Frustrations with Microsoft – Part 1 – Complexity

Overcoming frustrations

In a word: Complexity

Yes, I know I’ve touched on this before, but it seems more apparent than ever that one of the problems crushing Microsoft at the moment is a set of overly complex experiences. We need simplicity.

One the strongest marketing messages you can broadcast is: It just works! Give me a product that just works, and you’ve got yourself a fan.

Companies like Apple (the current poster-child for ease), Atlassian, and Nokia generally get this.

To be fair Microsoft has tried to make things simpler (and perhaps too far in some cases – check out the latest version of Movie Maker for proof of that: it’s so simple it’s practically useless), but in general their experiences are way too complex.

Let’s take a few examples.

 

Exhibit A: Internet Explorer

The biggest example is the burdensome IE8. Bloated is an understatement.

Consider this: What do you want in a browser? Here’s how my behaviour matches my wants, I use:

1. Chrome for speed and simple browsing

2. Firefox if I want plugins (eg Firebug and FireFTP)

3. And IE if I really have too

Surely all people want is speed, simplicity, and some extensibility. Not silly slices and accelerators (that only 0.1% of users will ever even touch). And certainly not a user experience that breaks many sites that they’ve been working happily with for years.

As an aside, the whole standards compliance that Microsoft is pushing with IE8 is an answer to a question that hasn’t been asked. If Microsoft had pushed for better standards 10 years ago it would have been good. Perhaps even 5 years ago. But frankly, that ship sailed long ago. Today’s real standard is whether it works in IE7 and Mozilla. Burdening developers (and more insidiously – the users) with this annoying compatibility mode is just wrong. I was amazed to see that a ‘feature’ of the Release Candidate version of IE8 is that it will check a huge database of known sites that require compatibility mode and adjust itself accordingly (meanwhile the rest of us turned on permanent compatibility mode ages ago, and developers simply added IE=EmulateIE7 meta tags to their sites).

So, the situation stands like this: Microsoft introduce a stupid compatibility mode that no one wants. They burden developers with fixing sites that don’t render well. The outcry is huge, so instead of just scrapping the crazy notion they put in extra infrastructure to identify which sites shouldn’t use it. And they call this a feature. What are these clowns thinking?

By the way, as a simple hypothetical, imagine that all the IE competitors (Firefox, Chrome, Safari, Opera, etc) get together in a room. They’re discussing how they can compete against IE’s dominance. Some complain about the fact that IE is so intertwined with the OS and the unfair advantage this gives. Others talk about features. Finally one sinister person at the back suggests:

‘You know what would be good? If we could somehow get a malicious bit of code into IE so that by default it renders most web sites incorrectly. And to really seal the deal, we’ll make it appear as though it is some kind of standards compliance. That’ll stuff ‘em…’

 

Exhibit B: Windows Mobile

OK, next example: Windows Mobile. Much has been written about how Windows Mobiles are losing ground to iPhones (my example). Sure, the iPhone App market could be contributing, the coolness factor, and many other reasons why could be discussed. However, in my opinion, one of the big contributors is the difficulty users experience getting their devices to sync up.

In fact this is the reason I will likely be switching from my current Windows Mobile device to *gasp* an iPhone when my contract comes up for renewal.

For starters, the Sync software isn’t even built into Windows. I need to find the download from Microsoft, install it, and then go through the dance of deleting previous partnerships, creating news ones, trying to remember which settings I had syncing old contacts and calendar items and the list goes on. It’s one of the main things I dread each time I reformat my machine (approx every 3-4 months). Will the iPhone be better? I can’t be sure – but everyone (yes, everyone!) I’ve spoken to assures me it is.

However, the point isn’t really if the iPhone is easier. The point is that the Windows Mobile process is so bad that I’m looking around for other options.

 

Example C: Windows Live Writer 

Final example: Live Writer. This is one of the better programs Microsoft has (ever) produced. It does a really good job of managing anything to do with your blog (or blog based web site – eg my wife’s site is all managed via Live Writer).

I recommend it to people all the time (see here for example).

But, do you know how to install Live Writer? You’d think it would be simple right? No, these days you have to go and install the Live Essentials pack and navigate your way through 7 programs and 3 add-ons. For Pete’s sake – Why? Has some junior in marketing just learned the *amazing* concept of cross-selling?

It’s a shame really. Instead of a simple install experience and beautiful program experience, it has now been mired with a complex and annoying installer. What’s worse, if you don’t un-tick all those extra install boxes you’ll end up with the fucking MSN toolbar installed. And don’t get me started on it trying to mess with my default search provider – another irritation.

