Elias presents ... a worm!    Thoughts on family, philosophy,
and technology


Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Frustrated with Microsoft

I've been thinking too much about politics lately, probably due to the upcoming election and the anniversary of 9/11. Enough about terrorism and Iraq. I want to vent about Microsoft.

Context here is everything. I've been professionally developing software for Microsoft Windows since 1993, and this will likely continue for the rest of my programming career. So I owe my career to Microsoft, in a sense. Also, I am a staunch, staunch supporter of pure capitalism, of everyone's right to sell anything with the terms of their choosing. So long as others can say "no"and walk away (i.e., there's no baseball bats involved), there's no violation of individual rights. So I'm not your typical Microsoft-basher. I won't even hesitate to say that Microsoft has created more wealth (and therefore enabled more human happiness) than most companies can fantasize about, and I have a great deal of respect for this.

My complaints are purely complaints qua consumer. Here's what I've seen in the past few months:

(1) Hotmail. We sent out an email from Amy's Hotmail account to dozens of people with a link to pics of a newborn Elias. The entire content of the email was a link to a web page. Simple enough, right?

To my amazement, we began getting feedback that the link didn't work. Was the web site down? I checked the server, it was fine. But when I tried to click on the link we had sent, sure enough it didn't work. And the what-the-hell moment was when I saw that Hotmail had turned the link to my web page into a redirect on a Hotmail page. Which wasn't working. So that our family and friends who were trying to see pics of our newborn son were instead seeing an error page on

Is it too much to expect from an email service that I can send a link in an email and it will work?

(2) MSN. It is (a) expensive; (b) hard to figure out how to cancel the service (turns out you have to call them); and (c) confusing: I keep getting comments from family and friends that they can't find such-and-such a site -- because they have typed the address into the worthless Search box. ISP service can be so simple, why should people pay extra money for an extra confusing and cantankerous service?

(3) IE. I've noticed a growing trend of family-member systems getting infected with all sorts of spyware and other junk. Is it really that hard to make the browser not download software onto my machine unless I explicitly ask it to? IE also hasn't significantly changed in years, so that now there's an equivalent, if not better, open-source alternative that a famous Microsoft evangelist uses 40% of the time. Ironically, Microsoft has been excercising their right to not innovate.

(4) .NET 1.0, 1.1, 2.0, Avalon, Longhorn, XAML, ad infinitum. This complaint is made qua consumer of Microsoft's programming technologies. Don't get me wrong, I love working with .NET (Win32 was like a '72 El Camino -- powerful and dependable, but not that comfy to be in or to look at in 2004), but do I really need to learn a new API every 2 years? Because that's what my future looks like. And the point of this treadmill is not primarily to make better software systems (after all, all that consumers want is Office to be fast and to never crash), but to lock-out and out-step the competition.

(5) Office. Bugs and bloat. I'll never forget the time I spent two hours trying to figure out why my writer friend couldn't open Word anymore (eventually tech support told me to delete or something like that). Outlook locks up on me almost daily. Word is slow to load (contrast to the free AbiWord) and hard to use: I get a sinking feeling everytime I need to create or edit a table within a document.

These are the main reasons I now use the Firefox browser (no more IE) and gmail (no more Outlook, nor Windows 2003 mail server which has given me fits), and I'm starting to use Linux and AbiWord at home more and more. I've also got one set of grandparents viewing Eli's pics over ISP.Com's service; now I just need to switch the other grandparent off of MSN to save $12 a month.


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