In Microsoft We Trust?

On American paper money, you will find the phrase “In God We Trust.” Even though it is Constitutionally not a requirement to believe that phrase literally, it goes to show you that there are very few things that Americans hold above the all mighty dollar. Therefore, the things that make us part with our wealth had better be worth it.

A cash machine running Windows is hung. Click on the image to see the orginal on flickr.  Thanks to the photographer tim_b

A cash machine running Windows is hung. Click on the image to see the orginal on flickr. Thanks to the photographer "tim_b

My belief in software freedom is not about how much I am willing to pay for it. I am not alone. Ken Starks recently blogged about how Linux users are more willing to pay for software than their Windows user counterparts.

I am considering buying Windows 7 for the purpose of research for this blog. In my “what should I use” post I discussed the fact that I now have a PC with Microsoft Vista. Since then, I approved the EULA. Not because I agree with it but because I wanted to try Vista for myself.

So far, it has been slow going.

In fairness, the software that I have become accustomed to, such as virtual desktops, do not come by default with that operating system. Even if I shell out hundreds of dollars for Microsoft Windows 7, which is supposedly great, I will need to spend days of my time hunting down the applications and installing them to fit the way I have wired my brain over the past 10 years of being a Linux on the desktop user.

Change is painful, even for an ubergeek like me. I too need to accept that those accustomed to Microsoft Windows will have similar conversion troubles and emotions. Does a reluctance to try something new equal trust in status quo? I think not.

Which leads me to my next point, how did I get to from a Microsoft user to a Linux user? When I had my first computer at home, I loved Microsoft and its products. Microsoft earned my trust by providing me something that no other desktop operating system could in 1992, a command line: MSDOS. There was only one other serious desktop operating system back then, and it was a graphical-only pre-UNIX/Darwin MacOS. I loved MSDOS to the point that if UNIX-based operating systems like Linux, BSD, MacOSX, or Solaris did not exist, I would still be using MSDOS. Why? The command line was very straight forward. It did not hide the details of what exactly was running on your PC with distractions such as screen savers, icons, cascading windows, etc. Instead it told the truth about what your PC was doing. You know what, it took seconds to boot. When it was time to close up for the night, you exited the ONE application you were running and then hit the power button. I felt respected as a user compared to the get-a-cup-of-coffee boot times that my MAC user friends experienced in that era. Who could forget the acronym: Most Applications Crash If Not Then Operating System Hangs.

Microsoft meant stability pre-Windows 95. Imagine no blue screens of death. No patch Tuesday. No digital rights management. No need to prove your product that you bought was authentic. Instead, when you bought software you bought a product that took your money and kept out of your business.

Windows 95 was the first time I felt like Microsoft betrayed me. It introduced the blue screen of death. For the first time, the graphical interface was the operating system, not a layer on top of it. Some may call this innovation, but I to this day see this is a dishonest trick to hide from the users what is really going on. None the less, people liked it. I even used it, supported it, and installed it oodles of times. To some, it had a Hollywood level of fun to PC computing. Bill Gates paid the licensing for the Rolling Stones tune “Start Me Up” and people were hooked.

While I see the start menu as a technical step back, it was great marketing. It was also an obvious copy of what MACOS was doing at the time. Today, any desktop operating system will have some form of application launcher. This includes Linux.

The start menu was part of the Microsoft brand until Vista in which it phased in a Windows circle which added to the list of many frustrations that Windows 9x/XP users had with the Vista operating system.

While I have not tried Windows 7, I have seen many folks in the Linux community jokingly point out that it looks like the popular Linux environment, KDE4.

The loss of the start menu branding consistency paired with the “innovation” of the Microsoft Office ribbon confuses users. This leads to distrust of Microsoft from the user base.

I believe Microsoft distrust will cause users to do one of the following:

1. Stay with status quo. Don’t upgrade. Pirate if necessary.
I predict, now that Windows 7 is out, Microsoft will make it gosh darned impossible to legally buy or “downgrade” to WindowsXP.  Unfortunately, some people will turn to piracy to stay with status quo. The users who opt for piracy will no longer be part of Microsoft’s market share. Since funds no longer go to Microsoft, Steve Ballmer no longer counts them.(I know about ReactOS, a free and open source WindowsXP clone, but the typical WindowsXP user will not. I do recommend RevolutionOS. I do not recommend piracy.)
2. Switch operating systems
Apple and Linux desktop use will increase. This means users of all types, not just the young and tech savvy.
  • Apple agrees that this moment Windows users who have lostMicrosoft trust may switch to their products. So much so, they have a wholemarketing campaign.
  • Those who mistrust both Microsoft and Apple with their money will look to Linux systems as desktops. USAToday thinks so too. As of today, my mother uses Ubuntu and Xandros. Other babyboomers are likely to follow as they network with people like my mother and see they can do everything they want to do without Windows.Non-MacOSX BSD-based desktops will continue to be a novelty among geeks and will see next to no growth.
3. Forget about the desktop all together

