“Win Reviews”

Another review of a Microsoft product (or in this case service), another black eye.  The most recent controversy is over Bing, but let’s face it, a lot of the problem with Windows 8 is how the preponderance of reviews didn’t like how its new user experience played out on traditional desktop/notebook devices.  That negativity, echoed by the Power User class that the reviewers are part of, spread to the general public and became a major drag on acceptance of Windows 8.  People who have never seen nor used Windows 8 walk into computer stores asking for Windows 7 machines.  A computer store I was in yesterday keeps a supply of a third-party Start Menu add-on in-stock and offers to sell it to all buyers with new PCs.  “Does it make Windows 8 work just like Windows 7?” asked the buyer.  “Yes” said the sales rep.  How could Microsoft have avoided this?  Let’s time travel back to the pre-Internet days for a solution.

When I joined Microsoft in early 1994 I discovered what I then considered a somewhat odd way of driving product development.  I would sit in Bill’s reviews of product plans and many would have as a key goal of the release “Win Reviews”.  As an enterprise guy this was odd because at the time reviews played a minimal role in that space, but for end-user products reviews were critical.  Also, whereas enterprise software teams could talk directly to a high percentage of their (existing or potential) customers (CIOs, VPs of Operations or Development, DBAs, etc.) reviewers became a key proxy for end-users.

Recall that we are talking (effectively) pre-Internet.  The dominant force in communicating information about computer hardware and software were a handful of print magazines.  As the PC era reached its pre-Internet peak these publications had grown to the size of small (and sometimes not so small) phone books.  And they were filled with reviews of new products and comparisons of competing products.  Trying to decide between Microsoft Word, WordPerfect, and Lotus Ami Pro?  Or Windows vs. OS/2?Articles in these magazines were going to weigh heavily in your decision process.

The major publications took this one step further by getting into a “lab war”, building out hardware labs and hiring technical staff so they could dig more deeply into products.  Even enterprise-oriented products like SQL Server found ourselves fighting lab wars in a couple of publications.  But whereas for SQL Server this was mostly a marketing activity (supporting reviewers by providing resources to help them make sure they’d configured the product correctly, understood the new features, etc.) for end-user products making sure you would come out on top in reviews became a product driver.

So “Win Reviews” drove actual product requirements.  This meant understanding what reviewers would care about, what they liked and disliked about various products, how you might wow them with your new release, etc.  It meant engineering the product with reviewers in mind as the proxy for your end-users.  One could debate if that was really the right thing to do for end-users, and I believe that’s one reason why “Win Reviews” fell out of favor as a product requirement driver.  Circa 1992 reviewers were probably a fair representation of the end-user community.  By 2002 PCs were so ubiquitous that reviewers just represented the Power User niche, and catering to them made it difficult to address the needs of the broader user base.  Somewhere between those two dates worrying about reviews moved out of the product requirements arena and became purely an outward-focused marketing effort.

For the most part this transition away from letting reviewers drive product requirements was a good thing.  It was facilitated by a dramatic growth in ability to directly communicate with the user community.  Of course there was the much mentioned explosion in telemetry.  And Microsoft (through a growing sales force and closer partnerships with OEMs, ISVs, consultants, etc.) greatly increased its direct communications with customers.  Plus the Internet provided a means for users to express themselves directly.  The way I found out how badly I’d missed the boat by leaving Declarative Referential Integrity out of SQL Server 7.0 was by following newsgroups and forums and getting blasted about it.  The formal communications channels had not brought it up at all!  So adding DRI became one of the top priorities for SQL Server 2000.

Now jump forward to the modern era.  On one hand you could expect that reviews should play a smaller role than ever in driving product definition.  But consider the marketing side of things.  When a market participant is the overwhelmingly dominant player they have little incentive to worry about reviews.  Reviews, in essence, can only benefit the underdog.  However, when markets are highly competitive reviews can make a significant difference in purchasing decisions.  Today every segment Microsoft plays in is competitive and often highly competitive, with significant areas in which they are the underdog.  Even in an area they are dominant, desktop computing, they have tremendous competition from their own legacy.  Windows Vista had to compete with Windows XP.  Windows 8 has to compete with Windows 7.  Reviews matter.

Consider where Windows 8 would be today if the preponderance of reviews had lauded it as a great follow-on to Windows 7.  Consider if Windows 8 had amongst its goals “Win Reviews”.  It would have taken a very small number of concessions to the purity of the evolution, and/or prioritizing taking a few steps further along the evolutionary path, to swing the balance of opinion on Windows 8 from negative to positive.  Windows 8 is a great release but to many reviewers, and the Power User class they are part of, it seemed like Microsoft was intentionally rubbing their noses in excrement.  And they’ve repaid the favor by lumping Windows 8 in with Windows Vista (which is a totally ridiculous comparison).

We see this in other areas as well, security being a prime example.  Microsoft Security Essentials/Windows Defender hasn’t been doing that well in published reviews by testing organizations.  When you look at why you discover that there is a disconnect between the methodology the testing organization uses and the way Microsoft thinks of its collection of capabilities.  The methodology often bypasses parts of Microsoft’s offering while exercising the equivalent parts of its competitor’s offerings, thus Microsoft comes across as having the weaker product.  Microsoft addresses this as a marketing problem, trying to get testing organizations to change their methodology and explain the situation to the public.  What it hasn’t done is step back and say “what do we need to change in the products to win the reviews?”

Given where Microsoft is in its various markets what it needs right now is the preponderance of reviews of all of its products to be overwhelmingly positive.  And you can’t get that via outward focused marketing activities.  What Microsoft needs right now is to take a tip from the PC software market of 20 years ago and make “Win Reviews” part of its product planning process.