A potential happy customer, now really annoyed.

Want to know how Live Writer should install? Then do this. Go and install Google Chrome. It’s simple and it works. And (if I’m not mistaken) uses ClickOnce  – a Microsoft innovation of all things!

 

The test 

Ask this question about IE8, Windows Mobile, Live Writer and any of their hundreds of other applications:

Q: Can we say ‘It just works’

If the answer is no, then we have a problem.

 

A plea for simplicity

Look, I’m a big fan of Microsoft, but sometimes I just can’t understand what their strategy is. At times, it seems they’re hell bent on making life harder and more complex for me.

So, here’s my plea: Microsoft, please stop working so hard on new features, products and services, and instead just take some time to work on simplicity. The financial returns will surprise you.

I've been involved in digital marketing and web development for more than 25 years. I love analysing data, drinking good coffee and listening to heavy metal. CEO at XEN, a Sydney-based HubSpot Certified Partner.

17 comments On Frustrations with Microsoft – Part 1 – Complexity

  • Hey Mate,

    At the risk of using your blog for 2 way conversation :-):

    IE8 compatibility – Compatibility in IE was a serious problem that needed solving. Keeping everything in "compat mode" would only continue to propagate the misalignment with standards. IE8 defaulting to standards mode is a great thing for every web developer and sets IE on a path of being a great web citizen. It’s best explained in Chris Wilson’s Web Directions keynote (or mix08 session)

    Winmo – no comment

    Live Essentials – totally agree that bundling is very self serving and I would say that microsoft by far the least guilty. Try installing anything without a prompt to install yahoo or google toolbar these days. I actually quite like the Essentials installer. It allows me to install a handful of products at the same time. I reckon if you were to count the clicks on installing Messenger, Writer, Mail and Movie maker verses the clicks in installing 4 separate products, you’ll find it a pleasure to install using the Essentials installer. Of course, all of these solutions suck compared to a proper package management system.

    -mk

  • Hey Mate,

    At the risk of using your blog for 2 way conversation :-):

    IE8 compatibility – Compatibility in IE was a serious problem that needed solving. Keeping everything in "compat mode" would only continue to propagate the misalignment with standards. IE8 defaulting to standards mode is a great thing for every web developer and sets IE on a path of being a great web citizen. It’s best explained in Chris Wilson’s Web Directions keynote (or mix08 session)

    Winmo – no comment

    Live Essentials – totally agree that bundling is very self serving and I would say that microsoft by far the least guilty. Try installing anything without a prompt to install yahoo or google toolbar these days. I actually quite like the Essentials installer. It allows me to install a handful of products at the same time. I reckon if you were to count the clicks on installing Messenger, Writer, Mail and Movie maker verses the clicks in installing 4 separate products, you’ll find it a pleasure to install using the Essentials installer. Of course, all of these solutions suck compared to a proper package management system.

    -mk

  • Hey Michael,

    Yeah, some of the best content is in my comments… :-)

    Regarding IE8’s compatability mode, I disagree with you.
    To be clear, I’m all for supporting web standards (they’re a good thing). The issue for me is how counter-productive Microsoft’s approach is.
    Instead of starting at the grass-roots level and providing guidance to developers on how to understand, embrace and support standards, they instead start at the top and impose it on everyone. This will do very little to promote any change in web site development (except to increase use of the EmulateIE7 tag).
    Consider this: how many sessions have you seen at a Microsoft event, on MSDN, in samples, etc for how to easily support standards in your code? There’s very few.
    In fact, how many sessions have you (a web evangelist) given on how to effectively code for standards on the web?

    So, my point is this: instead of imposing this on users (it’s extremely arrogant of Microsoft IMO), instead provide proper support, tools, and easily discoverable guidance on how to achieve compliance. And understand this mindset shift will take years to permeate.
    This is a going forward concern – there’s no possible way the millions of existing web sites are going to be changed to meet IE8’s new requirements.
    The whole default behaviour of IE8 is ill-considered, and now adding the additional infrastructure of a database of sites that require compatability mode is rediculous. Microsoft should have quietly canned the idea, and made compatability mode the default behaviour.

    So, my summary: Web standards = good, IE8 attempt to promote standards = bad

    As an aside, I’d be interested to see some kind of Google Trends list of how many more sites are using the EmulateIE7 tag since IE8 came out. My speculation is there will be a big correlation.

