Editorial

Microsoft's Customer Relationship Status: It's Complicated.

By now I’m sure many of you have downloaded the Windows 8.1 preview. You've reflected on the changes, and the direction that Microsoft is taking. Fresh from their humiliation at E3 with the Xbox One fiasco, Microsoft is in many ways a company at war with itself.

We have the technologists who are pushing to get tech fresh out of research into the real world. They are rapidly turning these projects into commercially viable propositions.  The rub is, however, that many of these projects are so ahead of their time at this point; their commercial viability at the point Microsoft introduces them is questionable at best. Marry these researchers to stats guys who using data gathered from the CEIP (Customer Experience Improvement Program) use this data who in turn formulate UI concepts and it’s a recipe for disaster.

The Start screen and interface paradigm itself were a product of this Sinofsky style rationale. The Mark Twain attributed Disraeli method of “lies, damned lies and statistics” has never been fruitful in product development. Microsoft Windows 8 was no exception; thus Sinofsky’s retreat to academia where this scientific method belongs.

As a result of this debacle, OEMs such as Dell and HP are then left playing catch-up which leads to weird form factors such as the XPS 18, a system that can’t decide if it’s a desktop or a huge tablet big enough to have been brought down from Mount Sinai. Microsoft’s OEM partners are in many ways trying to reinvent the wheel as they attempt to refine what the PC is in 2013. 

I know many of you will call “fan boy!” on this but you’ll notice that Apple didn’t make the same mistake. They didn’t try to turn the Mac into a tablet; they brought out a separate device, the iPad.  Microsoft however, is suffering on 2 fronts; it doesn’t have the same control of the hardware development like its Cupertino competitor does, it’s dependent on the OEMs. Its attempt to duplicate this model with the Microsoft Surface has been luke warm at best with the supply chain, marketing and issues with the devices reliability and battery life. Secondly, it’s trying to clean up Sinofsky’s mess with the Start screen that has scared off businesses on the desktop, and on notebooks. I’ve seen this first hand working with clients here in my own IT consultancy business in Aberdeen.

Windows 8.1 is attempting to mitigate the issues with Windows 8 but I’m afraid it may be too little, too late for the software giant. Many of the great “under-the-hood” improvements such as Workplace Join and NFC printer support may end up being lost with what is still the fundamental issue that there needs to be separate SKUs for tablets and traditional form factors.  Microsoft seem to have briefly lost touch with the fact that a significant majority of people still use keyboards and mice. Even with a growing tablet market. They've broken one of the golden rules of UI design. "Keep It Simple Stupid". As many devs no doubt will attest, it doesn't matter what your software can do if users can't seamlessly interact with it, it's as useful as a chocolate fire-guard.

Whilst Microsoft attempts to get its house in order, we still have to choose between a modern operating system with Dissociative Identity Disorder and the 4 year old Windows 7.  I’d love to hear from the Windows Server 2012 R2 team to discover why they think that a Start screen is necessary on a server that in no way can be confused with a tablet. I don’t think I’ve seen many access consoles in data centres with touch screens. Have you?

Many years ago in our galaxy, and not very far far away, Microsoft had a similar experience with Windows 3.0. It had been released to similar marmite like feedback back in 1990; forcing the company to further refine it in 1992 with Windows 3.1 and Windows 3.11. Microsoft claimed in an advertisement at the time “Now you can use the incredible power of Windows 3.0 to goof off.” Here we are 23 years later, and Windows is once again goofing off with Windows 8.

If they don’t split their SKUs between tablet and the desktop, and fast - they might have to change their relationship status with their customers from “It’s complicated” to “Divorced from reality”.

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Patrick Danielson said,
You know, sometimes I don't want a Doritos shell for my taco. Microsoft stole that from us by taking away the start button.

The Start Button never went away.

I'm pleased to see that my article has spawned some healthy debate and I thank everyone for commenting.

I do see that some people have gotten a little heated and I thought it best to explain my original intent with the article.

I run an IT consultancy in Aberdeen Scotland, which as one commenter noted isn't exactly a tech hub but is home to some of the largest oil firms in the world. For an American equivalent I believe Houston in Texas is probably the nearest in terms of an analogy. You can imagine therefore the size of some of the firms I'm talking about like, total, shell, BP, Chevron, Nexen and so on. None of them have any plans to roll out windows 8 even on solely tablets. They're all rolling out Windows 7. Why? mainly becaus of the reasons stated above, it's a training and use ability nightmare for joe user and the start screen although a good idea isn't working for joe user who lives in Microsoft Outlook not Metro mail.

The article is based on the feedback I have received first hand from my customers which are companies large and small and Microsofts main customer base. So in hindsight perhaps I should have stressed this in the article. Lets be clear on this Microsoft's key customers are those that purchase volume licenses for thousands of PCs not the one guy with a PC who can easily roll with the changes.

So yes for the one guy and his PC yeah by all means if Windows 8 floats your boat then go for it. I'd love to hear from the MCSEs amount you though who have planned and deployed Windows 8 in their environment. Any takers?

I for one enjoyed your article. I have been saying the same thing but it falls on deaf ears around here. On my side, I deal with the government and their contractors and they to cannot fathom the utter mistake Microsoft has made with Windows 8. In the end, money talks and Microsoft will have no choice but to bow down to their big money makers.

JHBrown said,
I for one enjoyed your article. I have been saying the same thing but it falls on deaf ears around here. On my side, I deal with the government and their contractors and they to cannot fathom the utter mistake Microsoft has made with Windows 8. In the end, money talks and Microsoft will have no choice but to bow down to their big money makers.

Bow down and do what? They're not going to relent on the Start Screen, or they would have done so by now. There's no reason to divide Windows when the market is pressing towards device unity.