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65 Responses to “Win Reviews”

  1. Actually, having been on the receiving end of the Windows 8 cycle, it wasn’t the product development that was the issue; it was the inverse pyramid of access and information from the first BUILD – where there was great access and lots of info – onwards until by Release Preview we barely knew what date RP was coming out and only a handful of people got any information. The same people who liked the product turned against it because of feeling ‘out of the loop’. It’s the consequence of ‘shut up and ship’, not of the product decisions. And that is a consequence of people, including you, making pronouncements about product decisions they don’t have first-hand information about, as if they were in the room when decisions were made. Not unlike the ones you make in this post when you say how easy it would have been for things to be different in Windows 8…

    • halberenson says:

      Did I say it would have been easy? I just make the point that if the target audience had included reviewers, and by inference desktop power users, then some of the decisions likely would have been different and some of the problems with Windows 8 would have been avoided.

      You think the information flow was bad to external people, you should talk to senior leaders at Microsoft about it. After Build even the CVPs and Technical Fellows couldn’t get access to new builds or information about them. This also meant the Windows team wasn’t taking input from the company’s own leadership.

      As for the knock about pronouncements, you don’t know what I have first hand knowledge about or don’t. Although I tend not to discuss anything I have first hand knowledge about unless it is ancient history. The point of analysis isn’t to report on first hand knowledge, it is to analyze. What I bring to the table is context that most commentators lack. I WAS in the room on many occasions and on others heard reports directly from the decision makers in the room. I know many of the players and how they think about problems. I know how the processes work, or at least how they did work. I offer analysis in that context and sometimes I will be right and sometimes I will be wrong. Over time I expect to be wrong more and more because the applicability of the context I have will degrade, and at some point I’ll actually stop blogging much about Microsoft because my context for them won’t be any better than it is on Apple or Google. But at the moment my context remains largely intact.

    • John says:

      It seems like your logic is a little backwards to me. Specifically, in the absence of any comment from Microsoft due to “Shut up and ship”, commentators can say things without any basis. If Microsoft were to not clam up and release information, that would limit the ability of commentators to say baseless things.

      Regarding Hal specifically, I really appreciate his analysis and, as he puts it, the context that he is able to add which lets me understand things much better than any other commentator out there. I, for one, enjoy reading his analyses of different things; I find them very enlightening.

  2. Eagle Jackson says:

    Microsoft seemingly went out of its way to antagonize users (and reviewers) with some of the Win8 decisions. And they are paying the price I predicted they would (see my comments from back in November). It appears they are fixing the two most egregious mistakes, boot to desktop and Start Menu. Those two mistakes forced Microsoft to spend all its energy on the defensive rather than promoting its own message.

    • halberenson says:

      It is unclear what the Start Menu fix is. If all it does is launch the full screen Start Screen then few people will be satisfied with the change. Yes it will help the discoverability problem, but that isn’t the Power User issue. I’ve been saying for a long time that the Start Screen needs a “snapped view” and that invoking Start from within the desktop should launch that view. That’s a solution that is fully in-line with the Modern UI paradigm and addresses a key complaint about the Win8 approach to “Start”. What I have long suspected is that this was always the plan but that the snapped view just didn’t make the cut. So far we “know” the Start button is returning, but other than being the 227th way to launch the Start Screen we don’t know if it improves desktop usability.

      • Brian says:

        Discoverability is a big issue. When I tell people that the Start button is still there, but they can’t see it, they first look at me funny, and then express disbelief.

        I have a touch-based Win8 laptop (well, a touch-based Win7 laptop upgraded to Win8, not quite the ideal situation, but..) and a Surface RT. I visited some relatives over the Easter break and played with my niece’s Win8 (non-touch) laptop. I still ended up frustrated – I’d know where I wanted to go, but I wasn’t sure what the mouse equivalent was to my familiar touchy-swipey gestures. Other than googling stuff (using Bing of course), I had no idea how to discover capabilities that I knew were there.

      • waldtaube says:

        I don’t think a feature like that would be just for the desktop. Once you start having multiple side-by-side WinStore apps you’ll run into the same scenarios (in fact, it’s actually worse since there’s no taskbar). Another approach could be to somehow expand on the current recent apps switcher (on the left edge).

  3. Edgar says:

    I think that Microsoft don’t need win reviews, as most reviewers, no matter what Microsoft do, always write a negative review.

    For example, take a look at chromebooks, despite of being officially a failure, pundits still praise chromebooks and beg for a second chance. Look at the same pundits take on windows 8, they take every rumor about failure for granted and predict a gloomy future for Microsoft, even if win 8 usage is higher than iOS after just six month since launch.

    Last week against all predictions, Microsoft earnings go up, and the forecast for the rest of the year is good. Still pundits think that win 8 and surface is a failure.

    The case of MSE is different, as being free, an average user will prefer MSE against any pay option. The only option to compete with MSE is creating a sense of insecurity for the average user.
    I purchase a dell xps laptop two years ago, it comes with McAfee preinstalled, and was intrusive and non intuitive antivirus, when expire I look for options, I almost buy a Kaspersky when decide to give a try to MSE, after one week I never look back, is good, almost transparent and FREE.

    But most important, Microsoft doesn’t need win reviews, as average users didn’t even bother to read reviews, only enthusiast, proficient users and IT guys surf the web gathering news and reviews, and metrics suggest that win8 are doing well, despite the dark picture pundits draw.

    If Microsoft start to hear to pundits to adjust their products, then Microsoft will start to have problems, Microsoft need the “my way or GTFO” approach of apple. This not means that cannot adjust the products according to user feedback.

  4. dafowler says:

    The problem with bringing back Win Reviews is that it’ll never be enough. The big issue with Windows 8 for power users and some reviewers is that its not a pure Desktop OS; its meant for touch devices plain and simple. Power users won’t be happy until they can have Windows 7. The situation facing Microsoft is on one hand their are people screaming that this OS is offense against God and Man and a market that is saying people are buying Tablets.

  5. waldtaube says:

    I agree with your overall assessment of the situation – basically the “poison the well” scenario you outlined in one of your older posts – but maybe not your prescription.

