/ Microsoft

Microsoft's New Decade

A lot of people think that I hate Microsoft and often those people are trying to convince me how great, and excellent Microsoft is.

There is no need to convince me. Microsoft is still building fantastic products. Until today neither Google Docs nor open source products, can compete with the Office Suite, for instance.

As much as Keynote, Numbers, Pages, Mail from Apple are great products, doing a decent job; they are still missing the full blown power of Microsoft Office. And there is still no equivalent out for a comparably powerful database like Access or an e-Mail/business client like Outlook.

In the mid of the Nineties, I was as much a Microsoft-fanboy as I am today perhaps an Apple-fanboy. I loved Windows 95; I loved Office 95 and I embraced all the new functionality those products had to offer.

Particularly Visual Basic was an extremely helpful product, be it as a stand-alone product or through Visual Basic for Applications (VBA).

But a year later I encountered my first challenge with Microsoft. I had bought Office 95, but the company published Office 97 with no license upgrade path, and I had to re-invest a significant budget as a student.

I still, even today more than ever, respect the challenges Microsoft has to make their operating system work on almost every platform. On top of that they have to deal with a bunch of third-party developed drivers and hardware gadgets. In case those don’t work well or interfere badly with other parts, the end-user usually blames Microsoft.

Microsoft owes as well my deepest respect for their business products. If you are a mid-sized company or an enterprise or a government institution, it’s almost impossible to run the show without at least a very few Microsoft based servers. So far, neither the “cloud” nor the “digital transformation” have yet changed much on this paradigm. Think of the “Microsoft Active Directory” for instance. Even if large publishing houses or big art studios might run Apple OS X, it is very likely that they are using MS Active Directory for managing and handling user access rights and making the company compliant to security audits.

Recently Microsoft bought a few online apps and branded them as their own. Finally Office for Mac is beta, after almost four years of agony.

OneNote is a fantastic piece of software, running on multiple platforms. Microsoft Surface 3 is finally a big step in the right direction (even though it is missing 3G/4G functionality, which is a no-brainer today).

Office 365 is amazing, especially the deployment ‘as you go’. It is great to have the package up running in a very few minutes while everything beyond core functionality is getting loaded later.

Their latest announcement “Windows 10″, seems as well to be a big step, finally correcting a lot of the challenges end-users faced with Windows 8 specifically but as well with the slightly improved Windows 8.1.

Most readers are probably aware of the following excellent article:

Microsoft’s Lost Decade

It describes the lost decade for Microsoft, the biggest failures and the major explanations of bad management decisions leading to this fiasco.

I second that a bell curve on employee’s performance reviews is the silliest idea one can have, even though a lot of large enterprises are still following this insane process. But that’s a topic for a different posting.

Back to Microsoft and what I still dislike.

After I expressed my respect for their products let’s come to the biggest challenge I faced with them in business: their license system sucks, and their migration help is not even worth to mention.

Their product release schedule is not sustainable, and it’s utmost impossible to quantify the value add from new releases in any business case.

It seems that Microsoft has learned a bit from its history. The offer to make Windows 10 a free upgrade if you install it within the first year after its release means that they are desperately trying to encourage people to migrate to the latest and greatest. However, interesting enough, they do not apply this logic to their business customers? It will yet be very important for the future of Microsoft to get the services out there consolidated as soon as possible.

A lot of companies (even governments) have not yet even updated to Windows 7 for the simple reason that this step means that you have to reinstall your system from scratch. Microsoft does offer a very few but simple migration tools, but mid-sized companies and large enterprises have to spend millions on either own migration tools or by partnering with consultants.

For small businesses, the situation is even worse. I have seen businesses with no need for an upgrade, means everything was up and running perfectly fine. None of the new Microsoft Server or Microsoft Windows features is of any larger interest to those customers, but yet they have or had to upgrade as Microsoft stopped their support.

What makes things even more complicated is the fact that it is almost unpredictable which problems might appear through the upgrade process.

I can give you one example of a dentist. They were last year still running a Windows Server 2003, a very expensive X-ray system with a lot of proprietary software components. The main business software is running on Java, requiring a particular Java Release and a specific database.

None of the available tools could predict if things will continue to run smoothly or at all after an upgrade. The “competence” from the producers concluded to upgrade solely to Windows 7 and Microsoft Server 2008R2. Cost of roughly 10k EUR for new licenses, a new server, and the migration doesn’t sound very high, but if you are looking at it from an end user perspective: what are the benefits? Well, nothing else than having a software and hardware estate under support again. You can compare this to one throwing away his oldtimer to buy a brand new car. But not the latest model, but the model from 6 years ago, but of course for the same money needed for the newest model. Insanity!

Many companies are facing similar challenges. They have to invest and are willing to do so, but there are usually many dependencies avoiding to migrate to the latest and greatest. In the above case buying a new x-ray device would have been the only possible way. Those companies are investing, but their frustration is growing as they don’t see any added value.

Despite Microsoft trying to convince their customer base to upgrade to their latest products, most just can’t and Microsoft themselves are not doing enough (if anything) to help. Their sales people are very often missing the understanding too. They are “selling” new features, but ignoring that the business end-user either doesn’t need those. More likely they do ignore that a decision maker has to ensure that the old products (Excel, Word macros, Outlook calendars, address books), interfaces, etc. will continue to work.

Apple, for instance, deployed Rosetta, when they transitioned the Macintosh platform from the PowerPC to Intel processor instruction set architecture. Rosetta ensured that all PowerPC programs still run perfectly fine on Intel.

Such tools are not only important for end-users but even more crucial for developers and third party companies. The heterogeneous estate of Microsoft products is making it very difficult for developers to deploy any products on their platform.

And I’m not only talking about the nerdy “home-developer” but also about large companies like SAP, for instance. A few years ago they were struggling very hard to make their Graphical User Interface work on all flavors of the Microsoft Operating System.

But not only did Microsoft discontinue easy developing tools like Visual Basic but also a developer has to ensure that its software will run on too many different flavors of one product.

I’m not saying that it is trivial to develop for iOS, OS X or Android. But if you have ever tried to put your teeth into mobile development for Microsoft, you will know what I’m talking about here. Windows Phone development is yet another example of Microsoft making it difficult to get the interest of a big development community.

Microsoft could come up with simple automation tools, as Automator on OS X. Not every end-user wants to develop an own application, but most people have a need to simplify repeating tasks.

As great as Windows 10 seems to be, as great as Microsoft Azure and their cloud offerings are, Microsoft has the responsibility to help their business customers to migrate easily to their newest services.

They will benefit themselves probably the most from such a consolidation. I’m less interested in seeing new Windows releases, as long a Microsoft is not helping with improved migration tools and better development tools.

Their newly presented concept “Microsoft HoloLens” is promising, but yet again the company has to first deliver on promise. And in the past decade this has not been their strength and almost half of the current decade is already over.