Microsoft Taken to Task for Prioritizing Short-Term Cash Grabs

Microsoft is once again facing criticisms, this time for prioritizing short-term cash grabs at the expense of its products and the user experience....
Microsoft Taken to Task for Prioritizing Short-Term Cash Grabs
Written by Matt Milano
  • Microsoft is once again facing criticisms, this time for prioritizing short-term cash grabs at the expense of its products and the user experience.

    Microsoft has made a slew of controversial decisions in recent years, including ads in the Windows 11 Taskbar, aggressive ads promoting Edge, a rumored move to a subscription model for Windows, trying to force users to have a Microsoft account to use Windows, and turning Outlook into spyware by sharing users’ Outlook data with 801 companies. To make matters worse, a former Microsoft software engineer has slammed the company for “comically bad” Windows 11 performance.

    At WPN, we have repeatedly called Microsoft out for this behavior, but we’re not the only ones. In fact, a Windows Central op-ed by Jez Corden makes the case that Microsoft is destroying goodwill, the consumer experience, and possibly its own future in the interests of short-term cash grabs.

    After acknowledging that Microsoft jumped to an early lead in AI, thanks to its deal with OpenAI, Corden points out that Microsoft could be even further ahead in many areas if it hadn’t made some confusing choices.

    Despite the hype surrounding Microsoft’s lead in this category, what’s often less talked about is how much further ahead Microsoft would be if Satya Nadella and the team at Microsoft hadn’t made a range of baffling, short-sighted decisions in previous years. Whether it’s Windows Phone’s death and handing Apple and Google a mobile duopoly, short-changing Xbox investment for years until it was too late, or announcing awesome-looking Surface products only to cancel them — Microsoft’s biggest consistency is that it’s inconsistent. The lack of investment in winning over customers with raw quality is returning to haunt Microsoft in various ways, yet the company doesn’t seem to learn from these mistakes.

    In 2015, surrounded by holograms for the HoloLens reveal, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said, “We want to move from people needing Windows to choosing Windows, to loving Windows. That is our goal.”

    Corden goes on to say that such statements were welcome and reassuring. Unfortunately, Microsoft has not lived up to that promise.

    Microsoft’s Security Woes

    Citing Microsoft’s recent security issues, and the company’s pivot to promoting security above all else, Corden quotes CEO Satya Nadella’s memo on the subject and highlights the issues with it.

    Recently, CEO Satya Nadella sent a memo imploring staff to put security first above everything. “If you’re faced with the tradeoff between security and another priority, your answer is clear: Do security,” the memo reads. “In some cases, this will mean prioritizing security above other things we do, such as releasing new features or providing ongoing support for legacy systems. This is key to advancing both our platform quality and capability such that we can protect the digital estates of our customers and build a safer world for everyone.” You’d have thought that one of the world’s most pre-eminent cloud companies would have been prioritizing security, but this memo reads like that wasn’t the case.

    This emerged as a result of a pretty colossal hacking scandal that has been practically ongoing for the past year and, honestly, even longer ago. Microsoft provides email and cloud solutions to thousands of businesses across the globe, but also governments, nation-states, and even military installations. Microsoft revealed that Russian hackers had recently breached many of its systems, including source code, Microsoft execs’ emails, and even U.S. government entities’ emails. Naturally, this was a massive breach of trust and to the detriment of Microsoft’s reputation in this space, but it also indicates how under-invested Microsoft is in this area.

    Corden ties the company’s security issues with the lack of overall support the company provides, especially compared to Microsoft’s early days when it was relatively easy to get support for almost any product.

    Microsoft’s Failed Mobile Goals

    Corden highlights Microsoft’s failed Windows Phone efforts, spending billions to purchase Nokia before shuttering the division a short time later. Nadella has called the move a mistake since it essentially left the mobile market squarely in the hands of Apple and Google, making it nearly impossible for a viable third-party option to survive, let alone thrive.

    Once the company decided to try again with the Android-powered Surface Duo, Microsoft once again abandoned its efforts, leaving users hanging. Corden points to Microsoft’s flakiness with its mobile efforts and makes the case that it undermines confidence in the company’s current Surface plans.

    While I am excited about the Snapdragon X Elite Surface iterations, as a consumer, my faith in Surface’s future couldn’t be lower. Surface suffers the same customer support cut-corners as Microsoft 365, with retail stores shut down and marketing spend nearly nonexistent. Microsoft’s fickle attitude to its products doesn’t inspire the kind of consumer confidence competitors like Apple or Dell enjoy and need through its short-sighted designs.

    Winning trust in the consumer space is incredibly difficult. In previous years, Microsoft had invested a lot of time and effort in curating the goodwill and prestige around the Surface brand. Still, now it’s throwing it all away with inconsistency and a downgraded presence atop a lack of innovation. The death of Surface won’t just be the death of Surface; it’ll be the death of trust should Microsoft ever attempt anything like this again, as an extension of the trust damage already playing out from the death of Windows Phone.

    Microsoft’s Obsession With Ads

    Corden takes Microsoft to task for its obsession with aggressively advertising its own products within Windows, something we have pointed to numerous times.

    Microsoft will start placing recommended apps in the Start Menu, as depicted above. It’ll roll out gradually in the coming weeks, and it seems some of these will be quite easily turned off.

    However, Microsoft has also gotten incredibly aggressive with marketing Microsoft Edge within Windows 11 recently, moving beyond simple “hey, Microsoft Edge is actually pretty good” to outright resetting your default browser when you run major updates. Microsoft will drop pop-ups to warn you not to install Chrome and beg you to stay with Microsoft Edge when searching for Chrome within Bing.

    I actually use Microsoft Edge, and I like it a lot. The password manager is incredibly easy to use and syncs between Edge on my desktop and Samsung Galaxy well. But punishing users who don’t want to use it is egregious and a problem of Microsoft’s own making. Google made a browser that was simply better through innovation and hard work. Microsoft didn’t invest enough in its browser technology, and excluded themselves from the market by putting customers last — notice a pattern here?

    Conclusion: ‘Microsoft Needs to Learn Some Patience’

    Corden’s overall conclusion is that “Microsoft’s biggest consistency is that it’s inconsistent,” that the company needs to learn patience.

    Hindsight is 20/20, and I’m admittedly not privy to the full range of factors driving some of Microsoft’s decision-making. But after ten years, the results tend to speak for themselves. I always hear that Microsoft is “learning, learning, learning” from its mistakes, but it never seems to do so. They acquire companies at a breakneck speed, underinvest in integrations, and then shut down those divisions and products while wondering what went wrong. We’ve seen it repeatedly: reams of layoffs, underbaked integrations, low investment, and taking customers for granted.

    I used to wonder why many Microsoft reporters seemed jaded, but after almost a decade, I feel like I’m starting to understand. There’s still plenty to love here, and I’m certainly not denigrating the efforts of individuals in those teams — I want them to be supported better and for customers to be treated with more care. I like Windows 11 for the most part, and I like the possibility of using Surface with ARM. Xbox seems to have an impressive slate of upcoming games. But because of the patterns Microsoft keeps throwing at us, it all comes with a cloud of doubt. Doubt is easy — building trust is hard, and Microsoft hasn’t learned this yet.

    Corden’s take is an incredibly well-reasoned, in-depth take on Microsoft’s current issues and is well worth a read. The full article can be found here.

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