    What I noticed is that you could divide the media reactions and reviews into two groups. One was the traditional PC- or (especially) business IT-focused publications like PC World, InfoWorld, etc. These were generally pretty negative or skeptical from the beginning. And then on the other side was a newer and more “cosmopolitan” breed of media like The Verge or Ars Technica. These seemed to generally be quite interested and optimistic early on and receptive to the general concept of Windows 8. But over time and by release they gradually became … not necessarily negative, but somewhat disappointed and not thrilled.

    I think Windows 8 was designed more to appeal to the second group (and the users that identify with them), and the concept was right but the execution ended up just not being confident and complete enough to really excite them. So in the absence of that excitement the only people who were really passionate about the product were the first group – and in a negative way. Their hate came really not from any functional deficiencies, but was more an emotional reaction to the product “symbolically” abandoning them and the direction they liked (hence the fixation on the Start menu – or even button – which, in reality, doesn’t change much in terms of what you can do, but is a powerful symbol of Windows abandoning its desktop roots). This hate filled the void of the apathetic majority.

    That’s why I don’t think the focus should be on winning over people predisposed to hate the product, but rather on reinforcing and advancing its strengths so the execution is convincing enough to win over its potential and intended fanbase. It’s only the void of apathy that allows the hate to spread.

  6. Carlos C says:

    I believe that the fatal flaw in Windows 8 is the one-interface-fits-all-devices philosophy. I work in IT, using Windows in my company and in customers. I also have an IPad. Touch is good and fun for a tablet or phone – but not for a desktop. I can use my IPad to surf or compose an email – but for extended work I go for my desktop.
    My experience with Win8 (and WS2012) has been similar to Brian’s: It’s plain frustrating to use on a desktop/server.
    And the start button (or anything that allows fast access to all programs) is really missed by users: I have seen several users that have ther desktop full of shortcuts – one for almost each entry of the “old” start menu.

  7. Batman says:

    Yeah ?!

    Company to write their own review ?!
    Dude. The market isnt like 20 years ago, neither the peoples are.
    You just cant force peoples to embrace something which is hard to use and ugly to look at.
    And we are not yet speaking about ergonomy – Windows 8 just dont have it honestly.

  8. Russell says:

    I agree with the article. MS don’t appear to want to win reviews, they wait till a bad one comes out and then try to squash it with their PR machine. The usual way it goes is they release a product that doesn’t work quite the way users expect and then have to constantly defend it.

    Windows 8 is a bizarre example, in general it’s an improvement over Windows 7, it’s faster, uses less memory, stores settings in the cloud, has better multi-monitor support, etc. But the way the Metro/Modern interface is tacked on just doesn’t feel right. Is there a real reason for not showing a (simplified) task bar while a Metro/Modern app is open? Probably not and without it users are just left guessing how to work the computer. It’s the equivalent of designing and building a Ferrari and then painting it brown and putting the pedals in a different order.

  9. Tom says:

    Windows 8 must have been a hard choice for Microsoft. The reviews were always going to be sceptical at best, given the history of Windows releases. For the average user who’s had a PC for the last fifteen years, the whole history of Windows releases has been this:

    Windows 98 – Good enough.
    Windows ME – Bad.
    Windows XP – Good
    Windows Vista – Very bad
    Windows 7 – Very good
    Windows 8 – ?

    Do you see the pattern? Whatever the technical merits of any of these versions, the near-universal market perception is that every second version of Windows introduces loads of new, theoretically-whizzy stuff that actually sucks to use, and perhaps the difference between good and bad versions is getting worse.

    IMO, for Windows 8 to succeed, Microsoft needed to build a solid desktop successor to Windows 7 to dispel this perception. Frankly, bundling up-to-date drivers with Windows 7 rebadged as Windows 8 would have been enough. When people went to buy a new PC, they’d see a new version of Windows that works just like the old version only quicker and more smoothly (because the hardware it’s running on is three years newer) and people would’ve thought, “Finally, Microsoft has strung two good Windows releases together. Let’s see what’s next.” It would have gotten people into the habit of taking the latest version of Windows with their PCs, instead of picking which of the last four versions they’d rather have.

    But, of course, that would have meant ceding the tablet space to Android and iOS. So, instead, Microsoft once again piled heaps of new, whizzy features into Windows 8. You can see why – the tablet space is not one Microsoft can afford to cede. But, given the history, it was pretty much doomed to failure, especially in the desktop space.

  10. Tom says:

    Following on from that thought, labelling Windows 7 SP1 as Windows 8 and charging $20 to download it would have also done the trick, without disrupting the schedule for what is now called Windows 8.

  11. Rick McMullan says:

    I don’t know why you keep insisting Windows 8 is a great release. It’s ugly and aggravating to use. I’m going to have to assume that Win8 is an ugly kid with a face only a mother could love and you’re the mother.
    Bringing back the start menu and boot to desktop is nowhere near enough, there are a lot of other important decisions that need to be reversed. What really needs to be done, and it’s a lot of work, but the shortcut has definitely failed, is that MS needs to come up with a non-Windows based OS to run tablets. You can boot Linux from a 2GB thumb drive. Windows Enterprise requires a 32GB thumb drive and not just any thumb drive, one on its approved list. So how is it suitable for a tablet?
    Rollback all the Win8 changes (restore silverlight, .Net not RT, installers not the windows store) and keep the legacy Windows for the “trucks” (desktops/servers). Make a tablet OS for the “cars” (tablets and phones).

    • kotekzot says:

      Personally, I like to think of tablets as motorized unicycles, not cars.

      • halberenson says:

        and the whole world is leaving their cars in the garage and traveling around on their unicycles.

