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  • Fear and Loathing in Redmond: Microsoft Sorry for Surface Bugs

    December 17th, 2015

    As most of you know, whenever Apple has a problem with hardware or software, it can make huge headlines. I said huge! One telling incident occurred last year, when the iOS 8.0.1 update essentially bricked any model from the iPhone 6 series. Apple had it up for maybe an hour or so before it was pulled, but that was quite enough to cause a furor, as if no other tech company had ever issued a flawed update.

    More to the point, the small number of iPhones that were bricked could be fixed by running Restore. A corrected version, 8.0.2, was released the very next day, but I read fear-mongering articles about it for weeks after that. Few of those alleged journalists understood the problem or the fact that the faulty update was only available for a short time

    Compare that to Windows, where Microsoft has released a number of buggy updates over the years, some of which would cause such symptoms as startup loops. You don’t see a rash of sensational headlines because Microsoft screwed up.

    In any case, Microsoft has had a checkered past with hardware. Back in 2007, they allocated over one billion dollars to address what was described as “an unacceptable number of repairs” to the Xbox 360. The actual number of units impacted wasn’t mentioned, but that could be inferred from the amount set aside, since it would involve repairing or replacing the affected hardware.

    Some of the failures were termed ‘Red Ring of Death” because the gaming console would display three flashing red lights on the face of the unit. While the problem was publicized to some extent, you didn’t have the tech media clamoring for Microsoft to shut down, or asserting the company was in a death spiral. I won’t even consider the cause, since it happened eight years ago. At least Microsoft made good on fixing the problem. The warranties were also extended to three years, another sign of good faith.

    I’ve never heard of an Apple hardware glitch that had such a wide impact, and there have been a few. As with Microsoft, Apple offers to replace and extend the warrantees of the affected products.

    This year’s problems for Microsoft involve the Surface Book and Surface Pro 4, the highly touted convertible note-books that are supposed to rescue Microsoft’s tablet division. Now before I get to the problems, consider the fact that the modest Surface sales are flagging, from $908 million last year to $672 million in this year’s September quarter. That is not too promising. Apple still sold $4.276 billion worth of iPads in the same quarter despite falling sales.

    So while the Microsoft sycophants in the media have touted the Surface as a sure iPad killer, the facts don’t bear that out, and now Microsoft is admitting to loads of bugs in these machines.

    So according to Laptop magazine, a publication that offers pretty balanced coverage of desktop and mobile platforms, Microsoft has issued an apology for Surface problems, stating, “For those of you who’ve had a less-than-perfect experience, we’re sorry for any frustration this has caused.”

    What sort of problems?

    Well, Laptop’s test samples exhibited “laggy performance,” meaning they ran slow, and issues with booting the units; the latter reportedly occurred after a Windows 10 update. Now that’s a problem that’s roughly in line with the issues that resulted from the iOS 8.0.1 update, and a glitch with the iPad Pro, where the unit might become unresponsive after receiving a full charge. In both cases, Apple fixed the bugs in short order. The iOS 9.2 update evidently makes the iPad Pro responsive again, but I’ve not seen any problems with the review unit I received from Apple.

    As for Windows 10, it has been updated frequency since the original release last summer, and the update rate has slowed over time.

    Now other Surface problems include poor battery life when performing a continuous web surfing test over a Wi-Fi network. The rear camera also exhibited artifacts and pixelation on two of the three samples examined by Laptop.

    This is where you have to aske some hard questions. When a manufacturer sends a review unit to the media, you assume they are striving to make good first impressions. Sure, some Apple gear will have bugs, but not near as serious as the ones that impacted the Surface. You can hardly believe that a magazine would need multiple samples to get a unit that actually worked. This doesn’t auger well for Microsoft’s efforts to become a credible manufacturer of tablets or hybrid note-book computers.

