In his continuing series on Big Tech Trust, US correspondent Sam Bocetta poses the question, ‘Can you trust Microsoft’.
Strangely, Microsoft is not part of the FAANG group, so either the letter ‘M’ did not work in this acronym or Microsoft has a clean nose! Well, it turns out people do trust Microsoft of today, and there are good reasons.
But to truly understand why people trust Microsoft today, you need to understand the company and its history.
Early Microsoft – Bill Gates and Paul Allen
I first saw Microsoft MS-DOS (MS-Disk Operating System) in the mid-80s running on an IBM PC. At the time, Digital Research was in talks with IBM to make a version of CP/M (called 86-DOS) for its new IBM PC. After negotiations failed, Microsoft, established in 1975, bought the rights to Q-DOS (Quick and Dirty OS) from Seattle Computer Products and developed PC-DOS for IBM and MS-DOS for other 8086 CPUs.
Even back then, media said that Gates had stolen the opportunity via foul play. Sorry, more media hype as clean room reverse engineering has many times since proven.
But I also started to see what I call “Trial by media’ and a lot of irrational statements.
Bear with me – this is why some don’t trust Microsoft and see Bill Gates as the devil incarnate.
Like most “tech heads” at the time, I voraciously read tech mags. They eloquently and authoritatively told me of the evil empire forming under Microsoft founder Bill Gates (Bill is the anti-Christ and Microsoft is the focus of all evil in this modern world). They delighted in reporting glass-half-empty-style on the masses of litigation, mainly with the US Federal Trade Commission, but also anyone else that got in its way.
Lawsuits were the norm – Novell (WordPerfect) claiming foul play when running on Microsoft operating system (undocumented APIs), others claiming to have written Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and more. Basically, a lot of these issues came, not because Microsoft had acted illegally, but because it was fast becoming the 1000-pound gorilla that was worth a swipe at. You Aussies call that the Tall Poppy syndrome.
Trial by innuendo
Well before social media, the highly active “International Anti-Microsoft Network” (IAMN) was busy throwing mud. The site has gone dark now, but there are some interesting links here. It organised Microsoft boycott campaigns (the famous Mircoshit ‘98), spread scurrilous unsubstantiated rumours, wrote to editors, submitted copious anti-MS articles, relentlessly published Bill Gates and email address, home and work phone numbers, provided template hate mail and proselytised that MS was evil and everyone was against it. “Do not trust Microsoft”.
History has shown this to be an energetic effort by vested interest groups. It allegedly was a well-orchestrated front financed by Steve Jobs and his cadre. As the saying goes – throw enough mud and some sticks. If you want to know more search for it – there is so much pure venom in pages like this.
Trial by deprecation and just plain lies
There are 41 million websites currently containing Windows humour – but most of the content came from one period in the early the 90’s. While this may have started as fair game – some funny jokes about BSOD, Microsoft Car, etc. – it became a national sport to use jokes to attack MS. And there are 10 million sites aimed at Bill Gates jokes alone.
Q. How many Microsoft programmers does
it take to change a lightbulb?
A. None. Bill Gates will just redefine Darkness(TM) as the new industry standard.
No other Fortune 500 company has ever been subject to such preponderance of deprecating jokes. That smacks of the IAMN conspiracy, and Universities use it as textbook examples to illustrate abuse disguised as a joke.
But then the social media came along, and trolls got hold of the idea, and jokes/memes got progressively more acerbic, denigrating, poisoned, personal, and fouler.
According to Forbes, social media still represents Microsoft’s greatest challenge. It is at last gaining control of its image, but it faces an uphill battle. Interestingly jokes about Windows 10 and its current CEO Satya Nadella, are very much in the minority (115,000 sites).
Conversely, there are now 3.3 million Tim Cook humour sites.
- Tim Cook announced the Apple Watch will be delayed three months so they can add in a ‘telling time’ feature. “It is a feature enhancement that we need to charge more for,” said Cook.
- Tim Cook offered Steve Jobs his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti.
- #iPhone6Plus pre-order sells out immediately. “We should have made more than 17 of them,” whispered Cook
- Tim Cook has invented the latest innovation from Apple, the iPologize.