        • Johann says:

          “and the whole world is leaving their cars in the garage and traveling around on their unicycles.”
          Indeed. Let’s throw out the entire highway system and install a system that only works for Segways and Unicycles, then berate people with cars for being obsolete. – signed, the W8 design team

    • Bob - Former DECie says:

      I use Windows 8 Enterprise on my work non-touch laptop – I write software, and Windows 8 Pro on my desktop at home. In both cases, I have shortcuts to almost everything I use on the taskbar. The only things I don’t have shortcuts for are things in the “Settings” that you can’t create as shortcuts such as Windows Update and Disk Defragmenter. I log on, hit Windows-D, and ignore the start page. I really appreciate the fact that Windows 8 is faster than Windows 7 – both in booting and running, the improved Task Manager, and other things such as much better multi-monitor support.
      As far as RT vs. .Net is concerned, I’m just dipping my toes in RT until it matures. In the meantime, business is not going to move away from Win32 anytime soon, so RT has time to mature. Yes, I do wish RT V1.0 is as full-featured as .Net V1.0 was. I’m hoping an RT V1.1 will come as quickly as .Net V1.1 did.
      My biggest concern around the Windows Store is the cost of deployment for non-large enterprises. Microsoft needs to fix that or they may start losing those businesses to Linux.

      • Rick McMullan says:

        So you’re saying you use W8 as an improved version of W7 and are avoiding all the Metro/touch mess. That’s all everyone ever wanted and I would be happy with that too. But the reason WinRT is so lame is because it needs to run on both x86 and ARM.

        • Bob - Former DECie says:

          Rick, I’m using Windows 8 as an improved version of Windows 7 because I don’t have any touch devices other than my Lumia 920. When I get a touch device, I’ll start using those features. In the meantime, the touch features don’t prevent me from being productive with Windows 8 and taking advantage of the non-touch improvements over Windows 7.

  12. J.W. Noord says:

    Actually, I tend to think of Microsoft as the ever growing “Jabba the Hut” of the computer industry. Most of their “innovation” has occurred via “buy outs” corporate dev team raiding (namely Borland), but first and foremost the “undying army of Microsoft Zombies” that buy ANYTHING WINDOWS!!

    I can appreciate your “slight bias as being there during the 90’s til now, many cool things going on. Trouble is, like Jabba, Microsoft seems to have “lost it’s way” and is resting in it’s tent, content to wallow in the revenue it has accumulated to date, with it’s customers on a chain, invariably waiting to be brought down by the rebellion (GOOGLE / APPLE / LINUX).

    Frankly, Microsoft should step back and “re-release windows 7 (with some updates) as windows 9, and keep windows 8 on the tablet form factor.

    I know this won’t happen as that would admit failure so the Hut is destined to lumber ahead, leaving it’s fanboys and major revenue stream trailing behind in a sandy wake into the desert of lost OS’s.

    BTW –

    A slightly revised product list from above would include
    win 3.0 bad
    win 3.1 ok
    win 3.11 – 3.12 (spite revisions to deny IBM OS/2 100% compatibility) n.a. as they were Win 3.1
    NT 1.0-3.0 CRAP bad copies of IBM OS/2.
    NT 3.1 CRAP BSOD on Demand
    NT 3.5 CRAP BSOD on Demand
    NT 4.0 CRAP BSOD on Demand (until SP 6)
    WFW 3.12 (Windows for Workgroups) was good but poorly received precursor of Win 95 that worked)

    Windows 95 Beta B Excellent worked great, may have been more 32 bit than released version.
    Windows 95 release “shot in the foot as it was Beta A with patches) in addition, Microsoft started charging $1100 for “support calls” the friday of the release week, and the help screens didn’t work.
    Windows 98 – bad
    Win 98 SE – better
    Windows ME – Bad.
    Windows 2000 GOOD
    windows 2000 Server Good
    Windows XP – Good, actually greatest desktop operating system from microsoft to date.
    Windows Vista – Mucho muy malo bad (all 101 versions)
    Windows 7 – Ok, bsaed on underlying XP. 64 bit worked better, but lack of backwards support for 16 bit apps bad.,
    Windows 8 – bad on a stick

    There, that clears that up HAH!


  13. Tin.Can.Goat says:

    Those complaining about the lack of the start menu and boot to desktop are those using Win8 on non-touch screen devices.

    After I played with the OS on the Lumia phone, I fell in love and now have a touch tablet/keyboard combo and I think this interface is slick. I can’t imagine going back to the old desktop way anymore. I’m pulling for more people to try it out. Every kid who sees my phone or tablet wants to play with it and they all love it, but unfortunately they don’t have the purchsing power.

    • Rick McMullan says:

      But what about all the people with non-touch devices? ie almost everyone with a laptop, server or desktop sold within the past 10 years and can still run win8? And why does server 2012 even support a touch screen, let alone have a primarily touch based GUI? You think there are touch screen in the server room? No! It’s the epitome of their failure.

      • Tin.Can.Goat says:

        As an end user, I still love it. I hope it’s around for a while.

        • Rick McMullan says:

          That reminds me of our current DBA. He has his pet bulldog as his desktop picture. The breed that usually wins the “Ugliest Dog” awards in dog shows. But he loves that creature with a fearsome tenacity!

          • Tin.Can.Goat says:

            Cool. Does he only have the one? Is it English, American, French, Olde English? Those are nice dogs. Very owner friendly, docile, fun to play with, and smooth to the touch. He should consider himself lucky that he is able to have what he likes and enjoy it so thoroughly.

            • Rick McMullan says:

              I wouldn’t know, don’t have a dog. But you say ” have what he likes and enjoy it so thoroughly”. Back to the W8 discussion, I have often wondered why there is only one desktop. Over the years there have been a number of utilities and such to give the end user a different sort of experience. I would really like to see a multi-tabbed Windows Explorer. And there are some facilities for shell integration open to the developer in the Win32 API. But fairly limited. I’m not a big fan of the Unity desktop on Ubuntu but everything does have a beauty of it’s own. Other people even claim, in all seriousness, to like W8 and I almost believe you. Maybe there shouldn’t be “only one” desktop/shell?