    And as a closing point, check out Microsoft’s own site – there’s the EmulateIE7 tag – in fact, even the IE8 site itself uses the EmulateIE7 tag! You’d think the IE8 team would have at least attempted to make their own site compliant…

    Cheers,
    Craig

  • Hey Michael,

    Yeah, some of the best content is in my comments… :-)

    Regarding IE8’s compatability mode, I disagree with you.
    To be clear, I’m all for supporting web standards (they’re a good thing). The issue for me is how counter-productive Microsoft’s approach is.
    Instead of starting at the grass-roots level and providing guidance to developers on how to understand, embrace and support standards, they instead start at the top and impose it on everyone. This will do very little to promote any change in web site development (except to increase use of the EmulateIE7 tag).
    Consider this: how many sessions have you seen at a Microsoft event, on MSDN, in samples, etc for how to easily support standards in your code? There’s very few.
    In fact, how many sessions have you (a web evangelist) given on how to effectively code for standards on the web?

    So, my point is this: instead of imposing this on users (it’s extremely arrogant of Microsoft IMO), instead provide proper support, tools, and easily discoverable guidance on how to achieve compliance. And understand this mindset shift will take years to permeate.
    This is a going forward concern – there’s no possible way the millions of existing web sites are going to be changed to meet IE8’s new requirements.
    The whole default behaviour of IE8 is ill-considered, and now adding the additional infrastructure of a database of sites that require compatability mode is rediculous. Microsoft should have quietly canned the idea, and made compatability mode the default behaviour.

    So, my summary: Web standards = good, IE8 attempt to promote standards = bad

    As an aside, I’d be interested to see some kind of Google Trends list of how many more sites are using the EmulateIE7 tag since IE8 came out. My speculation is there will be a big correlation.

    And as a closing point, check out Microsoft’s own site – there’s the EmulateIE7 tag – in fact, even the IE8 site itself uses the EmulateIE7 tag! You’d think the IE8 team would have at least attempted to make their own site compliant…

    Cheers,
    Craig

  • Hi again Michael,

    Regarding installing Live Essentials, yes I’m sure its quicker to install all 4 than each separately. My point is that I only want to install Live Writer. Actually I also install Messenger, so yes I need to concede a little there… But I don’t need any of the others.

    And you are probably right, other vendors have even worse installers. I get frustrated anytime some other package wants me to install the Google Toolbar – even Winzip wants to install some extra crap on my machine these days. So, it is definitely rife.

    So, the opportunity for Microsoft is to differentiate itself, and be *the* company that provides the best, easiest, cleanest, simplest install experience.

    On a positive note, the Win 7 install process is the best I’ve ever had for an application (in this case an OS) that is so comprehensive. It felt like only a few clicks. Amazing! You CAN do it. More please :-)

    Craig

  • Hi again Michael,

    Regarding installing Live Essentials, yes I’m sure its quicker to install all 4 than each separately. My point is that I only want to install Live Writer. Actually I also install Messenger, so yes I need to concede a little there… But I don’t need any of the others.

    And you are probably right, other vendors have even worse installers. I get frustrated anytime some other package wants me to install the Google Toolbar – even Winzip wants to install some extra crap on my machine these days. So, it is definitely rife.

    So, the opportunity for Microsoft is to differentiate itself, and be *the* company that provides the best, easiest, cleanest, simplest install experience.

    On a positive note, the Win 7 install process is the best I’ve ever had for an application (in this case an OS) that is so comprehensive. It felt like only a few clicks. Amazing! You CAN do it. More please :-)

    Craig

  • It’s hilarious (and awesome) that Chrome’s install bootstrapper is launched via ClickOnce. ClickOnce is an underutilised technology and it just rocks.

    I would settle for a version of IE that’s almost identical in terms of UI layout but doesn’t have all the ridiculous bells and whistles ("web slices", "suggested sites", "accelerators" etc). Give it a managed .NET add-on API and it would be perfect.

  • It’s hilarious (and awesome) that Chrome’s install bootstrapper is launched via ClickOnce. ClickOnce is an underutilised technology and it just rocks.

    I would settle for a version of IE that’s almost identical in terms of UI layout but doesn’t have all the ridiculous bells and whistles ("web slices", "suggested sites", "accelerators" etc). Give it a managed .NET add-on API and it would be perfect.

  • Sessions around standards: Personally, I did Tech.Ed 07, REMIX07 and the innovation day roadshow late last year.