Microsoft Phase One – Open the Gates
How much impact does a founder or CEO have on a company? The short answer is that a successful company reflects the leader’s attitudes, beliefs and vision, of course, tempered by a board. Conversely, as the Microsoft Haters say, “A fish rots from its head.”
Managing Editor Ray Shaw writes this bit
I interviewed Bill Gates in the early-90s around the time of Windows 3.1. He was all about making the world a better place through computing – there was not an ounce of ‘me’ in any of his statements. I recall him saying something like, “If Microsoft does a better job, others will join”. I really enjoyed interviewing this erudite, honest, now proven selfless, man that shaped so much of the personal computer and server landscape.
Bill also arranged for me to interview Steve Jobs. While there was no doubt about Job’s passion for Apple, it was his greed and ambition that showed through. It was all about him and how much Apple could fleece its sheep. His words to me were, “Show me the turkeys” – a graphical representation using an Apple Newton PDA and Apple Macintosh II (forerunner to iMac) to show how many had bought his products today (accompanied by Gobble, Gobble noises – bizarre). I have to say that while I admired what he had done, I left the interview feeling sullied. The man was flawed as evidenced by the many documentaries since his death.
I became a ‘Microsoft Watcher’ from then almost exclusively using its PC, server and Office Products – someone had to do it. I am delighted I did.
We return to Sam.
Microsoft Phase Two – spats, blunders, and second CEO were very public
Microsoft has had numerous lawsuits, significantly fewer now – some as the plaintiff and some as the defendant. Wikipedia does a good job chronicling these here.
Most suits were to defend its behemoth position, some were massive “anti-trust” lawsuits to protect a market position against other entrants, or taking over competitors, and some were nuisance suits like Apple complaining that Windows copied its GUI look and feel (won by Microsoft).
By comparison, it would be fair to mention Apple’s litigation record. It appears to have a far greater share of litigation chronicled here. Apple’s litigation generally involves intellectual property disputes, antitrust claims, consumer actions, unfair commercial trade practise suits, defamation claims, corporate espionage, ugly delaying tactics, among many other matters.
My reading of the suits indicates a darker “sue the bastards” period in the noughties that reflected a specific corporate imperative, but overall, it was par for the course for any large company.
Of course, it could also reflect that Steve Ballmer took over from Gates and ran it “his way” for some 15 years. Ballmer was a great businessman able to maximise profits and squeeze margins, but he was also famous for bully-boy tactics. It is fair to say that this style did not win Microsoft any friends.
Under Ballmer, Microsoft failed to understand and execute the five most important technology trends of the 21st century: search, smartphones, mobility, media, and cloud.
To Ballmer, Microsoft was still firmly focused on Windows and Office and let’s ignore the now-infamous Nokia acquisition – too little – too late.
By the end of 2016, 1.5 billion smartphones sold worldwide, and MS’s excellent Windows Mobile OS did not even rate.
Microsoft phase three – enter Satya Nadella
In early 2014 Satya Nadella took over and quickly organised Microsoft as mobile-first (irrespective of the device) and cloud-first (Azure), uncoupled the Office and Azure teams from Windows, killed the Nokia phone business, and released a new version of Windows – the last version of Windows.
It followed, as Apple has long done, the operating-system-as-a-service (OSaS) model, that is necessary to prevent fragmentation and to increase security. He also placed significant resources into the open-source movement, augmented reality, and AI. Nadella saved Microsoft from irrelevance.
Under Nadella, Microsoft has immensely advanced personal and server computing and productivity. Windows 10 and Office – staples of the personal computer – have had far more impact than macOS and iWork ever will. And his focus on the cloud and investing in new technologies has made Microsoft one of, if not the largest, world’s tech companies by market cap.
Well, critics often joke that Microsoft gets it right on the third time.
So why do some people hate Microsoft? A desktop search reveals…
Fact: Some harbour a passionate and perhaps irrational hatred towards it. It is like everything Microsoft does leaves a foul taste in their mouth. It is deep-seated, ingrained behaviour from those who believe Microsoft is evil.
Following are some of the claims made by Microsoft haters on hundreds of millions of websites.