              • Tin.Can.Goat says:

                Yep, agree there. I’ve tried Win8 on non-touch and I really don’t like it. I don’t get why MS didn’t design it to work for touch when on touch machines and work as a desktop would on non-touch machines. Sounds like it would have been the best idea. Heh, maybe I’m odd, but I honestly do like it on my touch devices.

    • kotekzot says:

      That’s real nice, but unfortunately Windows has historically not been the OS you get to play with it – that is Apple’s niche. Excuse us if our tools being replaced by toys for tweens rubs us the wrong way.

      • Tin.Can.Goat says:

        Excused, not trying to force it on anyone, I just love how it works for me and like the change of OS interface. The kids who love it today though, are going to be the workers using it or similar interfaces tomorrow. I stayed away from SkyDrive as well, focusing mostly on Google Docs, but after using SkyDrive with my Win8 tablet, I am finding I like the use of SkyDrive much more than Google Docs. Everything changes, it just how we adapt to it that matters.

        • kotekzot says:

          And the architects of tomorrow will have grown up playing with Lego. I sincerely hope both the computer people and the architects will grow out of their toys when they join the workforce, because otherwise using computers and walking around one’s house will be very painful indeed. If Microsoft continues on this course, I expect enterprises and enthusiasts will turn to Linux for their desktop needs (which will continue to exist until we get consumer-level neurointerfaces), hopefully Linux will be able to deliver. Now that Valve is pushing a Linux gaming computer in a console-style case, the Windows colossus may very well lose both its legs – desktop users and gamers. interestingly, Microsoft has managed to antagonize both these core groups with one Windows release, that’s almost impressive.

  14. Andy S. says:

    I’m an IT / power user, Win7 at work and went with Win8 for a new desktop (non-touch) at home shortly after launch. The much-maligned Start Button and Boot to Desktop problems are simply retraining issues and the outcry from the Reviewers is rediculous… how hard is it to click the Desktop icon once every few days or Pin frequently used programs to your Start Bar if you can’t stand going out to the full-screen Start page? I’ve trained several people between the ages of 5 and 65 without any difficulty at all. Were they annoyed? Only the older folks who also had some trouble going from Win3 to Win95 expressed any frustration at all. If Microsoft gives us new options to address these things that would be great, but don’t we have to learn new things all the time. Do you “pay at the pump” or still go in and write checks? Do you post your photos from your phone to your favorite social sharing site, or do you still get 2 copies of your 35mm film developed so you can mail a copy to one friend? Seriously, of all the things to nit-pick.

    I personally wish they’d do something about the semi-frequent hard crashes. Anyhow, I fully agree that the reviews and public perception are driving adoption down, and that really is too bad — my experience is that Win8 is a sweet OS and I love it, “warts” and all. If the early reviewers would have focused on the positives / progress rather than these minor annoyances the entire world would literally be a different and better place.


    • jcallahan says:

      Andy, thanks for the comment. My thoughts align with yours on this topic. MS is having some growing pains in getting the balance between touch/non-touch down, but it’s been great for me (non-touch desktop).

      • Tin.Can.Goat says:

        I agree too. The eye opener for me is that I thought I’d never want a touch desktop because I was so attached to using a mouse, but I’m finding the more I use the touch screen, the less I use the touchpad or the mouse.

    • TBQ says:

      Sure – retraining is part of it. In itself, that is an issue. Also, with a similar background to yours, I can figure out most things – and no – I don’t like it. Any time I get into a new car, it may take me a few minutes to identify the location of all the familiar controls, and a little longer with the ones made in a less familiar way. But there are certain things I expect to find, and do. If somebody introduced a joystick in place of a steering wheel, it would probably take me a while to get comfortable with it. Some people may like it and some not. After all, the steering wheel has stood the test of time – for now. But if you introduce hand breaks, foot signals, joy stick steering and voice controlled wipers, you should expect some push back.

      To me, however, that is only part of the frustration with Windows 8. I like some things and I loathe others. I don’t like a bunch of flashing and moving things on my screen. I do what I do with a purpose, and prefer to not be distracted. There are uses for active tiles, but I much prefer the Android widgets where I get to choose whether I want each one. On my work phone, I selected three – weather, calendar, and usage. Others may choose more.

      As a developer, my UI philosophy is “minimize surprises”, and “make it easy for the user to do what the user wants to do the way the user wants it”. It seems like Microsoft’s UI philosophy is “anything that glitters” and “our way is best”.

      I don’t like Microsoft’s “all or nothing” approach in general. Windows 8 forces you to basically commit your online life to Microsoft. I refuse to tie everything to my Facebook log in or personal email account. And if I don’t have a Microsoft passport I can’t really use Windows 8 (I do have one, but I created a new one because I had no desire to tie my PC to it). Way back, there was an internal Microsoft memo published on the internet about how they were going to make everybody dependent on the Microsoft passport (now known as a Live account or whatever). It was removed, probably after some heavy litigation threats, but it was scary reading.

      After the hard drive on my Windows 8 (traditional) laptop crashed recently, I’m not sure what I’ll install on it.

      • Bob - Former DECie says:

        Joystick steering? Bring it on! Just don’t make me step on rudder pedals to avoid skidding through turns:-). Seriously, since many vehicles are moving to electric power steering to improve fuel economy, I think it’s only a matter of time before the physical link between the steering wheel and the wheels is removed just like the gas pedal is no longer connected to a throttle cable.

  15. Formfiller says:

    Hal, being in censorship-mode today?

  16. adamrackis says:

    All I want is for MS to understand that my laptop is for **making money**. That’s it. I already have a touch device: an iPad. When I open my laptop, it’s to write code, and get paid, with maybe some browsing mixed in. That’s it.

    I really hope Windows “Blue” brings back a true start button, and allows me to boot to desktop. If they do, I’ll happily upgrade. Until then, I’ll be busy making money on Windows 7, bereft of Metro.

