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Microsoft dominates the world of personal computing. The vast majority of desktop and notebook computers run Microsoft’s Windows operating system. Most people, at work and at home, also use Microsoft’s Office software and Internet Explorer web browser. It’s hard to find a serious gamer who doesn’t use Microsoft’s Xbox system, and Microsoft even gets into the hardware game with its line of keyboards and mice.
It seems like you can’t get away from Microsoft, even if you’re an Apple lover – which may be part of the company’s image problem. In spite of – or perhaps because of – its ubiquity, Microsoft is without a doubt the most-hated tech company today. It’s not even a love/hate relationship for some; many users simply hate the company whose products they feel forced to use.
What is it about Microsoft that so many people dislike? And is that hatred earned? Read on to find out what’s behind all this loathing.
Everybody Loves an Underdog – Which Microsoft Isn’t
One of the big problems people have with Microsoft is that it’s big – too big. Let’s face it, Microsoft pretty much has a monopoly on the computer desktop, with a 92% share of the operating systems market; it’s closest competitor, Apple, has a measly 7% share. Apple illusions aside, we all live in a Microsoft world, like it or not – and many people don’t.
It’s that feeling of being forced to use Microsoft products that a lot of people don’t like. People like choice, and these days about the only choice you have, when it comes to computers, is which version of Windows you get. If you want to play the personal computer game, you have to play with Microsoft. I don’t much like that, myself; I’d rather have a few more viable options.
Above and beyond that, however, is our inherent love of the underdog and hatred of the front runner – especially when that front runner is totally dominant, as Microsoft is. Let’s face it, it’s been a long time since Microsoft has been an underdog in the tech industry, despite what some of the frail egos in Redmond might think. If anything, Microsoft is the vicious pack leader of the tech industry – and who likes that?
It hasn’t always been that way. Microsoft’s DOS operating system was the underdog when it was bundled with IBM’s original personal computer (itself an underdog) back in 1981. Microsoft Word struggled mightily against the entrenched WordStar and WordPerfect programs through the 1980s and early 1990s. Lotus 1-2-3 was the entrenched leader when underdog Excel hit the market in the mid-1980s. Even Internet Explorer, the web browser we all love to hate, was an underdog for several years when it was competing with the then-dominant Netscape browser. (And where are all those competitors today? Gone, gone, gone.)
Despite its overall market dominance, Microsoft still faces an uphill fight in some markets today. Microsoft’s Bing search engine is a poor number-two to Google, the company can’t seem to get a foothold in the online advertising market, it doesn’t have a clue what to do about Facebook and Twitter in social networking, and the upcoming Surface tablet very well could be too little too late in competing with Apple’s iPad. So it’s not totally a Microsoft world.
Still, it’s hard to think of Microsoft in general as being an underdog. Even in those areas where the company is number two (or lower), you don’t really want to root for its success; that would just make Microsoft bigger overall. No, we love our underdogs, and Microsoft isn’t one of them.
They Don’t Make the Best Software, Either
Critics argue that Microsoft is more of a copycat than an innovator, and that’s a fair charge. Microsoft did not have the first PC operating system, nor the first word processor, nor the first spreadsheet, nor the first web browser, nor… well, you get the picture. Microsoft is seldom if ever first out of the gate with anything. (This lagging performance continues today, with the company giving Apple’s iPad a good two-year head start in the tablet market.)
And, at least in their initial iterations, Microsoft’s products are seldom the best available. It’s a good rule of thumb to avoid 1.0 versions of any Microsoft product; the products get better over time, but they kind of suck on their initial release.
In fact, many tech enthusiasts deride Microsoft’s products as inferior to the competition, overall. Windows isn’t as good as Mac OS or Linux, Internet Explorer isn’t as fast or as functional as Firefox or Chrome, and so on and so forth. I’m not so sure about this point, myself (even though I personally prefer Chrome to IE); I think Microsoft’s products, in general, are at least good enough, or we wouldn’t be using them. Near-monopoly be damned, if Microsoft’s products really sucked, nobody would buy them. So this may not be a fair rap.
Damned If They Do, Damned If They Don’t
Another thing that people tend to hate about Microsoft is that they make too many changes to those products we use every day. Forget the fact that these are all products we’re supposed to hate; people must like them enough to go postal when Microsoft has the audacity to change the location of a given menu item or the background color of a page. It’s actually a little schizophrenic: we hate your stuff, but don’t you dare change it!
And, let’s face it, Microsoft has made some major changes of late. The company caught a lot of flak for changing the Start button to the Start orb in Windows Vista (not the least of Vista’s issues), and confused a lot of users by moving from pull-down menus to the ribbon interface in Office 2007. All these moves were confusing, at best, to existing users.