    We also talked about it at WDS 08 and in fact keynoted WDS07 with it. We also had a session at REMIX08. But I’m not really the best guy to listen to. I’d suggest going to Web Directions or attending a web standards group meeting. They’re a far better place to get skilled up.

    IE7 compat mode: It’s there for a reason. It’s there so that your non standards compliant site will still render ok in IE8. I think this is a great way to not be threatened by my Microsoft bold move to embrace standards first. And yes, it’s so useful that we use it on MSCOM. That’s exactly what it’s there for. I don’t see the problem. Microsoft anticipated a problem and came up with a very simple solution (well, simple in my books). There is also much information on the topic online. Have a look through my del.icio.us links – http://delicious.com/mkordahi/ie8.

    You also do realise that the IE8 and Web Standards topic has been active for almost a year now. There has been much discussion on the topic amongst all serious front end developers for a while. Most get it. In fact, part of my job is to ensure that the major aussie sites get it and most all of them didn’t even need to talk to me as they were well aware of Microsoft’s decision to be standards compliant by default (but I won’t tell my boss that )

    If you want compat mode to be "the default behaviour", when would you want standards mode to ever be "the default behaviour"? If at all.

    If you do want to be a good (web and/or Microsoft) citizen, I recommend spreading the word about being ready for IE8 rather than whinge about it.

    Ultimately, MS embracing standards and, in a way, righting the wrongs of the past is a good thing in the long term and this is why I support it and choose to talk about it.

    -mk

  • Sessions around standards: Personally, I did Tech.Ed 07, REMIX07 and the innovation day roadshow late last year.

    We also talked about it at WDS 08 and in fact keynoted WDS07 with it. We also had a session at REMIX08. But I’m not really the best guy to listen to. I’d suggest going to Web Directions or attending a web standards group meeting. They’re a far better place to get skilled up.

    IE7 compat mode: It’s there for a reason. It’s there so that your non standards compliant site will still render ok in IE8. I think this is a great way to not be threatened by my Microsoft bold move to embrace standards first. And yes, it’s so useful that we use it on MSCOM. That’s exactly what it’s there for. I don’t see the problem. Microsoft anticipated a problem and came up with a very simple solution (well, simple in my books). There is also much information on the topic online. Have a look through my del.icio.us links – http://delicious.com/mkordahi/ie8.

    You also do realise that the IE8 and Web Standards topic has been active for almost a year now. There has been much discussion on the topic amongst all serious front end developers for a while. Most get it. In fact, part of my job is to ensure that the major aussie sites get it and most all of them didn’t even need to talk to me as they were well aware of Microsoft’s decision to be standards compliant by default (but I won’t tell my boss that )

    If you want compat mode to be "the default behaviour", when would you want standards mode to ever be "the default behaviour"? If at all.

    If you do want to be a good (web and/or Microsoft) citizen, I recommend spreading the word about being ready for IE8 rather than whinge about it.

    Ultimately, MS embracing standards and, in a way, righting the wrongs of the past is a good thing in the long term and this is why I support it and choose to talk about it.

    -mk

  • btw, your comments notification CheckBox doesnt seem to be working.

  • btw, your comments notification CheckBox doesnt seem to be working.

  • Ahhh Michael – I guess we are just going to have agree to disagree on this one.

    To be clear, I’m a big supporter of web standards. I think ‘I get’ web standards. In fact you and I had a good chat at Web Directions as I recall…

    So, on that, we both agree.

    My issue is that Microsoft is going about it in entirely the wrong way.
    And yes, I am aware of the history – I’ve been critical of the MS approach since Beta 1.

    We could both go on and on about this I guess… but probably best to argue this one out over a coffee sometime (or an arm wrestle :-)

  • Ahhh Michael – I guess we are just going to have agree to disagree on this one.

    To be clear, I’m a big supporter of web standards. I think ‘I get’ web standards. In fact you and I had a good chat at Web Directions as I recall…

    So, on that, we both agree.

    My issue is that Microsoft is going about it in entirely the wrong way.
    And yes, I am aware of the history – I’ve been critical of the MS approach since Beta 1.

    We could both go on and on about this I guess… but probably best to argue this one out over a coffee sometime (or an arm wrestle :-)

  • okely dokely, happy agree to disagree.

    the one thing I ask is that when we have our coffee, you give me a better approach that forwards both the web and ie.

    I’ll even pay for the coffee :-)

    -mk

  • okely dokely, happy agree to disagree.

    the one thing I ask is that when we have our coffee, you give me a better approach that forwards both the web and ie.

    I’ll even pay for the coffee :-)

    -mk

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