This involves “cloud computing” which most users are doing this right now without realizing it. Do you check your email over a web browser? Well, corporations are going Google with Gmail and Google docs. Once Google Wave goes prime-time, Microsoft will no longer be the new efficiency

Before I close, I leave you with this thought. Please do comment…

Do you trust Microsoft with your money so much that you would willfully use Windows as an Automatic Teller Machine?

Microsoft will lack majority market share June 30, 2011.

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This entry was posted in Apple, Linux, Marketing, Office Suite, Windows. Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to In Microsoft We Trust?

  1. Funny you should mention ATMs running Windows, I did a blog post on that very thing a little while back.

    http://thistleweb.co.uk/blog/rbs-atms-use-windows

    I didn’t have a camera at the time to capture the error message but offhand it looked like some log file had run out of space. This was a Saturday, so it would have been left out of order all weekend. Until I saw that error message I never knew RBS used Windows, now I’m hesitant about using them.

    I started a photobucket group for peeps to upload pictures like this, to name and shame banks who are stupid enough to risk their customers details by using Windows.

    http://photobucket.com/banking-on-windows-atms

    On the switching from Windows to Linux or vice versa, we all get used to our environments and feel like we’re wearing someone else’s shoes that don’t quite fit right when we move to a different environment. It takes time to adapt switching in either direction. Now I get frustrated when I right click on a Windows desktop and my apps menu won’t appear as that’s how I work in Linux. I get frustrated when I rename a file in Windows and have to remember to add the file extension back in as Linux is intelligent enough to leave that part out of the highlighted text.

    Attitude is important too, when peeps switch from Windows to Linux, they hope it’s better but quirks they learned in Windows don’t work, or are not needed. Gradually they learn this if they stick with it. After being used to Linux and knowing how bad Windows is in terms of stability and security it’s easy to taint your attitude expecting it to be bad. I suspect the more technical your mind is, the more the little things will pop out at you too leaving you wondering “WTF were these guys smoking when they thought this was a good idea?”. These are the same things the average user wouldn’t notice.

  2. Jason says:

    This is certainly a controversial write-up, but also a very thought-provoking one. I’ll leave it to later commenters to further defend (and, unfortunately, possibly also attack) Windows 7, but I don’t buy into the idea that “Microsoft’s market share will be less than 50%” by the summer of 2011.

    I would specifically like to address the last point the author makes, when mentioning cloud computing. Yes, cloud computing is growing and will almost certainly continue to grow in the next two years (and beyond), but Microsoft will be a part of this equation. Windows Azure (http://bit.ly/WindowsAzurePlatform), Microsoft’s cloud computing platform, is currently in beta and is planned for full release later this month.
    The hosted applications the author mentions, Gmail and Google docs, are also competing against Microsoft, with Hotmail and Office Live.

    In any case, this article certainly gives us some things to think about as computer-users and IT pros in the ever-changing tech world.

    Jason (collaborating with M80, working with Microsoft to help promote Windows Azure.)

  3. What Will We Use Editor says:

    Thank you Jason for making my day. Apparently whatwillweuse.com is now on Microsoft marketing radar. We welcome intelligent discussion from both sides of the isle. Please feel free to continue to comment!

    Sincerely,

    Beth Lynn Eicher (ble)
    Editor-in-Chief of whatwillweuse.com

  4. Jason,

    Microsoft have shown how good their cloud service will be by losing data for the Danger / T-Mobile customers. Every week there are more self inflicted wounds coming from Microsoft that will lose them another chunk of customers as they wake up to the reality that all Microsoft seem capable of is producing expensive, locked down third rate software with a LOT of marketing, lobbying and lawyering deception to ensure customers can’t choose anything else.

    I have to hand it to you, at least you’re adding the disclaimer that you’re working with Microsoft to promote Azure”. Most Microsoft employees try to pretend to be normal neutral users when commenting on blogs etc, another illegal act Microsoft have yet to be held to account in a court for.

