Hell hasn’t quite frozen over: I almost learn to love Microsoft

I started work on a post two days ago that was tentatively titled “Hell Freezes Over: I Learn to Love Microsoft.” I didn’t get far because, as anyone who knows me knows, I have this thing against Microsoft: I am still smarting from the way they competed with Lotus in the 90’s. They were ruthless, cutthroat, aggressive, totally without ethics and, by universal acclaim, the least inventive technology company on the planet. Everything that was the basis of their success from the UI in Windows to their messaging technology they acquired or copied. Microsoft fanboys will argue differently, of course, but a careful listener will recognize a revisionist history in the making. I never got beyond the title of that post.

I was moved to consider such a blasphemy because, of late, MSFT is on a roll. Windows 7 is great. Office 2010 is great (though it’s been 10 years and Outlook’s bad copy of Lotus Notes 4.0’s views remains as impenetrable as ever…proof positive that when you slavishly copy design you don’t understand, you make a mess of it). Windows Live Essentials 2011 is great. IE 9 (buggy as it is — and as derivative of Chrome as it is) is going to be great.

These products are the best consumer software products you can get today because they have virtues found nowhere else today in consumer software technology: rigor in design, development and testing. MSFT has the resources to spend big on UI design. They have fleets of regression engineers to test every build. They have technical writers who make sure the products don’t ship until someone has written down what they do. A MSFT product today, no matter what you think of the origins of its technology, has superior “fit and finish.” Plus, Microsoft products today are arguably more secure than anything else simply because the company got tired of being the bad guy — and applied unimaginable levels of resources to improve.

And, I’ve been a fan of the Windows Weekly podcast with Paul Thurrott for a few years. Paul isn’t objective, but his advocacy of MSFT products is well-argued. And I respect someone who is an advocate but not a ho. If you listen, as I hope I do, with an open, but skeptical mind, Paul will rehabilitate your opinion of Microsoft. I don’t exactly forgive them for they way they got to where they are. But that was then…this is now. Today, the simple truth is non-techie people need reliable, well-designed and well-documented software that has been thoroughly tested. Google isn’t doing this. Have you ever tried the help system in Google Apps Premier? Apple products for Windows stink — and pointing out a flaw in them invites jihad.

So, I found myself trying to compose a paean to today’s MSFT, until I ran across this post from Thurrott’s blog about Windows Phone 7 ads. Microsoft is about to renter the smartphone business. Paul and Leo — and the rest of the MSFT-focused press community — have been banging the drum, hard. Thurrott has written a book about WP7. People are hot and heavy for any tidbit about Phone 7. So, when one of WP7’s biggest advocates wants to carry the new product’s marketing water by linking to leaked commercials for that product, what does MSFT do?

They get YouTube to take them down. Click on the image above to see how it looked on Thurott’s Phone 7 blog.

Let’s think it through: after spending big bucks producing what I presume are killer ads, some idiot in marketing — who doesn’t want to “spoil” their launch ad buys — decides that it just can’t happen that people could watch a commercial for their product before it officially launches.

This is woefully stupid — and classic Microsoft tone-deafness. If some shmoe like me wants to see a Windows Phone 7 commercial, why in God’s name wouldn’t they let me? Because they want to keep Windows Phone 7 a secret? This is going to help them build interest in the early adopter community? The free ad impressions will decrease the ultimate effectiveness of the ads? They will sell fewer phones because more people saw the ads?

This is the kind of marketing idiocy — slavishly adhering to some artificial schedule just because they have one — that reprises their fundamental lack of creativity.  Only MSFT could fail to see what a mistake it is to limit access to its own marketing messages. Only they could sap momentum for a new product before it launches. They’re probably sitting around the table talking about how to create Windows Phone 7 “mojo” without knowing they’ve killed it a little. Who wants to bet that marketing team will get a raise and some more restricted shares? (Full disclosure: like others stockholders in pain, it kills me to see MSFT stock stagnant. And yes, I’ve owned MSFT for years.)

So, after all these years, I get my cake and get to eat it, too. I get good products — and I can hold on to my grudge.

Thanks, Microsoft.





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