Accused of snooping
And that is true of some pre-Windows 10 versions. Fortunately, Windows 10 has a Privacy setting that allows you to turn off much of the reporting without any adverse effect on the OS or functionality. Then the free Shutup10 does the rest.
Accused of stealing ideas
Baseless accusations, no proof and if anything, Microsoft uses a cleanroom approach to development. I cannot find any cases where Microsoft has stolen code or reverse engineered anything, including its original MS-DOS as often accused.
Still the infinite monkey theorem – give a monkey a typewriter, and the result will one day produce the works of Shakespeare – seems to have been tested too many times by so-called aggrieved parties that cannot counter MS’s commercial might.
Some features in Windows (all versions) did not work out of the box
Because Microsoft supports such an extensive range of OEM x86 hardware, peripherals and software – no Apple walled-garden – there have been driver issues with some components and peripherals, networking, printers could be a real bitch, and so on. Fact is that the Windows ecosystem is an open one – anyone can make a Windows compatible product. I am amazed that Windows 10 supports several years of old hardware – a far greater length of time than Apple does for its relatively narrow product range.
Haters cried that Microsoft should be big enough to release products without bugs. Yes, they were right in a similar manner that Steve Jobs claimed users should never be unintentional beta testers – something current macOS and iOS users conveniently forget and accept.
Windows 95 came on 13 floppies, and Office Professional 97 came on 55 that would invariably fail at disk 54! Some versions of Linux came on 30+ and OpenOffice came on 23. But that was before the Internet, CD-ROM and USB drives. The fact that it was such a “monumental” issue reflects IAMN’s deft hand.
MS did not give a damn about its customers – it did what it wanted.
For example, the outcry over ditching Media Centre in Windows 8.1. The truth was Microsoft could not comply with content owners and distributors requirements and rather than cripple Media centre dropped it. Other alternatives manage to fly under Hollywood’s radar.
MS refuses to let go of its halcyon days where it was king of the castle
Granted, Microsoft did its best to set standards that benefited both humanity and it. But under Nadella, it is more about cooperation and collaboration with the industry as a whole – witness the establishment of an AI industry group, or VR standards, etc. You will find Microsoft, more than any other tech giant, giving tirelessly and openly to more industry panels than I have had hot dinners. Microsoft’s way or the highway is long gone.
Business partners, value-added resellers, OEMs and were not happy
I believe that is mostly true of the noughties where Ballmer’s ego overtook reality – when OEMs had to pay for Windows licenses even if the box used Linux etc. But today most developers and partners say they are delighted with Microsoft and could not do business without them. The number of consultations I see with these groups is impressive, and there is no such thing as a bad idea – only better, more collaborative, ones.
The world loved the early DOS, Windows, and Office. At one stage Microsoft claimed that for every license it sold there were over 300 pirate copies. Market stalls in India, China, Malaysia, etc., revealed a thriving business in piracy. Typical of the Ballmer era, the heavy hand of God came down to smite the heathens from the temple, pissing off the world’s most populous nations. Today piracy has been solved by adopting Apple’s control of the OS or app and making it an OS as a service unique to every machine. A vast illegal business thriving at the MS’s expense gone in one version.
Privacy – can you trust Microsoft?
I don’t trust anyone with my privacy or personally identifiable information. I got off Facebook, no longer LinkedIn, don’t Tweet, and apart from my bank and specific government departments, will not give any digital information to anyone. No, it is not paranoia – my accounts suffer regularly targetting by attacks, I get too many cleverly socially engineered emails a week, and ID theft is always on my mind!
I don’t trust Apple, Google, every loyalty program – none. But it’s a case of having to allocate degrees of trust, and I have investigated accordingly.
I now trust that the information gathered by Microsoft is for good, not evil. Let’s look at what Microsoft collects:
- Windows 10 device data is all about telemetry and product improvement.
- Cortana (voice assistant that no one really uses any more) goes into a highly transparent and editable notebook that I can control.
- Bing (search/location) is used to sell advertising. It is easy to see and not sold to third parties. You can turn off the Universal Advertising Identifier.
- Any other data shows in your Microsoft Account, and you have complete control.
- Microsoft does not read your email, calendar, Azure/OneDrive/SharePoint files unless you ask it to include data from that in requests (just like asking OK Google about your days’ appointments)
- Microsoft provides Windows Defender for free (a creditable AV solution) and continually hardens its products against advanced persistent threats and hacking.