    These issues are especially troubling in light of declining tablet sales, and Microsoft has yet to demonstrate that it has delivered a credible alternative to other PC convertibles, let alone the various MacBooks with which it has been compared.

    I’m not suggesting Microsoft isn’t capable of making reliable hardware. I assume the Xbox problems are history, and it doesn’t appear that the Lumia smartphones, which still aren’t selling so well, are buggy. But the smartphones are built on established production lines that were tested and proven by Nokia, so unless Microsoft has cut back quality control too much in an effort to reduce costs, it shouldn’t come back to haunt them.

    Releasing flawed hardware is obviously no way to demonstrate credibility, particularly in a market where there are other PC makers who are direct competitors. Indeed, I wonder what Microsoft’s executives were thinking in getting into that business. Wouldn’t it have been better to follow Intel’s lead with Ultrabook systems by releasing a set of reference designs and letting other companies sort things out? Microsoft doesn’t do well to compete with its partners.



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    20 Responses to “Fear and Loathing in Redmond: Microsoft Sorry for Surface Bugs”

    1. DaveD says:

      When Microsoft first decided to emulate Apple with computing hardware and retail stores, I began to wonder if the road to higher profits might come to a dead end. The Mac products compete with the Windows ones. But, Microsoft portrayed the Surface models in competition with the MacBooks and iPads when in the broader scope also have to compete with the other Windows notebook and tablet makers. Apple has always made its PC models different than the Windows ones. Microsoft has initially made its PC models different than the ones from Apple, and only in form when comparing to the other Windows PC makers.

      The Windows PC market is shrinking. The Mac market while historically low is growing and continue to add to Apple’s profits. From Microsoft’s last quarter financial statements (http://www.microsoft.com/investor/EarningsAndFinancials/Earnings/PressReleaseAndWebcast/FY16/Q1/default.aspx) both the “Productivity and Business Processes” and “More Personal Computing” segments year-over-year revenues and profits are in line with the downward trend of the Windows PC market.

      I don’t believe that the Microsoft Retail Stores are profitable. Maybe Microsoft is learning that making PC hardware and providing customer support is hard.

    2. Charles Tomaras says:

      Thanks so much for the aggregation of one review from another publication. Brilliant journalism! I suspect you’ve not used the products you are bemoaning.

    3. Charles Tomaras says:

      Of course I read your article and I have a good picture of your slant on things. Personally, I’m a vegetarian, and I’m considering writing restaurant articles about steak houses.

      • @Charles Tamara’s, The article was about Microsoft’s apology for Surface bugs, which has been quoted in several places. Are you challenging its existence? I also mentioned the Xbox bugs, something that was reported back in 2007, and some examples of Apple issues. It’s not about reviewing any products aside from mentioning the problems Laptop had with them. I was not reviewing anything, or attempting to review anything.

        Peace,
        Gene

    4. Darran says:

      I read your incorrect article. The number of incorrect statements is so long that the comments section won’t allow me to go into them all.

      So let’s just look at some of your first comments…
      Microsoft has withdrawn updates immediately in the same fashion as the example you gave for Apple. So Charles would be correct in assuming that your aren’t across the updates for Surface and Windows 10.

      You’re ability to use relevant references is astounding… How is Xbox related to MacBook’s, iPads and Surfaces? Anyhow, in Australia iPads and iPhones have the highest return and repair rates between the 2 companies. Hence why Apple had to start Apple Stores so they could have support and repair desks. Apple had their largest share of the market prior to their stores. So the fact you “haven’t heard” of reports of Apple having such a widespread issue shows that the topic of your story is misinformed. The reason was that it was mis-reported and simply accepted by the Apple PR team as a positive that they had to open multiple Apple Repair Centres to deal with the demand.

      Comparisons of sales for September this year for Surface is pointless as it was just prior to the release of the new product line. So wait for the entire year numbers and then make personal judgements on numbers. Media outlets are reporting the the new Surface line up has had a higher sales growth rate this quarter than the new iPad Pro has increase growth for Apple of iPads. So unless you have a crystal ball, accept that your unable to use incomplete statistics to make any judgements on the either of the new product lines and whether either vendor has been successful this round of product releases.

