Fatal mistake? Microsoft's cavalier disregard for its customers

When Computerworld reporter Gregg Keizer broke the story over the weekend that Microsoft had a 19-hour server outage that caused the WGA validation of many Windows Vista and XP users to fail, resulting in WGA Notifications accusing them software piracy, I frankly thought little of it. It was just one more example of the erosion of the user experience for honest paying customers that Microsoft appears to be cavalier about. It was a spit in the bucket. Today, though, I sat down to look at the article more closely, read through the user comments, check out Gregg's follow-up story and I found my blood starting to boil.

Over the last year or two, I've written frequently about what's wrong with Microsoft's evolving antipiracy tools, which go by various names — the most recognizable of which is Windows Genuine Advantage, or WGA. I won't bore you with my past articles on the point, but suffice it to say that WGA was one of three or four main reasons I opted to move away from Windows and adopt the Macintosh almost a year ago. After four years of reviewing Vista alphas and betas, including several stories that appeared on Computerworld, I'd had my fill of Microsoft's deep focus on corporate revenues coming at the expense of the user experience for honest end-users and corporate customers.

Fighting software pirates is an acceptable goal for software development companies. Eroding the user experience for paying customers in the process ... that doesn't work for me. Not everyone can vote by switching. I could, so I did.

But why has the IT industry sat back all these years (I'm also leveling this criticism at myself as a long-time reviewer of Microsoft products) let a company get so big that it is hurting everyone, including itself? The fact that so many people in IT continue to ardently support Microsoft's increasingly destructive business practices leaves me wondering about human nature. Are we so enamored of de facto standards that we will put up with anything? Because it has come to that.

I'll let some other people, a handful of the more than 30 commenters on Gregg Keizer's story, give you their insights if you don't buy mine:

Microsoft has destroyed the PC industry with its moronic program controls and lack of security. Most of the users I know are swithching to Linux or Apple. They can take their validation program and stuff it. I'm switching to something else. --Angry user


The level of paranoia at Microsoft has reached new heights. This "service" which has nothing to do with customers whatsoever is like all MS software, poorly written and apparently untested. Use Linux or get a Macintosh. Microsoft no longer cares about its customers and anyone who keeps putting money in their coffers is prolonging the agony. How corporate buyers will continue to justify buying MS is unknown. No one gets fired for buying MS? That has to change. --Anonymous


Issues such as the melt down of the WGA system will do one of three things:

1. force MS to rethink the piracy policies. MS has so much at stake here, that this is probably not going to happen.

2. invite federal oversight. If MS screws up like this again, and some federal staffer can't get their bosses work done because MS is exercising their rights under the law, the law just might change. MS might get federal oversight and that would be a painful pill to swallow.

3. Get sued in wrongful death cases, business loss cases, etc. One person mentioned that if Vista went dark in an ER, people could die. All true. While the dead person won't get much satisfaction from the law suit, some survivor could sue for boatloads and MS would really have no defense.

In the business loss case, the End User License says that MS isn't responsible for anything they do. In the case of the WGA system shutting down businesses without cause, I think some smart class action attorney could make a major case.

No, this debacle goes a lot deeper into MS than anyone thinks.

A handful of people will switch, but most have so much invested in MS infrastructure that they must stay. That means they just might fight if things get bad enough. Time will tell. --theoldman59


The problem here is that, for all the individuals and small businesses abandoning ship and going to Linux or Mac, the corporate world is still essentially tied to Microsoft. I tried for years to dislodge my big corporate employer from automatically going Microsoft for every system and solution, but they bought in whole hog. It was almost like a nervous twitch instead of a business decision: go Microsoft because the alternative is... not Microsoft. The so-called reasoning: "Macs are toys and Linux is scary and... Microsoft is a known quantity! Everyone's using them, and so we should too."

As long as Microsoft is selling vast quantities of software and services to corporations, they probably feel like they have little to worry about when we consumers gripe.

Two things might change the landscape: first, the discontent could get strong enough to filter up to high-level decision makers. This might be on its way to reality. IT people who were so anti-Mac and anti-Linux a few years back have been gradually changing their tune. These people are moving up in the ranks and displacing those who have developed the "Microsoft reflex." Second, if businesses continue to put off adopting Vista, either Microsoft will have to keep supporting XP (which will hurt reputation and income), or they will have to *force* users to Vista, which will create immense ill will and maybe a mass migration away from Microsoft.

Right now, though, Microsoft is still a long, long way from paying for its arrogance. They've survived plenty of fiascoes and bad press before. --Kenneth


I used to be one of those IT people who hated Apple. In the last year I have found myself in an Apple store checking out a Mac and actually liking it. Granted, their OS is a lot better than it used to be but I find myself drawn to the Mac because it does not run a Microsoft OS. My next PC will most likely be a Mac.

I even found myself recommending a Mac to a coworker who needed to buy a laptop for her daughter who is going to college.

I support Microsoft stuff all day long and am just getting sick of this sort of crap going on. They are so out of touch and so greedy that I just get a sick feeling in my stomach when I need to buy something else from Microsoft. There will be no Vista at my company. Period.

Microsoft needs to grow a brain and think things through if it intends to micromanage the DRM in its operating systems to the point of disabling my PC.

I predict that this is the beginning of the end for Genuine Advantage, either by their own volition or by force from the government. --Anonymous

There's a new quality to the emails and comments I'm reading over the last six months about Microsoft that reminds me a lot of the way people felt about IBM in the early 1980s. The sense that the corporation is becoming more and more out of touch with its user base. Something even Microsoft should be concerned about.

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