- No hacker has ever breached Office/Outlook 365/Azure/OneDrive security, but hackers access users accounts by tricking them into revealing passwords
For some reason, open-source aficionados generally hate MS. They go to great lengths to use and highly recommend free software – anything but Microsoft products. Linux, OpenOffice, Google apps, widgets, photo services, shareware etc.
There is nothing wrong for those who can use ‘shareware’, and the concept of the open-source community is terrific. But Joe Average needs an out of the box experience made possible by standards and Microsoft offers that. Ironically Microsoft, above all now, is more open-source friendly than many other technology behemoths and has 195 open source offerings. Read the ZDNet article here.
MS wants to make money
This is one of the frequent statements I cannot understand. It is not about money-grubbing or opportunistic pricing – it is the fact that some people seem to object to paying for Microsoft products. Instead of moaning, they can simply shut their wallets and use something else. But no – they want to steal it.
Microsoft lacks the cool gene
Apple has done more, and spent more, to promote Microsoft as bereft of the “cool gene.” Just look at the 66 different PC and Mac advertisements that cost Apple squillions to make and while having a certain dry humour, were at heart vicious and desperate attempts to stem Windows sales and increase Mac sales.
Steve Jobs was so “What’s in it for me” that he started a lot of industry fights with anyone who dared stand up to him or make better products. There are thousands of marketing case studies that say “Apple products are not better; they are just marketed better.” Jobs was paranoid about that becoming a truism but to his credit did have great design – something we have seen a dearth of since his passing.
Apple Fan Boys are mostly a fanatical, quasi-religious, creation of Apple
They are well organised to flame anyone that criticises it. As one anti-MS journalist states, “It perhaps would be better to ask how much Apple spend on their trolls and whether, in the long term, this expenditure will be a positive benefit to the interests of the Stockholders. I suspect not, but clearly, now it keeps the brand in the public eye.”
And it is not just Apple that wants to see Microsoft go down. Eric Schmidt from Alphabet/Google has a vested interest as Microsoft challenges Google Android, search, cloud and apps with Windows, Bing, Azure and Office etc. Schmidt has watered down the vitriol stating, “People don’t hate MICROSOFT, they have become indifferent to it” – ouch!
And it’s a victim of the time – many who have grown up with Microsoft are now baby-boomers, happy with a desktop PC, set in their ways about using mice and keyboards, eschewing complexity – they just want it to work. Their kids – millennials and Gen Y don’t like to use the things their parents do – Windows is for old people!
During my research, I found this Guardian article that sums up Apple’s place so well. But that is another story – coming soon.
It is a big business that does big business things
Business can only stay in business if it makes products that people want and sells them at prices people are willing to pay. It would make a fascinating case study to read about the three Microsoft eras, the management decisions, and strategies etc. The fact is that Microsoft has grown to one of the world’s largest tech companies.
At the end of 2014 (end of the Ballmer era), it had approx. 128,000 staff, an increase of 38,000 staff over the past five years. Nadella had to rationalise after the Nokia ‘de-acquisition’ in 2016 it had approx. 114,000 staff. Today it has 144,000 full-time staff with 60% based in the US.
But interestingly Microsoft has thousands of independent staff reviews scoring an average of four-out-of-five stars for employee satisfaction. Earlier “era” employee satisfaction reviews have seen it rate as low as three stars.
MS is listed as one of Glassdoor’s more desirable companies to work for at #21.
- Google #11
- LinkedIn (Microsoft) #12
- Facebook #23
- Dell #67
- Apple #84
- Intel #100
FYI Apple has 123,000 employees at the end of 2019 with over 504 retail stores.
The perception that Microsoft operates somehow in a sleazy, underhanded way
For example, MS’s alleged endless, manipulative, and harassing attempts to get users to ‘upgrade’ from a reasonably good Windows 7 to Windows 10 – for free.
MS was doing exactly what Apple does with macOS and iOS and but got slammed for it. The truth was that piracy, obstinacy, and fear of the unknown (not helped by Windows 8.x not being fully developed), as well as concerted FUD campaigns from competitors and MS haters, drove this perception.