    • Bob - Former DECie says:

      Eh? I write code on a Windows 8 laptop. Visual Studio works just fine on Windows 8.

  17. Formfiller says:

    And they’ve repaid the favor by lumping Windows 8 in with Windows Vista (which is a totally ridiculous comparison).

    W8 is worse than Vista.

    Comparing Vista to Windows 8 is flattering Windows 8. Vista’s problems were accidental bugs and issues (it’s not like the Vista team wanted those speed problems), while pretty much all flaws of 8 aren’t bugs, but are by design and put on purpose. That’s hundred times worse.

    Vista’s main problems were the following:

    1. Buggy third party drivers
    2. Wrongly labeled system requirements

    1: I ran Vista since May 2007 on a Core 2 Duo with an ATI card and had no crashes of any kind. But I’ve read more than enough complaints from nVidia customers where the drivers did send the system to blue screen land. Creative drivers weren’t exactly stellar either. But the fact was: If the drivers were solid, Vista was rock solid also. nVidia and Creative were more responsible for a bad experiences than MS (Sure, MS should have put more pressure on the OEMs regarding the driver situation).

    2: Microsoft is completely at fault here. The “Vista Ready” stuff was disastrous. 1 GB RAM and a 800 MHZ processor was not enough. BUT, it was fluid on a Core 2 Duo with 2 GB RAM (my config), even pre SP1.

    Verdict: If you had a sufficient system (C2D, 2 GB RAM) and stable drivers, Vista didn’t give much problems. There were some stupid bugs (slow network copy), but most of those got fixed even in 2007 (before SP1) by the hotfixes on Windows Update.

    Win 7 isn’t magic, if you would put Vista SP2 and Win 7 SP1 on the same machine and would switch between them using dual boot, you wouldn’t tell much difference. It’s like an R2 release. Windows 7’s strength was just the fact that it was released after Vista, and by that point, all the OEMs had stable drivers already, and the average system in consumer’s hands was also more powerful. That’s all.

    Vista’s faults were mistakes and accidents, while Windows 8’s faults are all there ON PURPOSE. That’s a completely different category of “bad”. That’s malicious. So Win 8 is far worse.

    • Steve says:

      “Verdict: If you had a sufficient system (C2D, 2 GB RAM) and stable drivers, Vista didn’t give much problems.”
      Still running Vista on a “sufficient system” built for the step up from XP to Vista and never had any problems with it. The manufacturers had obviously tested the system sufficiently before they released it with Vista as the OS. Its NEC. Before I bought it I saw many systems designed and sufficient for XP that had Vista “thrown” on and they were terrible. Unbelievably slow to boot and program startup was like Open Office used to be.
      Only problem it has ever given me is compiling the chrome browser which is a lack of memory maybe or a badly laid out solution
      Won’t be trying 8 for a long time from the sound of things.

    • Bob - Former DECie says:

      I believe you are forgetting about the horrible implementation of UAC on Vista. Like many people, I disabled it on Vista, but left it enabled on Windows 7.

      • Steve says:

        Yeah I’m forgetting Vistas UAC. Like I forget all the women who have left me with all their lists of complaints. If I remembered I would be stuck with my blow up doll and never look at a live woman again
        Looking to the future and finding the perfect OS I guess. Doesn’t sound like 8 is there but maybe one day MS does it so good they never have to release a new one and we will all be happy happy joy joy

  18. Ash says:

    Well, lets face it microsoft has never been the creative first comer type. They delivered good products but the idea was never theirs. This time however they tried to do some creative work themselves, and to no surprise, they are not that good at it.

    Many people are used to few changes here and there in new Windows versions, but this time it was a whole different product. No start button was “a disaster” to some of windows users. Still personally I believe win 8 will become the norm for how OS’ should look and work quite soon.

  19. DaveH says:

    I think that certain reviewers and some key bloggers, magazines and bulletin boards, sway not just consumers but large corporates.

    In recent years their (Microsoft’s) mishandling of some products used by the above (Windows Home Server, Silverlight, Office, Visual Studio etc.) have generated anger amongst the “informed”.

    Ignoring these people Microsoft does at its peril, rightly or otherwise.

    Windows 8 was the last straw (there not listening anymore) compounded with the CEO’s “Bully boy” public aura and basic marketing mistakes with Office 2013 looks to me that Microsoft has reached a crossroad.

    They don’t embrace what’s good, only what a revenue stream is. HP, Apple and everyone else think’s this is the way forward, you know locking you into their way of doing things whilst locking everyone else out.

    This is how the PC market started all those years ago when IBM owned the BIOS.

  20. Whenever I sit at a Win7 and earlier computer who’s owner has decided to “hide” the taskbar, it drives me insane. I actually go to the properties of the taskbar and change it back while I am using it, then I leave it that way so the owner has to hide it themselves again. Having the choice to boot into desktop is no different than having that choice to hide the taskbar. But the user should have a choice.

    You just can’t not have visual cues. The best example I can think of relating to all of this is what Windows phone does, and Win 8 does not. In Windows phone, there are 3 little dots at the bottom of most screens, indicating more options. As soon as you tell someone, just one time, that if they tap those dots, there will be more options, that is the last time you will ever have to tell them that.

    So when I saw the little arrow on the Start screen of the latest build of Win 8.1, the one that indicates that if you click it, there is something “more” there. That mattered to me. That tiny little thing mattered big time. The saddest part of this slow start for Win 8 is not the quality of the OS which is outstanding, AND even more stable than Win 7 (check your reliability monitor, start; rel). The saddest part is the small things they could have done back in the fall, to make things more discoverable for the consumers. Don’t forget the consumers whom just want to take part in all this technology without a lot of studying involved. And for guys like me that need to talk folks through procedures over the phone a lot? You can’t imagine how much better it is to have a Start button as a simple target, so I can tell someone to “right click the Start button”. It does not matter if that button leads right back to the Start Screen, I just want that visual cue.