    I do agree with you on one point though, a 50% market share by summer 2011 is a wildly optimistic figure that nobody would bet on. When you have such a domination, even with a succession of failures, and a hemorrhaging of resources it’ll never drop close to that number in that time. If it’s a goal to aim at for FOSS, that’s great but anyone in management who set obviously unattainable goals will see them not even being shrived for as they know the result will be a fail. Setting realistic, achievable goals will have the intended effect.

    “Market share” is always going to be hard to quantify, when both Apple and Microsoft have sales figures and shares in companies who do the counts, they will choose to count sales where FOSS is almost non existent. They won’t count downloaded .isos as not all are burned and installed. How many Linux users download a new distro just to try or review it? An .iso that is burned may not be installed, or it may be installed on many PCs. Do they count connections to a site? How many PCs are behind routers so maybe 100 PCs appear as one to that website?

    Add to the fact that Microsoft ensure that when you buy a new PC, you have THEIR choice of Windows as something you can’t choose not to have. “I want XP” “It comes with Vista” “But I hate Vista, I want XP” “OK, since you’re speshul, if you give us more money you can leave with XP installed” “YAY!” ….Microsoft counts every one of them as someone CHOSING Vista.

    Not forgetting the companies they use, will use US stats and present them as if they apply globally. Most poor countries can’t afford Windows or OSX, FOSS is a natural choice there in terms of both price and freedom from US control, not to mention native language support.

    You can easily argue that the FOSS / Linux / Unix market share of PCs connected to the internet is VERY high, if you include the server farms who all know better than to trust their business to Windows. Every time you use Google, you use Linux. Yahoo use FreeBSD. Even Microsoft themselves use Linux servers for their critical internal services, and leave the customers data at the whims of their own Windows servers. That must really stick in their throats.

  5. Jason says:

    Hi Gordon,
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. You make some good points, but I’d like to address the ones I disagree with.

    > Microsoft have shown how good their cloud service will be by losing
    > data for the Danger / T-Mobile customers.

    The Danger/Sidekick incident was certainly not something Microsoft is proud of. However, I’d like to point out that Danger was it own company that was only aquired by Microsoft in 2008. Microsoft largely left Danger’s original technology in place, which is very different from what Windows Azure is built upon. They are also completely separate teams. Lastly, Danger apparently did not have mirrored copies of the Sidekick data in place. I do not know enough about the details of their implementation to comment on this, but Windows Azure has multiple mirrors of the data on multiple servers in in multiple geographic regions. These are two very different technologies and setups that can’t really be equated.

    > Add to the fact that Microsoft ensure that when you buy a new PC,
    > you have THEIR choice of Windows as something you can’t choose not to have.

    Not actually true anymore. Lenovo, for instance, has sold PCs without Windows.

    > Microsoft themselves use Linux servers for their critical internal services

    Also not true. All of their critical internal services, unless acquired from a third party and not yet ported over, are run on Windows.

    Oh, yeah – Danger runs on UNIX.

  6. Yonah says:

    The ATM picture is a real cheap-shot because it lacks the proper context. Yes, some ATM machines do indeed run Windows. In this case, Windows is simply used as a platform to run an ATM client programmed by a 3rd party not related to Microsoft. There could be hundreds of bugs in the ATM software alone that will cause the client application to crash, hang, or malfunction and it would have nothing at all do to with Windows itself. Not to mention some of these machines are not properly maintained. Others are installed outdoors where temperatures and conditions very widely causing all sorts of hardware problems.

    The picture you show displays a message about the failure to connect to a domain controller. Perhaps the machine lost power and some other networking hardware connected to the ATM was didn’t come back on-line. There is simply no way to be sure Windows itself was at fault, but people like you are quick to make snap judgments without the data. You are not objective, thus poorly suited to try and educate or inform others.

  7. Jason

    Are you suggesting the odd piece of defiance (yes defiance is the correct term when standing up to a bullies demands) by a retailer of Microsoft’s wishes represents the norm? Yes, you can indeed find new PCs without Windows pre-installed, Dell have a few too. The difference is that you have to hunt for them, jump through hoops to find them. Many retailers are so strangled by Microsoft that they don’t want punished for daring to offer the customer anything other than Windows. Microsoft also like enforcing limits on the numbers of non-Windows PCs they can sell too. It’s getting better, the more Microsoft are exposed for these crimes, but it has a long way to go before it’s right.

