Hey Microsoft! Is anyone there listening?

The way changes, updates, tweaks and new features dribble out from Redmond can leave users frustrated. So why not just tell us clearly what you’re doing, so the rest of us can focus on work?

Microsoft Windows update cycle arrows with overlay a laptop and mobile phone.
Microsoft / IDG

Microsoft, we need to talk. Lately, you’ve been doing things with your desktop software that make me question whether you’re really listening to your customers.

I keep seeing you code and roll out items that make no sense. First, let’s agree that users run Windows because there is some key application or feature they need. (Otherwise they might have moved to another platform by now.) This recent tweet resonated with me: “The value Windows has to consumers and businesses today isn’t the eye candy. It’s running 30+ years of apps, many of which should’ve been retired long ago. If you started over, you’d have to jettison that - and the platform would be worthless to most.”

Eye candy doesn’t really help; in fact, it can get in the way of making a satisfied Windows customer. But I’m seeing a lot of eye candy lately.

For example, recently in Windows 10 and 11 you rolled out a new feature called Search Highlights. It’s touted as being an improvement to the search experience in Windows by surfacing important and meaningful events, files, and resources to users. Search Highlights works slightly differently for regular and enterprise users. For the former, it will show meaningful information like holidays, anniversaries, and other educational moments based on the user’s region. Enterprise users, on the other hand, will see relevant files, contacts, and other organizational information.

It’s important that you realize that this idea of “regular users versus enterprise users” no longer makes a lot of sense in this work-from-home world we now live in. Offering a user different views and actions depending on which Windows machine they’re using is confusing. Stop thinking a “normal” user should be treated differently than an “enterprise” user.  We both want an operating system to just flat-out work. Just make sure my PC boots when I want it to and is functional. When you dribble out features this way, you wind up leaving people thinking they’ve been infected by a virus and wondering what to do. Those of us who manage Windows machine have to answer questions about these “improvements” over and over. (For the record, if you want to get rid of Search Highlights, the instructions are here.)

My point is that many times these upgrades aren’t what people want. They don’t want search “highlights,” they want search to just plain work.

The current Windows 11 experience is another work in progress with mixed results. As noted by Rafael Rivera, Windows 11 25120 is testing a new desktop search box on the desktop, where the results are always shown in Microsoft Edge — ignoring the configured default browser. (For Windows 11 Insiders, if you want to see this feature, you need to download a tool that allows you to enable optional testing. As Rivera notes, you download the ViVe tool, open an Elevated Command prompt and navigate to the folder where the extracted ViveTool is. Enter the following command in the command prompt: vivetool addconfig 37969115 2 and it will enable the search box.)

Yes, Microsoft, you’ve told us these “trial balloons of code” may not end up in the final released feature releases. But it’s interesting to see what you’re spending your time on.

Maybe you should look at some feedback for items users really want: a better weather widget, for instance. Seriously. Go into the feedback application in Windows 10 and you will see a bug that has been upvoted more than 1,400 times. The issue here is that the hourly section of the Weather app no longer shows hours, at least for some users.

Now, I can see the hours showcased in my Weather app, but clearly others are seeing a problem. Therein lies the problem of the ”dribble changes” you’ve been doing. Something will suddenly change and it’s unclear whether the issue is a bug, a temporary problem, or something intentional. Often, when a change is announced, it may be weeks before anyone actually sees it show up on their computer. And by then, many users will likely have forgotten about it. Or they think their computer’s been hacked or has a virus. When Search Highlights arrived, some users thought something was wrong with their computer. And with the Weather widget, is it a bug or a feature? We don’t know.

Even for business users and IT help desk admins, this pattern leads to confusion. When someone calls the help desk with an issue, the admin might not know about it because the change hasn’t occurred on their workstation. So they then have to remote into the workstation to understand what’s going. This is less than ideal.

And now you’re taking the “dribble” approach to Office, pushing everyone who’s chosen the Semi-annual Enterprise channel onto the Monthly channel — meaning changes and tweaks will show up more often. (This often happens in my office; one day I’ll see a certain behavior in Office and then the next day, it changes. Then I have to dig into the build number of Office to determine what happened and why.)

Microsoft, you may need to dribble out changes this way so you can gauge use and resources. But for those of us who use computers, it’s often jarring and confusing and forces us to investigate why something is suddenly different. You could fix that by being clearer when you make changes to our systems.


Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.

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