.   Microsoft has been in a position for really revolutionize things. They could have focused on delivering a consistent, high quality, cloud connected experience that would span devices and environments.  Instead they introduced a hodge-podge of  of products and services that are often incompatible with themselves.   Microsoft pushes the use of its Edge browser, telling you that you should use it and not IE.  But if you use Office365, which Microsoft also heavily promotes, there are a bunch of features in their that aren’t supported in Edge, requiring the use of IE.  If you were dumb enough to purchase an Office subscription tied to your Microsoft account and now want to purchase an Office365 account, guess what, you can’t use the same ID without losing your previous subscription.  Oh, and if you were fine with the consumer level Office subscription but would like to pay even more to have the privilege of not seeing ads in your outlook, too bad.  You can have one or the other, not both for some inexplicable reason.  And let’s not forget the offer of unlimited OneDrive storage.  That is, until people actually started using it.  Then Microsoft turned around and took that all away, including bonus storage people got for paid subscriptions or buying those ultra-expensive paper weights known as Windows Phones.   Do you see the pattern here?

 

I can’t escape from this mess.   My primary role at work has moved towards supporting this sprawling disaster of a product ecosystem. I like where I work, and am not yet ready to look elsewhere, so for the time being I’m going to have to roll around in the dirt and pretend I like it. However,  personal computers have been switched to Linux.  I’ve canceled my subscriptions to Office365 and Skype. I use an Android phone and refuse to install any Microsoft apps on it.  I’ve had enough and will no longer personally deal with Microsoft.  For the first time in nearly a decade, I’m once again running Linux as my primary OS, and it’s great.  Besides a couple of games, I haven’t found anything that I can’t do on Linux.  And by do on Linux, I mean install a program and start using it.  This isn’t like 10 years ago when I spent my evenings and weekends fighting to configure things to work almost as well as they did under Windows.  This is actually productively using my computer with a minimum of effort.  Linux has come a long way, and while it isn’t perfect, it offers a far more stable, trustworthy, and affordable environment than anything Microsoft is putting out there.