In a recent column, PC World editor Jon Phillips tackled this provocative topic: "Why PC users hate Microsoft."
Noting that few users would admit to anything like fondness for the company, Phillips suggests that because we're effectively stuck with Windows when we buy a new PC, Microsoft is the obvious scapegoat when things go wrong. "When Windows fails [users]," he writes, "they elevate Microsoft to boogeyman status: a craven, profit-hungry monopoly that runs an unreliable service."
True, but I think there's more to it than that. Much, much more. I say this because for the past few weeks, I've been mulling this very same question. Specifically, I've been wondering why I hate Microsoft.
We need to talk about Windows
OK, "hate" is too strong a word. Viewed objectively, Microsoft advanced the computer age like no other enterprise, even as it hit speed-bumps along the way. Without Microsoft, the computing world as we know it would likely be much different -- and not necessarily better.
I know this, yet I harbor a passionate -- some would say irrational -- animosity toward the company. It's like everything Microsoft does leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I'm realizing now that I've felt this way for years, but only recently have I started to wonder why.
What sparked the sudden fit of self-examination? All signs point to Windows 8. After some poking and prodding, I concluded that it's fine for tablets, but ridiculous as a desktop operating system. It forces users to jump through incessant hoops and relearn the most basic tasks, all for no good reason. To use the tired-but-apt car analogy, it's like Microsoft relocated the door handle, steering wheel, and trunk, then told customers, "But look at the beautiful paint job!"
So, yeah, I'm angry about Windows 8. The first thing most users do is go looking for the Start button, then install a third-party replacement when they realize Microsoft stubbornly (and inexplicably) refused to supply one. "Enjoy your new car! Oh, the brake pedal? We decided it didn't need one."
Of course, I've been fighting with Windows for as long as I can remember. Right now, today, on my primary system, there are two Windows updates that won't install for love nor money, even though Windows appears to install them (for a good 10 minutes) every time I shut down.
And you know how you're supposed to get a list of recent documents when you right-click a Microsoft Office icon in the taskbar? Yeah, I don't get that list. It appears for other apps, just not for Microsoft's own office suite. Oh, and if I try to install a network printer, the whole Add Printer dialog just locks up.
Annoyances like these are par for the course with Windows -- but they shouldn't be. It's 2013, not 1995. Windows may be more "secure" and "stable" than ever, but it still saddles users with hair-pulling problems that seem to occur out of nowhere. Every time I sit down at my computer, I'm reminded of how Microsoft's operating system doesn't "just work."
Those who don't study the past...
As I mentioned earlier, my dislike has roots in the past, not just the present. I'm still bitter about the way Microsoft strong-armed the atrocious Windows Mobile (nee Pocket PC) operating system into the PDA market, eventually defeating the much-superior Palm OS. Later came the idiotic Kin smartphones, which Microsoft put out to pasture after just two months (!) and $1 billion in development.
It just seems like everything Microsoft does is mediocre. Passable. But also curiously expensive. Microsoft still charges $120 for the Home and Student edition of Office, or $200 if you want that with Outlook. A Windows 8 Pro tablet will run you at least $899 -- not including the $130 Type Cover, which is arguably its best feature. This is supposed to compete with a $499 iPad...how? Just because it runs Windows? Not a huge selling point, in my humble opinion.
Meanwhile, Windows Media Center, arguably one of the best software products Microsoft ever created, was never properly marketed or supported, despite a deeply loyal fan base -- the kind you'd think Microsoft would kill to cultivate. Quite the opposite: Microsoft bought, then inexplicably shut down, the thriving Green Button user forum. And in Windows 8, you have to pay extra for Windows Media Center -- which, incidentally, has seen almost zero growth since the Windows 7 version. Longtime fans and supporters are effectively being punished if they upgrade to Windows 8.
Microsoft no longer leads (did it ever, really?); it follows. The only truly great, truly inventive product the company released in recent memory was the Kinect for the Xbox. The same Xbox that requires a $60/year Gold membership if you want to play multiplayer games online or stream movies from Netflix. I actually really like the Xbox, but find it insulting that Microsoft charges extra for services Nintendo and Sony provide for free.
Room for improvement
Look, I realize no company is perfect. Microsoft is in business to make money, so it can charge what it wants. And there are alternatives, limited though they may be. If I'm sufficiently sick of Windows, I can buy a Mac -- or switch to Linux, though I still have to pay for a Windows license when I buy a new PC. (How is that still legal?) If Windows Phone 8 lacks the apps I want (and it does), I can choose Android or iOS.
But here's the thing, here's what this litany of complaints boils down to: I feel like Microsoft doesn't give a damn about me as a customer. I feel overcharged and under-supported. I'm force-fed upgrades I don't want, deprived of features I do, and left hanging when I run into trouble. The next computer I buy will come with Windows 8 whether I want it to or not, because Microsoft won't give me the option of the OS I'm already comfortable with. Why?
I know why. But enough of my griping. I'm sure many of you will counter my arguments, and bully for you for coming to Microsoft's defense. However, I'm curious to know if anyone else feels the way I do. Do you hate Microsoft? If so, tell me your reasons. If not, well, I'd like to hear those reasons, too.