RossDundas said,
...Why? mainly becaus of the reasons stated above, it's a training and use ability nightmare for joe user and the start screen although a good idea isn't working for joe user who lives in Microsoft Outlook not Metro mail...

How do they know this if they haven't deployed or even planned to deploy the OS?

Also I'm not a fan of the Start Screen when I'm working either but I'd hardly call it a nightmare.

How can training/usability for Windows 8 be so different to 7 when basically the only change is Start Menu vs. Start Screen? Are you saying that these companies feel their employees are so dull that they'll need considerably more training to learn to use the consumer-friendly Start Screen?

It seems to me like all this hate started in the media and the IT industry and has just spread to those that don't know any better and/or haven't actually used the OS. People with limited computer skills are terrified that their systems will become unusable with the slightest change, so when IT pros tell them that Windows 8 will sap their productivity and they read the same on the internet, they get spooked.

Out of all of my customers NONE of them have ever said they LOVE or LIKE windows 8. Every once in a while i'll find someone who says "it's ok". The rest use the word HATE. I'm not pulling this out my ass. It's all true.

Edited by warwagon, Jun 30 2013, 5:40pm :

warwagon said,
Out of all of my customers NONE of them have ever said they LOVE or LIKE windows 8. Every once in a while i'll find someone who says "it's ok". The rest use the word HATE. I'm not pulling this out my ass. It's all true.

Windows 8 is a mess. 8.1 is a different story. Plus most peoplre reject changes. Specially if they used to use a software for 10 years

Your right customers are on average pretty apathetic about the whole thing, that didn't stop them moaning about it in a pre-project UAT though when one of my customers considered deploying it.

"How do i shut it down?"

"Wheres my desktop?"

"Wheres my outlook?"

"What happened to all my icons i had?"

"Wheres my start button?'

I could go on.

Windows 8 has a lot of evolving to do. The problem is that MS threw the baby out with the bathwater and all the refinements that had been made went out the window. A lot of people think i'm a Windows 8 hater, I'm not. I just believe that they've made a convoluted mess that should have built upon the progress made in Windows 7, which removing the start menu excepting they did on the desktop side. All that was ruined however by tacking on un-necessary fluff that is Metro.

Edited by RossDundas, Jun 30 2013, 6:18pm :

With All due respect to neowin I strongly disagree with this article, although windows 8 was truly a mess, windows 8.1 is completely usable and productive even with mice and keyboard. With changes in start menu search context improvement, multiple app docking and resizable docks i don't see anything goes againts usability with mice and keyboard. Its just it takes time for people to get used to it. Plus convertible pc and tablet with pen option is exactly everyone needs on business and consumer side. One device that you can bring everywhere. On meeying, on desk and travel

Does windows 8.1 still have ...

The start screen : CHECK!
Hidden charms bar: CHECK
No Start menu: CHECK
Shutdown under settings / or a right click : CHECK

Nope still a mess.

Edited by warwagon, Jul 1 2013, 4:18am :

It's somewhat ironic that some of Microsoft's products are so successful that they can't change them. They can't change their products (even for the better) because the customers are so rabid.

The start menu is more efficient (takes less or the same # of steps to do things), contains more features for accessing, organizing and managing shortcuts, has more shortcuts for easily accessing other parts of your computer such as network, devices, control panel, shutdown/restart, etc., better search (although search is apparently improved in 8.1), nested folder support, has true context menu functionality, and doesn't break workflow by covering up the entire screen when you want to launch something.

All management of shortcuts can be done within the start menu itself. With the start screen you need to open the actual folder in explorer (which is still ironically called the Start Menu folder in Win 8) even just to rename a shortcut or access shortcut properties.

The claim that the start screen is functionally the same as the start menu is false. Name calling and blaming your customers is a poor argument and a terrible business strategy.

Win 7 also has Advanced Appearance Settings, better "open with" dialogue and other dialogue boxes that have reduced functionality in Win 8, no forced edge shortcuts like the charms bar, boot to desktop, start button, etc. Some of those are being addressed in 8.1 but not all.

If you claim Win 8 has the same functionality or efficiency as Win 7 you are either lying or misinformed.

startscreennope said,
If you claim Win 8 has the same functionality or efficiency as Win 7 you are either lying or misinformed.

Windows 8 certainly hasn't "the same" - it has much more functionality and efficiency than Win 7.

My mom just moved to Windows 8 because she got a free laptop from work. I'm having an incredibly hard time explaining why there are two completely different sets of apps that work totally different from each other within the same OS.

.Neo said,
My mom just moved to Windows 8 because she got a free laptop from work. I'm having an incredibly hard time explaining why there are two completely different sets of apps that work totally different from each other within the same OS.

Then, it's your fault. The reasons were already fully explained in several articles at http://blogs.msdn.com/b/b8 and several others.

SirPeterPan said,
Then, it's your fault. The reasons were already fully explained in several articles at http://blogs.msdn.com/b/b8 and several others.

Yes, of course it's my fault. Microsoft clearly did everything right and in a sensible way. Having two completely different sets of apps within the same OS makes total sense and is totally desirable. Hence the reason why Windows RT and Windows 8 tablets took the market by storm. Clearly the vast majority of consumers agree with Microsoft. /s

.Neo said,

Yes, of course it's my fault. Microsoft clearly did everything right and in a sensible way. Having two completely different sets of apps within the same OS makes total sense and is totally desirable. Hence the reason why Windows RT and Windows 8 tablets took the market by storm. Clearly the vast majority of consumers agree with Microsoft. /s

I can understand sarcasm, thank you very much & I don't think all majorities are necessarily right all the time.

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