  8. Jason says:

    Gordon,
    First, I think using the term “crimes” in this context is a bit extreme. Even if everything you said were true, one could hardly call such actions “crimes.”

    Second, Microsoft, like any other product vendor that relies on their product being packaged with another’s, definitely spends a lot of money marketing to computer manufacturers, but they are not “enforcing limits” as you suggest. If they had this kind of power, wouldn’t they also use it on server-manufacturers? As you know servers that runs OS’s other than Windows (usually flavors of UNIX) are easy enough to find.

    Even in the desktop world, other than the PC manufacturers that sell machines without Windows, you can also very easily find a non-Windows machine in a Mac store.

    Lastly, Windows is pre-installed on most PC’s because that’s what the market wants. Most PC users want Windows to be on their machine when they purchase it. Otherwise, the demand for non-Windows machines would be much higher.

    On to another comment to this blog, Yonah, I agree with your main point, but I think the author (ble) has some valid points (I may not agree with them, but they are valid nonetheless) and your judgement is way too harsh. Of course ble is not objective – but who among us is? In any case, that’s the point. She has $20 riding on her being correct :-).

    Back to the topic at least *I* am most interested in: cloud computing. There is lots of competition in the cloud computing field right now (Amazon, Google, etc.) and this will increase when Microsoft exits beta and fully releases Windows Azure. With all this competition from major players in the software world, who are also very well-funded, Gordon can hardly suggest unfair practices on Microsoft’s part in the world of cloud computing. The leader will be decided by the market.

  9. Vance says:

    Lastly, Windows is pre-installed on most PC’s because that’s what the market wants.

    Sorry, I can’t let this go past. If the market truly decided, I’d be able to buy any Dell or HP system with no operating system installed.

    Think about it this way: how many purchased but unused OEM Windows licenses are lying around? Why did those people buy licenses if they weren’t going to use them? How does this compare to unused Apple OS X or Linux OEM licenses?

    Appealing to “the market” as an infallibly neutral, intelligent arbiter is about as wrong as it gets. It can be, and has been, rigged many times. Don’t forget that “the market” brought us the whole subprime mortgage meltdown.

  10. Jason says:

    Vance, you raise a good point. However, the available offerings on the market reflect the demands of the masses. If a significant portion of computer-buyers (even 5%, actually) wanted a OS-free machine, companies like Dell and HP would take notice and sell them. I agree that you *should* be able to get a machine like this if you want one, but it probably doesn’t make financial sense for a computer manufacturer to produce and sell these machines for such a small minority. That said, you actually can get a machine without an OS, but you’d probably have to either build it yourself, search the far-reaches of the web for someone who sells them, or have it custom-built (which might end up costing more than just buying a Dell or HP with Windows, unfortunately). (By the way, the subprime mortgage meltdown was more of a get-rich-quick scheme, in which people were fooled into buying things they couldn’t afford. Not really comparable here.)

  11. Vance says:

    However, the available offerings on the market reflect the demands of the masses.

    Because… why? Because the computer market is immune to manipulation?

    The subprime meltdown is relevant because credit rating agencies whitewashed the risk by giving ratings to bundled mortgage obligations far exceeding their actual quality. Without that distortion of the market, originators would never have had the incentive to engage in the get-rich-quick scheme (because they wouldn’t have been able to unload the risky mortgages onto someone else). Similarly, the markets for personal computer hardware and software can be distorted by manipulating just a small number of players.

    I don’t want to give the impression that I am anti-market; it’s just that for as long as they have existed, people have tried to manipulate them to their personal advantage. For all players to retain confidence in the market, we need to be vigilant and defend them from manipulation.

  12. Jason says:

    Vance, I absolutely agree with you. Capitalism is a great system, but it can be abused. When businesses are free to engage in any anti-competitive practice they see fit, without any repercussions, we (the consumers) lose.

    However, I will continue to make the point that PCs are sold with Windows installed because customers want PCs with Windows. The few that want Linux instead, unfortunately, will have a harder time finding hardware that suits their needs at a reasonable price. They account for less than 5% of the market (my guess is less than 1%) and this minority market is not profitable for most computer manufacturers to cater to.

    I am certainly not going to claim that there has never been any manipulation in the computer market (hardware, operating system, software, etc.), but this is not the dominant driving force behind the selection of available operating systems (either Mac’s OS or Windows, depending on the hardware) available with a desktop computer.

    Jason (collaborating with M80, working with Microsoft to help promote Windows Azure.)

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