Start listening to your customers, Microsoft

Microsoft would do itself some good by putting on their listening ears and being a little more proactive.

Witnessing the last few weeks of Microsoft news unfold has been like watching a really bad soap opera. There’s been a ton of news lately in regards to the company’s re-org and a myriad of other events, but a few specific things have really stuck out for me, as someone who follows the consumer space closely. I’m referring to the drubbing Microsoft took at E3, the release of the Windows 8.1 preview, and, most recently, the discontinuation of TechNet (which REALLY ticked me off).

Although the Xbox and Windows teams aren’t intimately connected, the recent events surrounding the two products shared a common theme—Microsoft was forced to react in an attempt to correct previous blunders. The TechNet snafu is a little different, and it’s still unfolding, but is equally indicative of Microsoft’s unfortunate behavior.

The Xbox One story was particularly brutal. After Microsoft turned off gamers in droves with draconian DRM schemes and inconveniences surrounding used games, Sony went on the offensive and ripped Microsoft from a number of angles at E3. A funny video of how to share used games on the PS4 went viral and had both fans and haters of the Xbox One simultaneously applauding Sony and ridiculing Microsoft. Microsoft took so much heat from gamers and Sony that it had to literally do a complete 180, and promised to remove virtually all of the restrictions that had gamers so fired up in the first place.

The release of the Windows 8.1 preview isn’t quite the same, because it was mostly customers and not a direct competitor putting pressure on Microsoft to fix many of Windows 8’s shortcomings. As I’ve mentioned a number of times in this blog before, the vast majority of the criticism surrounding Windows 8 had to do with two things: the lack of a traditional Start button/menu and the system’s inability to boot directly to desktop mode. Had Microsoft simply listened to the myriad of users who tested the release preview of Windows 8 and incorporated these two features from the get-go, the lion’s share of criticism of Window 8 would have never existed. Instead, Microsoft did its own thing, and now has to try and fix the issues with Windows 8.1. Boot to desktop mode is coming, but the Start menu remains absent. There’s a new Start button coming, but it still launches the modern-UI-based Start screen. Whether or not these changes appease more customers remains to be seen, but additional changes to the Start screen do make it more user-friendly, so at least MS is on the right track. Of course, all of this hullabaloo could have been avoided if the company simply listened to customer in the first place. But what would be the fun in that?

Microsoft’s latest genius move, which completely ignores the needs of current customers, is the discontinuation of TechNet. For people like me, TechNet was a godsend. For a nominal fee, TechNet gave me access to a wide array of Microsoft software (All versions of Windows, Office, etc.) and provided multiple keys and activations. This allowed me to keep legit copies of operating systems on test machines, try out new software for extended periods before writing about it, and legally obtain programs I would otherwise never be able to afford. TechNet was awesome.

Instead of offering full versions of their programs, Microsoft’s plan to quell the disappointment of current TechNet customers it to offer free trials of many of the same programs, but that’s not nearly as helpful. I keep test machines set up for months on end—OS trials that necessitate frequent reinstallations aren’t nearly as helpful. Is it a complete loss? No. But why annoy a block of current customers, shelling out hundreds of dollars each year for subscriptions, when there’s no need to?

The shuttering of TechNet is a pointless move that does little else other than to annoy current customers. Microsoft hasn’t come out and said this, but the reason for killing TechNet is most likely about the numbers. Microsoft would rather have folks drop thousands of dollars to obtain full versions of the programs (or an MSDN subscription) rather than a few hundred bucks for a TechNet subscription. But now Microsoft’s not going to get anything from many of us. Many current TechNet customers are likely to make do with the free trials where possible, but will be forced to find alternatives to the other programs that aren’t likely to be as readily available.

Smooth move, Microsoft. Way to keep your customers happy. If there’s one thing we love, it’s being completely ignored.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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