Things I respect about MSFT
Spending a year and a half working at a large corporation and making friends with some MSFT people in LA has earned me some respect for the old Borg since my idealistic college years. In light of making a Microsoft evangelist sad that I was unhappy that they’re buying Skype (which I’ll discuss in another post) I would like to get a few closeted praises of Microsoft off my chest so that the world may not see me as some mindless Apple device buying drone:
They make great technologies
While it might be hard to notice behind the abysmal user experiences they manage to get out the door (wow, these are going to really come off as back handed compliments) Microsoft makes great technologies. This makes sense, given that they hire only the brainiest of the brainiest. As a result, they’ve developed some clever technologies. Snapdragon comes to mind right off the bat. It was an incredible technology which enabled you to pan and zoom incredibly huge images (like, for instance, satellite imagery of the earth) in real time. They made an app for it once for iPhone but it’s disappeared. Sad.
Speaking of iPhone, their recently released Photosynth app is incredible at stitching photos together (and the app has a decent UI to boot).
A lot of Microsoft’s other technologies smoke the competition, such as their Remote Desktop protocol, ActiveSync, and Exchange. They’ve even tried their hand at reinventing some file formats (much to the chagrin of people who like standard file formats) and did a decent job with that as well.
And, for what it’s worth, Windows runs quite nicely in large, managed corporate environments.
Though Microsoft hasn’t had a great track record with turning their technologies into great products, that isn’t to say the underlying technologies are bad.
You get long term support
Microsoft supports their products to a fault. Whereas Apple adopts a new technology and is all to eager to dump their legacy support for stuff (especially when said legacy support is difficult to maintain), Microsoft is more than happy to spend their lives in misery making their products backwards compatible with whatever old-ass crap their customers want to use with it. For instance, Microsoft should have deprecated and dropped support for apps written in VB6 a long time ago, but because they still have some sizable customers using this legacy programming language, they’re sticking it out and the libraries VB6 apps need to run are still fully supported in the latest versions of Windows. You’ll never see Apple doing anything like that.
A few months back, Apple announced that they were discontinuing the Xserve due to poor sales. If, say, HP decided they were hopping out of the server business, that would suck, but it wouldn’t be difficult to just start buying new servers from a different manufacturer (plus HP are likely in big support agreements with companies and would need to subcontract support to another company before just dropping out of the game). With Apple, customers are SOL because Apple makes the only servers that you can (legally and reliably) run OS X on. Now, OS X is mostly straight UNIX so it’s probably not a big deal, but if a customer was using an Apple server solution that relied heavily on OS X, that customer would be SOL (or they’d have to rig up new server racks that fit Mac Minis or Mac Pros, which was Apple’s “solution” for customers who still wanted OS X servers).
Meanwhile, at Microsoft, they are sympathetically ignoring pleas to drop support for IE6. Their rationale is that because Windows XP shipped with IE6 and since they extended Windows XP support to 2013 or so, they must continue supporting IE6. Given what an incredible waste of resources it is to continue to support IE6 for another two years just to appease some lazy corporate customers who aren’t bothering to update their legacy web apps to work with later versions of IE, I personally would have just called takebacksies on the part where Microsoft will keep supporting IE6 and take the 6 out and just say they are supporting IE, and then say that IE7, 8 and 9 are the replacements and customers are just going to have to suck it up and upgrade. But I suppose that’s the difference between me and MSFT.
They’re making big wins
Though I feel that many of MSFT’s decision making is overly influenced by internal politics (as evidenced by them not taking Office for Mac and iOS at all seriously), they aren’t the Microsoft of 15 years ago (saying that makes me feel old). They are capable of putting some good products to market. Their gaming division has gone from nonexistent to becoming one of the top three gaming consoles on the market today in less than ten years. They went from deceiving customers into saying they liked Vista to actually hunkering down and fixing a lot of the user experience issues with it in Windows 7. And they recognized around ’05/06 that the internet was leaving IE behind by embracing standards and they finally started taking standards compliance seriously in their browsers to the point where IE9 betas are more standards compliant than any other leading browser (and boy are they cocky about it!). You could argue that these innovations are too late to the game, or that they’re mimicking competitors, or that they’re not doing enough (all of which I’d agree with), but the truth here is that they are well aware that they can no longer lead the market just by the sheer momentum of their market share and the inertia of changing platforms. They’re clearly trying to win in a more honest way, by making their product offerings genuinely better (as opposed to, say, crippling your public APIs so that Microsoft-made applications had a leg up over the competition).
Peace out. Namaste.