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  • Microsoft Owes its Stockholders a Refund!

    July 26th, 2006

    When Bill Gates said Microsoft had spent between $8 billion and $9 billion to develop Windows Vista and Office 2007, my mind clouded briefly before I stared at the screen in disbelief. Consider how often it took Apple two years or more to accumulate that much money, and you’ll get the picture. Even now, thousands and thousands of Microsoft developers are toiling in their code mines struggling to move this wasteful venture to the starting gate.

    As you recall, Gates says there’s an 80% chance Vista will be released to consumers in January 2007, as if PC box vendors could care, once the holiday season has passed. Or maybe they hope that those Zune media players will somehow compensate for the lost sales.

    But the larger problem here is that Microsoft comes across as a directionless company, a firm that has been singularly unable to succeed beyond its core business of operating systems and office suites. Of course, that was enough to allow it to dominate the PC industry. Apple, despite getting so many things right, still remains an afterthought to many businesses.

    At the same time, Vista seems, to some, near as bad as Apple’s abortive Copland project of a decade ago, where they spent hundreds of millions to build an industrial-strength operating system in-house, as it were. While Apple had the good sense to give it all up and look elsewhere for relief, Microsoft will simply throw more money and more developers into the project, hoping that enough cooks will make the stew taste good.

    If you’ve read some reviews about Vista betas, you’ll see what I mean. Yes, it’s real enough, but it’s extremely rough even at this late stage and has a number of questionable user interface quirks, such as the excessive number of pop-up windows that appear when you attempt to do something that excites its security protection technology.

    In the end, of course, Vista will appear, and it may even work fairly well. Microsoft has largely succeeded on delivering products that are good enough to get the job done, even if they suffer from bad design decisions and various and sundry bouts of unreality and massive security leaks. I don’t expect Vista to be much different, though I would hope the security protections will be enhanced, as long promised.

    But to look at Microsoft’s larger problem, let’s examine the little things, such as their recently-introduced wireless keyboard and mouse combination for the Mac. Essentially they took an existing product, the Wireless Laser Desktop 6000, changed a few keytops to better support Mac capabilities and added Universal drivers to support both PowerPC and Intel-based Macs. Period!

    Not that it’s a bad product. Again, we have the good enough factor here, and I actually gave it a pretty good review a few weeks ago. Forget, for the moment, the drab dark gray and silver color scheme inherited from the Windows version of the product. Typical of Microsoft, it has some annoying quirks that only appeared after using it for a while. Take the laser mouse, which tracks well and performs relatively smoothly. Except that it also has a nasty habit of freezing every so often.

    After doing a little testing, I found it wasn’t the drivers, but the mouse itself that lost its ability to connect to the wireless receiver. To reactivate the unit, I merely had to remove the batteries for a few seconds and reinsert them.

    Sure, you may ask, why not return or exchange the mouse? Well, I did just that, and the replacement had the very same quirk. I even got ahold of a standalone Wireless Laser Mouse 6000, which is identical in both Mac and Windows versions. Guess what? The identical problem.

    Microsoft’s PR people promised to have answers and they haven’t produced any. Moving the receiver to different USB ports, even the ones at the rear of my monitor, failed to help. Finally, I retrieved my all-time favorite pointing device, the Logitech MX1000 Laser Cordless Mouse, installed the software and it has functioned flawlessly. It never misses a beat, except for one of the rubber feet that fell off apparently during my last move. A set of replacement feet is coming, however.

    Now here’s the peculiar part, as if any story about Microsoft isn’t peculiar. There are separate drivers for the keyboard, which I opted to continue to use, and the mouse. But if you uninstall the latter, the custom keys at the left of the keyboard, which activate your chat, email, music, photo and Web applications, stop working. I’m serious. Reinstalling the mouse software also restored these functions. Now that’s just sloppy programming, and when you wrap your head around such nonsense, you can begin to contemplate the mindset of a company that wastes billions on an operating system upgrade that it can’t deliver on time.

    I think Microsoft’s stockholders are owed an apology, a refund, and some new executives who know how to properly manage product development.



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    7 Responses to “Microsoft Owes its Stockholders a Refund!”

    1. brent lee says:

      hear! hear!

    2. TomB says:

      Copland is right!

      The thing that kills me is that, whenever Redmon ships the Squirrel’s-nest-known-as-Vista, it still won’t be UNIX based. MSFT is in a serious bind. They have competitors on all sides. If they took the time (like Jobs did at NeXT) to go back and build a modern, BSD-based OS, it would probably take longer than the Vista debacle has. And you’d still have an obtuse Windows-style UI an the end of the process. So, they take half-a**ed measures, like Vista and hope to survive on marketing hype and customer inertia.

    3. Andrew says:

      The Windows UI isn’t obtuse, its just different. There are some aspects that are vastly inferior to OS X, and some that are superior. Most things are roughly equivalent and aren’t even noticeable to advanced users.

      Funny, I switch rather freely between my Windows PC and my Mac and never really think much about either UI. Neither one gets in my way, neither one hinders my work flow, and there is no noticeable difference in my productivity when using my MacBook or my ThinkPad other than those imposed by the hardware itself. The MacBook is a better research machine on account of its widescreen display, while the ThinkPad is a better traveller on accout of its 2.7lb weight.

      Word is Word, works about equally well on either platform. Firefox looks and feels the same, and Safari isn’t different enough to matter though lately both of my banks web interfaces have become unreliable under Safari, making me use Firefox more and more on my Macs.

      I’ve tried Vista Beta 2 and had more complaints than praise, but then again, I preferred Windows 2000 over XP when the latter was first released, but run XP exclusively on my PCs now. Vista is still beta, so I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt that it will come out alright, and develope into a stable and versatile OS by SP1.

    4. jbelkin says:

      You spend money on R&D and on product development so you can make a return on what you spent.

      So far, MS has spent $9 BILLION dollars on Vista and after 5 years, the return is ZERO. In some ways, less than zero if you count the features stripped out – meaning they spent a lot of time developing bad technology (aka: technology they couldn’t figure out how to work).

      This is on top of the $10 BILLION spent to develop & sell XBoxes (or about $400 spent to sell each XBox & XBox 360).

      They also spent $4 Billion to take out AOL with MSN.

      And to compound that, apparently Steve Ballmer is feeling a stock pinch so MS is starting a stock buyback to boost his shares back up – $40 BILLION over the next few years.

      Anyone who buys a MS product has to question why they are overpaying through the nose so MS can spend over $50 BILLION dollars on non-profit producing choices?

    5. TomB says:

      “So far, MS has spent $9 BILLION dollars on Vista and after 5 years, the return is ZERO.”

      So far, MSFT has done ITSELF more damage than the US DOJ, in spite of a monopoly CONVICTION. Kind of ironic– they might have done a little BETTER had they been broken up into software and OS, as they should have been. Ballmer would have only been active in one of the two halves, presumably, and both halves might have contemplated beefing up the quality of their programming divisions. Or not….. Old habits die hard.

    6. Myles says:

      I use Windows 2000. I saw no reason to upgrade to XP. Don’t know if I will see any reason to upgrade to Vista.

      That is Microsoft’s biggest problem. That is also the difference between Copeland and Vista. Copeland was designed to offer something worth buying. Mac OS X offers meaningful improvements over Mac System 9.

      To be fair, I also use Panther. I didn’t upgrade to Tiger. I wonder what Leopard will bring?

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