      So your first 3 points and not one of them are credible. I’ve already given this article too much time it deserves, but I’ll leave you with a link that you should check and it might help.

      http://www.journalism.columbia.edu

      • The article is about glitches with the Surface, and it is correct, and correctly quotes Microsoft. I was comparing it to other instances of Microsoft having hardware issues, of which the Xbox is a major example.

        The Apple Store first debuted in 2001, and it isn’t relevant to this article, since I wasn’t talking about Apple’s retail stores, nor Microsoft’s.

        Bringing up irrelevant issues doesn’t help your case. I quoted facts that you cannot dispute with your spin.

        Peace,
        Gene

    5. Darran says:

      Your article mentions the glitches, but your reference is that Apple issues are more reported than Microsoft and that Microsoft can’t make hardware. Seriously you haven’t even read your own article and what you’re replying in the comments how’s that you either didn’t get your intended point across or that you are trying to back out on your story.

      So if your story is factual please reference them. Anyhow this article is not a factual report of a story or situation it is an opinion piece.

      Yes Microsoft have issues and they are criticised for them. They have admitted issues and are working to repair them. Some have taken longer than expected by users to repair. Is this the point you are attempting to make?

      If so then yes that’s factual. The rest of your article is your opinion that somehow this is much worse than anything Apple has done in the past and that Microsoft has a quality control issue more than other vendors.

      I was referring to Apple retail stores. Not their online iTunes.

      So yes it was all factual and I will allow you and your readers to add in the appropriate quotes from your article.

      • @Darran, You mean the quote from Microsoft?

        My perception is that you aren’t paying attention. I said that both companies have had flawed products, but Microsoft’s have been worse. Apple never had to set over a billion dollars aside to deal with serious hardware failures on a single model. New Apple products have glitches from time to time, but the ones on the Surface are clearly worse. Apple obviously doesn’t make gaming consoles these days.

        It’s also true that Apple problems, however severe, are these days given far more prominence. Do your own research and you’ll confirm what I wrote.

        The fact is that you haven’t found a single error in the article. You are free to have a different opinion, but provide some evidence. What I described was reported elsewhere. You can start with checking Laptop magazine and, after that, look up the Xbox 360 issue.

        Peace,
        Gene

    6. Bill Maslen says:

      It is fascinating, is it not, the way the fanboiz come out of the woodwork? In this case, Microsoft fanboiz.

      Fascinating, because it is often clear that they have never used Apple products in anger (or in any kind of serious business environment); many of them assume that Microsoft + Windows = an automatically superior business product. Indeed, I’ve been ranted at in forums by fanboiz who assume that using Macs in business is simply irresponsible.

      As a small business owner responsible, among other things, for the IT systems, I have used almost every kind of computer apart from mainframes over the past 30 years or so.

      And I can honestly say that since moving to an all-Apple environment about 18 months ago, our IT-related issues have fallen to an all-time low. Employees are happier with their computer systems (actively enjoy using them, in fact, which is not something you’d hear from Windows users). My own job is vastly easier, not because Apple products “just work” – they are not perfect, there are occasional problems and glitches – but because finding solutions is so much faster and easier. And we’ve never had a viral incident with our Macs, although we used to have regular incidents with PCs, despite all kinds of antiviral protection. In fact, I can happily agree with the IT people at IBM, whose workload has dropped by orders of magnitude since they installed thousands of Macs throughout the company.

      Sadly, the Microsoft fanboy is an endangered species. Which may explain the regular vitriolic attacks on Apple in the media and on social networks – that sense of “back to the wall”. Because I know I’m not the only small business owner who’s swapped over to Apple with a sense of relief. Just the thought of training employees on Windows 8 when that weird kludge first appeared a few years back was enough to bring me out in a cold sweat. Nowadays I tinker with Windows 10 on a two-in-one tablet, happy in the knowledge that I’ll never need to use it seriously. It’s become something like Android for me: enjoyable to play with, but not reliable enough for serious stuff.

