Proof, If Proof Be Needed

by on September 9, 2006

Microsoft’s “fastest patch ever” is interesting:

If you really want to see Microsoft scramble to patch a hole in its software, don’t look to vulnerabilities that impact countless Internet Explorer users or give intruders control of thousands of Windows machines. Just crack Redmond’s DRM.

One of the more stunning conversations I’ve ever had with a work colleague about the software we use went along the following lines once:

Me: “Aaargh! Word’s so buggy, either that or so complex, this feels like a bug…! I hate Microsoft software!”

Them:  “Well, if they weren’t the best, they wouldn’t be top of the heap, now would they?”

Me: “What? Are you nuts??”

Them: “No – I’m serious. Microsoft make the best software because that’s what everyone uses.”

Me: “Aaargh!”

Microsoft is a monopoly. This is why their software contains rafts of bloated, useless “features” that ordinary users just don’t understand. Microsoft has usability labs, and usability people banging away in their own little world in Redmond with vast budgets, etc.. But the fact is that users mean nothing to their business model. If users want a feature, or don’t like something, they can complain – but M$ don’t have to listen. All they have to do is make sure the users (and their workplaces) UPGRADE. That, and making sure that large industry sectors (like media) give them lots of money.

So this latest news about the DRM “flaw” that’s been patched immediately is, I think, proof. Microsoft doesn’t care, has never cared, and doesn’t need to even pay attention to users. Why should they? Years between MSIE 6 and MSIE 7? Actual, useful, real differences between Windows 95 and Vista? You get the idea…

Comments

Interestingly, during the development of IE7, Microsoft have engaged in what is, for them, an entirely new inclusivity. They *have* been listening to the users – and taken on board comments – on a very large scale. Not only that, but they have been transparent throughout the development process, detailing it on numerous blogs, and have actively engaged with other browser vendors (eg Mozilla / Firefox) to encourage cooperation on standards and the “right way forward”.

It’s also a little unfair to say MS don’t listen to users – they do; they do this through large-scale rounds of beta-testing, which are taken very seriously (far more so than beta testing done by the average software vendor), and have done so for many years. The problem is, perhaps, they listen to the *wrong sort of user*. Beta testers are generally expert IT users, and not your average man on the street.

I agree that IE7 is an exception. Evidence perhaps of the MSIE team being staffed by forward-thinking people, unlike, for example, the Media Player team, or just about all other teams at Redmond. I refer to teams by the way in reference to those described in the book “I Sing The Body Electric.”Things may well have changed since then though, but I somehow doubt it.

And you are of course right – their beta-testing is the wrong sort of testing altogether. Their philosophy seems to be to throw features at users and then to see which ones stick, not to gather information about what users might actually require, then design such features as part of a consolidated programme in consultation with those users. I know they invite the Word MSVP bods to Redmond once or twice a year and lecture them on what the new version of Word will have – but that’s hardly the same thing.

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