But that’s minor league stuff compared to the coming changes in Windows 8, which pretty much throws two decades of Windows use out the proverbial window in favor of a tiled interface best suited by touchscreen devices. Forget the fact that virtually none of the current 400 million Windows users have touchscreen computers; Windows 8 is a “new paradigm” for personal computing, whether we want it or not. I’m waiting for the excrement to hit the rotating blades when this new version of Windows is forced on an unsuspecting user base; given how up in arms everybody got about the Office ribbon, how are they going to react to removal of the Start menu?
Still, what’s Microsoft to do – quit innovating? It may be a pain in the posterior when the latest version of Microsoft whatnot moves your most-used menu command and you can’t figure out how to keep doing what you’ve always done, but the company really is trying to create a better computing experience. Even though you may have hated the Office ribbon when it first came out, you have to admit that once you got used to it, it made things a bit easier – which is the point. Microsoft needs to keep improving their products, and that means changing things for existing users. It’s problematic when that existing user base is so large and prone to complaining, but that’s the price that Microsoft pays for being popular.
So, Windows 8 aside (which I think is a huge misstep), I sympathize with Microsoft and any other company that has to change things up to keep its products up to date. If you don’t like the changes, don’t upgrade.
They’re Not Focused on the Consumer
The Windows 8 situation points up another reason so many people hate Microsoft – they’re not really focused on what their customers want. Windows 8 is an innovative operating system ideal for tablets and other touchscreen devices, but really lousy for traditional desktop and notebook computers – which make up virtually all of the company’s current user base. I guess Microsoft figures we’ll all ditch our boring old keyboard-and-mouse computers in favor of expensive new hybrid tablet/computer devices, but that’s questionable thinking in a world where the majority of large corporations are still running the decade-old Windows XP operating system.
You see, Windows 8 is a solution in search of problem that doesn’t exist. Microsoft created Windows 8 as an internal response to their fear of Apple’s dominance in the tablet market. It didn’t emerge holistically from customer needs or demands; it’s strictly an internal construct.
In fact, few if any of Microsoft’s new products and upgrades have come from consumer demand. Microsoft comes up with new features and functionality that its designers think are cool, but that few people in the real world were asking for. In spite of much lip service about usability studies and listening to their customers (especially their big corporate ones), Microsoft listens to no one but itself. That is not a good thing, and a valid reason for people to dislike the company – and the products (like Windows 8) that result from this inbred mentality.
Nobody Likes Them, Anyway
This internal focus is more than a little bit arrogant. The folks in Redmond think they know more than their customers do, and the result is a slew of products and features that nobody asked for and nobody really wants. It also explains why Microsoft is almost always late for the party; if it’s not in touch with everyday consumers, it will always be reacting to what others are doing in the marketplace.
This arrogance also makes Microsoft difficult to like. Is a society that has learned to embrace lovable nerds and nerd culture, the nerds at Microsoft just aren’t that lovable. Instead, Microsofties come off as arrogant little know-it-all bastards, not the quirky eccentrics you find on Big Bang Theory and The Office. In terms of image, the company these days is more Steve Ballmer than Bill Gates, and does anybody love Steve Ballmer? Even his wife and kids? I doubt it.
Finally, let’s fess up to the fact that it’s just not fashionable to like Microsoft. It’s okay to be an Apple junky, there’s something hip about that, but it’s not the same thing to cheerlead for the boys from Redmond. It’s not like when Microsoft released Windows 95 and had adoring fans lining up around the block to get their copy at midnight; today, Microsoft is the anti-hip, the big established company that it’s definitely not cool to like. Anybody seen supporting Microsoft on an online message forum is automatically dubbed a troll and marginalized. Nobody cool likes Microsoft today.
So – How Bad is Microsoft?
There’s no denying it; Microsoft is the very definition of a company that we love to hate. In fact, there’s probably more hate than love towards the company and its products today.
The question is, is that hate justified? Or is Microsoft getting a bad rap?
I think that much of the anger towards Microsoft comes merely because they’re a big company; any company that big and dominant is going to catch a lot of grief from the masses. But you don’t get that big because people hate your products – just the opposite, in fact. At one time or another, people really liked what Microsoft did. Maybe that’s still true today, underneath all the grumbling. If we really hated Microsoft’s products, we wouldn’t’ be using them.
Not that Microsoft is a saint in wolf’s clothing. Far from it. The company is big and arrogant and the people that work there think they know better than their customers do. They certainly like to throw their weight around.
This is all cause for derision, but that doesn’t necessarily make the company evil. If anything, I think Microsoft is more incompetent than it is willfully malevolent. Many of the things I personally dislike about Microsoft are a result of its very human failings, not due to any deliberate attempt to piss me off. The fact that I get pissed off means that I actually care about the company and its products and how they affect my life. If I didn’t rely on their stuff so much I wouldn’t care when they screw up.
I guess that’s the definition of a love/hate relationship, which is what many of us have with Microsoft. It would be better if they cleaned up their act and listened to us more – but then what would we have to complain about?