    It’s going to be amusing to watch the simple psychology in action when 8.1 comes out as the “fixed” version of Windows 8. I’m all for the little things, because the big bad operating system is just fine.

    • Bob - Former DECie says:

      I can see how phone support of non-techie users on Windows 8 could be “interesting”.
      Thanks for the tip on the reliability monitor.

    • Eagle Jackson says:

      Agree 100%. People talk about Windows 8 and a “simple matter of retraining.” I assert that the whole point of Windows this century is that people don’t need retraining. If people had to retrain and learn something new, they might as well switch to something else.

      And for sure, if you’re going to require some retraining, you have visual cues. It’s so obvious that it’s painful to understand how the company could have missed it.

      Like the UAC in Vista — did anyone in a position of decision making actually ever run Vista in the default configuration before it was shipped?

      • halberenson says:

        Then they should stick with Windows 7. You can assert all you want, except that the paradigm is in decline and won’t last out the decade let alone the century without significant (retraining required) change.

        • John says:

          I agree that the desktop paradigm is in decline, but I disagree that it won’t last out the decade. I think that the desktop paradigm is in decline because now there is another option for users that didn’t need all of the power of the desktop paradigm. That’s great that they have another (simpler) option available to them. I don’t believe that the desktop paradigm is in decline amongst the people who need its specific capabilites. I don’t believe that the current mobile/phone/tablet paradigm sufficiently meets the needs of “content producers”, if you will. Perhaps there will be another paradigm that allows me to “produce my content” that will be even better than the desktop paradigm, but I haven’t seen it yet. So I think that, for now, the desktop paradigm is going to remain the best paradigm for content producers and/or other power users.

  21. Pascal says:

    After reading most of the comments, I’d like to share a few thoughts…

    To people talking about Windows 8, the trend seems to be that everybody “know” how to fix it. There are a lot of comments including things like “the only way for windows 8 to succeed is…”

    That remember me of an article about a guy from the Office team saying that designing or taking decisions in the making of Office (or Windows) is like calling a pizza for a billion people, there is no way… ever… that you can make everyone happy. There are thousands of people working in the Windows division, I’d bet you all anything you want that every decision has been thought and challenged and thought and challenged again and during that process no one ever said “We should make this or that crappy feature with the objective of alienating a part of our customers… because you know, do we really need that much customers?”

    About the win reviews things… I guess we can all agree that most power users and reviewers are quite smart people… and most of them know about software development, priority management, Agile/SCRUM… and it often seems as if people think that Windows 8 RTM is exactly what MS engineers had in mind all along, that there is no bigger picture, no master plan… My guess is that most of Blue stuff (and probably more) was supposed to be part of RTM, but you know priorities and release dates… there has been a moment when they probably decided that “Since release date is in x weeks we’ll stop adding stuff to the RTM branch, it’s enough for now, it’s not what we planned, but the foundation are there and people will have a good idea of where we’re heading, so let’s focus on stabilization, ongoing and future development will be included in Blue and further updates.”

    They had to get W8 out in time for obvious reasons (tablets war and platform unification among other things), they had to cut stuff for obvious reason and things annoying the power users will get fixed or changed in a way or another, I mean it’s a known fact that MS are dogfooding themselves and well… I guess that most of MS employees would qualify as power users.

    So how is it that as “smart” as we are, there is so much whining about things that we can all understand and guess the reasons why they turned out the way they did…

    Anyway… to conclude, does MS need to “Win reviews”, in a word yes, since power users read reviews and give advises to casual users. But I also think that it’s the reviewers responsibility to look further than what they see… I mean at the speed at which softwares evolve in 2013 (most software companies release/update cycles are a lot faster than a few years ago) I think it’s not appropriate to qualify a Windows release as bad… of course they could say that in its current state the OS is far from perfect, but that there is no doubt that it will soon get better.

    That’s it for now folks.

  22. Victor says:

    How on earth could you not think of Declarative Referential Integrity (DRI) as a priority for SQL Server 7.0???

    Although it’s not as bad as only keeping track of the MDF file in the master database which prevented you from performing an orphaned transaction log backup in case of the MDF file (or disk it was located on) “failing”…


    • halberenson says:

      It’s interesting when I analyzed it at the time. There were two major factors. The smaller of the two was that based on its Sybase heritage SQL Server had long offered Triggers, so when we were planning the release in 1996 customers just weren’t asking for DRI. They had a solution and they were happy with it. By the end of 1998 when we shipped DRI had gained enough traction on other database products that those very same customers wondered why we hadn’t added it to SQL Server 7.0. The larger of the two was that this was right in the heart of the move away from bespoke applications towards packaged applications like SAP, Peoplesoft, etc. The strategy for SQL Server was to capture these ISVs and we spent an enormous amount of time and resources working with them. Not a single one of them brought up DRI. They didn’t use DRI both because it wasn’t universally available across all the database engines they supported, and because they enforced it inside their app engine (and didn’t support applications performing updates other than through their engine). So when you were asking customers, ISVs or customers’ DBAs, what they wanted to see out of SQL Server they would bring up things like row-level locking, a real query processor, better scalability, better reliability, etc. but never mentioned DRI. Thus it was way way down on the priority list. And not having it in SQL Server 7.0 didn’t hurt sales even one tiny bit. It was almost as if since we’d addressed so many other things they needed to find something to complain about 🙂

      • Bob - FormerDecie says:

        As both an Rdb and SQL Server user around that time, I fully understand how DRI dropped off the radar. However, one thing I’ve always disliked about Triggers was their relative lack of discoverability. Foreign keys are usually easy to spot when looking at a list of the column names in a table. An Order table with a CustomerId column is a rather obvious indicator of a foreign key relationship. The run-time DRI errors are also rather explicit. However I remember spending hours tracking down stored procedure problems in unfamiliar databases only to discover that the error was coming from a trigger.