Yes, some tactics to speed up the upgrade were heavy-handed. But today Windows 10 users are pleased with most satisfaction ratings being 4-4.5 out-of-five. The typical comment is that it is the best Windows ever – no issues.
But it is comments like this about W10 that perpetuate the myth –
“Perhaps the BIGGEST reasons for HATE is the perception that Microsoft stopped believing in TREATING THEIR CUSTOMERS RIGHT, and we’re NOW being SUBJECTED to their WHIMS like we’re a bunch of SERFS or something, in some kind of FEUDAL SYSTEM, and they are the FEUDAL LORDS that DECREE what *WE* must have/do/etc. with our computers.”
So why the vitriol directed at MS?
Because Microsoft at the time (the 90s and noughties) was a natural, big target, it was no expert in PR, made some monumental blunders, and could not manage ‘issues’. It grew like topsy, had reached behemoth proportions, and it became the unsinkable Titanic of tech – a big target, took a long time to change direction, it was easy to hole, and do damage.
Conversely, Apple’s response to adversity has always been – two words “No comment.” Its autocratic PR policy has frustrated the hell out many journalists – even the privileged few. As a journalist, I want more!
Let’s look at Google’s PR management – it was open to start with, just look at its founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin’s mantra “Don’t be evil”. But that got in the way of commercial realities. It is improving in press relations but has made similar mistakes to Microsoft in the 90s.
The reasons to hate Microsoft are dead and buried – the world has moved on.
From my research, I understand many Microsoft haters are relics from the late 80s, 90s and noughties – a period where the company had perhaps grown arrogant and somewhat lazy due to market position and management malaise. There is no doubt that some of the issues above were real.
Today’s world has three dominant OS players – Apple, Google and Microsoft – paddling in the same pool. Some have a more hardware base, others with a cloud strong-hold, or Search and mobility, etc. But we must live with all of them – competition and choice is healthy.
I am excited by what Microsoft is doing these days, especially since the change of guard from Ballmer to Nadella.
I am in awe of what it has done for security. I like how it has brought developers back into the Windows ecosystem as a service. Azure is very advanced, particularly in the Infrastructure and Platform as a service area, and its analytics and IoT support are amazing. I love HoloLens and admire its work in AI and conversational AI. I love the Surface range of hardware and may just buy an Xbox for its 4K/HDR/Dolby Atmos support.
In all, I give this generation of Microsoft nine-out-of-ten points – no one is perfect.
GadgetGuy’s take – Can you trust Microsoft?
Managing Editor Ray Shaw wraps up.
As Sam points out in this amazingly researched piece, there have been three distinct eras since 1975. Along the way, especially under Ballmer, it became the 1000-lb gorilla and an easy target. It was savagely attacked by the International Anti-Microsoft Network that was actively supported, if not financed by Steve Jobs.
So trust in a digital world is the belief that big tech will put your interests ahead of its own. Rusted-on Microsoft haters stopped reading this article once they saw its title.
But if you made it this far, listen to what CEO Satya Nadella is on the record as saying.
Microsoft doesn’t have any ‘targeting business that is at large’ on its platforms. It leverages subscriptions with limited ad-supported businesses to help customers ‘get more out of their data, more out of their time.’
Google and Amazon use revenue from advertising and retail to support their cloud businesses and other ventures — which might run counter to the interests of their customers.
Trust, not just in the technology, the ethics around AI, privacy, security — all that also matters —but trust in the business model. Our business model depends on one thing and one thing alone, which is the world having more trust in technology.
I think people are going to put more value on their data. Even individual consumers are going to wake up to the fact that there’s nothing free. It’s not to say that there isn’t room for someone to say, ‘Yeah, this is a good trade, where I’m using a free service in exchange for some data.’ But there’s nothing free about it.
So, if you are a Windows 10 user – take control of your privacy with ShutUp10. Or if you use Bing/Edge tighten privacy controls.
In all, you can trust Microsoft not to use your data against you or to sell it to third parties.
Trust Microsoft, Trust Microsoft, Trust Microsoft, Trust Microsoft, Trust Microsoft, Trust Microsoft, Trust Microsoft, Trust Microsoft