      One final note: it’s my Windows 10 machine (from HP) that eats battery life even when it’s “sleeping”. Its working battery life is actually very good – 9 to 10 hours – but if I don’t switch it right off between sessions, i.e. if I just leave it asleep, I invariably come back to a drained battery. Oh, and that’s a widely reported issue with the Surface 4, too, despite the fact that it costs four times as much as my modest HP. Now my MacBook Air doesn’t often achieve the 12-13 hours of battery life quoted in its specs (not least because I’m usually running WiFi and Bluetooth), but it does last all day, and when I put it to sleep, it stays asleep, without guzzling battery life. I know which I prefer.

    7. Charles Tomaras says:

      Gene,

      I just read your bio. Here’s an excerpt:

      >>In 1984 Gene began to work on the original Apple Macintosh personal computer and never looked back. Over the next few years, Gene finally decided to follow his dream and become a full-time writer, but he also devoted extra time to work as a computer software/systems consultant partly to provide material for his books and magazine articles.<<

      When you also look at your biography, you are clearly a Mac fan boy….and it shows.

      • @Charles Tamara’s, That’s your last post. You are clearly unable to read or understand why your criticisms have no basis in fact. That’s why you changed the subject. I have written books and magazine articles about both Mac and Windows, and worked with magazines that covered both platforms, including CNET and ZDNet and USA Today.

        You will no longer be able to post on this blog because you are unable to express a cogent argument.

        Gene

    8. Darran says:

      @Gene

      There is nothing incorrect in your opinion. It’s a fact that it’s your opinion.

      Your selection of facts to support your opinion are also correct. They’re just a very small selection of the full story. Hence why you need to learn how to do proper investigative reporting before you put your pen to paper.

      I’m going to call you Kettle from now on. You’ve missed the point and the fact that you’re required to keep explaining yourself in the comments shows that your original article didn’t get your point across. As I explained in my last comment.

      Everybody has their opinion and Bill it is good that you’ve got your small business IT working and that your staff are now more productive. I have no issue with people using any brand as long as it works and makes them productive. Just not sure that Kettle’s comments are productive.

      • @Darran, OK, my facts are correct. It’s mostly fact, with very little opinion.

        Therefore you understood what I wrote and therefore have no point to make, but you just want to blather on with drivel.

        Have a great life.

        Gene

    9. Shameer M. says:

      @Darran

      “Anyhow, in Australia iPads and iPhones have the highest return and repair rates between the 2 companies. ”

      Do you have evidence to back that up?

      “Comparisons of sales for September this year for Surface is pointless as it was just prior to the release of the new product line. So wait for the entire year numbers and then make personal judgements on numbers.”

      100% agree with this.

      “Media outlets are reporting the the new Surface line up has had a higher sales growth rate this quarter than the new iPad Pro has increase growth for Apple of iPads.”

      That was debunked – and that by a prominent Microsoft blogger:

      https://www.thurrott.com/mobile/ios/62854/so-did-surface-really-outsell-ipad-in-october

      And as far as reliability issues with the current crop of Surface Products, I suggest reading this, again by the same prominent Microsoft blogger:

      https://www.thurrott.com/mobile/microsoft-surface/62772/microsoft-will-not-fix-power-management-issues-with-new-surface-devices-until-next-year

      https://www.thurrott.com/mobile/microsoft-surface/63136/surface-book-and-surface-pro-4-get-minor-firmware-updates

    10. Charles Tomaras says:

      Even though you most likely will not allow this post….how about you defend you choice of words for your headline on this article. “Fear and loathing in Redmond.” How does that relate to anything in the real world?

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