        • halberenson says:

          Triggers are one of those extremely powerful tool that offers ample opportunity for cutting off digits, limbs, heads, etc. Given how central and standardized RI is a more declarative solution is definitely preferable.

  23. Hey Hal,

    I can’t help but think about sampling and over-fitting as I read this post and more details on your DRI anecdotes. I actually think Win Reviews might not be enough – I think you need a team sampling the off-strategy segments and acting as a penalty function for the product strategy.

    Have you observed or used any methodology to that effect? Has it worked?

    • halberenson says:

      You already have that. You have an enormous focus on studying the competition, following analysts, USING the other products, meeting with customers about what they are doing and why, etc. At some point you are forced to make choices or you never deliver anything. Apple has been fantastic at ignoring everything off-strategy and focusing on a precise vision. I don’t think they are ignorant of things that are off strategy, just not willing to let it disrupt them until it and their strategy intersect.

      There are two things that can sink you faster than anything else. One is trying to be all things to all people. The other is continually changing what you are doing in the middle of release cycles. What management gets paid the big bucks for is deciding who you will target and when you need to stay the course vs. change plans. Most of the time the noise from the outside FAR outweighs reality. The noise about object-relational was enormous in the late 90s and you would look at it and think you had to disrupt all your product plans and do o-r NOW, but the proper call was that it wasn’t top-of-mind for most customers despite what the press and analysts were saying. There were early-adopters, but they were truly at the fringes. Not only would it take 5 years for it to matter, it isn’t clear how much it matters even to this day. If anything I’d say that vanilla SQL use has since exploded (e.g., think MySQL and SQLlite in addition to the traditional players), and NoSQL use has exploded as well. So you’ve got to keep your eyes open all the time, but in the end you have to pick a strategy and plan and go for it. You do re-evaluate periodically, but it should take an enormous mistake or sea-change to cause a change mid-release.

      • I get the two risks you enumerate — I just wonder if there is room to continue the off-strategy exploration and input in the middle of a release cycle (or have overlapping cycles). (disclaimer [and it shows]: I haven’t the slightest idea on how these things are managed appropriately 🙂 )

        Now I’m curious about your o-r experiences. I can infer from what you write that the key ingredient to filter out the noise was paying close attention to the customers your overall strategy is targeting. If this is the case, how did you go about this segmentation? Was it base vs. aspirational?

        Thanks Hal!

        • halberenson says:

          Different companies, and different groups within companies, handle this differently. In startups, other small companies, and startup projects inside larger companies you usually have all-hands-on-deck for the official deliverable and there is no way you can spin resources off to focus on anything else. In larger organizations the structure may support parallel development of more than one release, off-cycle releases of capabilities that don’t impact the core product, incubation or Advanced Development projects that go on in parallel with the mainstream release, and of course Research that is being pursued completely independent of the product team itself. SQL Server Reporting Server was an example of something that was done, and shipped between releases, when it turned out that the Yukon release slipped from 2003 to 2005. What is now known as SQL Azure was a CloudDB incubation project that went on in parallel with SQL Server mainstream development. Indeed the SQL Server team went from not being able to tolerate any parallel development during 7.0, to regularly allowing it in a number of different forms starting with a couple of very small (1-2 person) efforts that went on in parallel during SQL Server 2000 to numerous efforts large and small throughout the last decade.

          A small team worked on Windows Phone 8 in parallel with the Windows Phone 7 project. Indeed, the WP8 work was started during the original WP7 planning since the team knew that it was a long lead item project that needed a lot of prep effort before you could put the bulk of the engineering team on it.

          But the most important thing you can do is get away from the 3 year release cycle kind of mentality and provide ship vehicles on a ~12 month or more frequent basis. Then you can have subprojects starting all the time and they “hop on the bus” when they are ready. For big changes that means missing the bus leads to only a 1 year penalty, and for smaller changes there may be more frequent ship possibilities (e.g., quarterly or semi-annual). That’s what you are starting to see now across all Microsoft products.

          On the second question, we were very in-touch with the database user community (not just ours) and it was brute force talking to customers to understand where they really were. For example, one of the big O-R examples in the press was a particular project on Illustra (later acquired by Informix). So I went and talked to the guy they quoted in the press. I also talked to his CIO. He had a nice little project, but it was by no means considered a mainstream effort by the CIO. I repeated this exercise with every publicly known user of Illustra (which was the first of the O-R vendors) and the results were the same. We talked to CIOs at company’s we had close relationships as well. What our leadership team came away from the investigation with was that O-R was going to be important eventually, but that it wouldn’t progress much beyond early adopter stage for two of our release cycles. So we could safely ignore it for SQL Server 2000 and plan on addressing it in Yukon. This was one of the cases where I did have a couple of people start working on the problem in parallel with SQL Server 2000 development.

          You see this kind of thing all the time. How many years did the Press et al scream SOFTWARE AS A SERVICE was here, but the only big successful example was SalesForce? Year after year this story repeated. Those who wrote off SAAS completely were wrong. Those who jumped on it too early mostly failed.

          Picking the right timing is an art. I will bet more startups fail because they don’t have the right timing for an innovative idea than because they failed to deliver on the innovation. The same for innovation within big companies. Microsoft has probably had more failures from being early than from being late. Even most of the things they are considered late on are because they got there early, didn’t get traction, and then got gun shy about trying again until someone else had proven the timing was right. Mobile Phones and Tablets are both good examples of that.

          • waldtaube says:

            hey, really enjoying this discussion – maybe you should make a top-level post from some of your lengthy comments here so more people see them. (also, when are we getting the promised part 5 of the integrated storage series? 🙂 )

  24. Pingback: stratēchery | The Week in Review – April 21-27, 2013

  25. Radu says:

    Your vision is quite perfect on this one Hal!
    Unfortunately, Microsoft keeps alienating many lately, through their arrogant decisions.

    To paraphrase your closing statement, what Microsoft needs is a review of their upper management … sadly, I guess that only Bill Gates could do that.

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