Thursday, 9 January 2014

When the burly Microsoft went surly.

So here's an article I wrote for an online competition organized by an online article portal. I will not divulge their name to prevent them from being subjected to public ignominy by my fans for not selecting my article amongst the ones to be eventually published. I don't want to extirpate anyone, you know. Fortunately, we have our own platform to express ourselves. So, here it goes. 

Microsoft Corporation, the Redmond Giant, has been a harbinger of viable PC operating system solutions and has taken the fore in office suite applications and various other kinds of software solutions. It has undoubtedly become inimitable in terms of the market share it holds in the PC operating system markets and continues to maintain its stronghold despite ferocious attempts by Mac and open source fraternity to tip it off. Despite all this gargantuan success, Microsoft too had its share of failures. At times it couldn’t conjure the various possibilities and at others, it simply tried to either imitate the competition or tried to do a little too much. Here’s a list of 5 mistakes Microsoft would always shy away from.

BOB – 1995

The home screen of BOB

Microsoft launched BOB with a lot of fanfare and anticipation in 1995, hoping that it will soon become a buzzword and a ubiquitous piece of code running on all those 8 MB SDRAM systems. BOB was a Graphical User Interface(GUI) ancillary solution for Windows 3.x and Windows 95 operating systems. It was a kind of a graphical assistant running over your operating system, claiming to provide you with a better and more assistive operating environment. It had a virtualization of a home with various rooms and kitchen etc, just like a real house and a virtual dog helped you roam around in the house. One room, say had a desk and papers on it and if you had clicked on it, BOB would open the Word software for you to compose your documents. For users will versed with how to click on the Word logo on the desktop to open it, this additional effort was nothing less than futile. BOB was later on made available for even the upcoming operating systems including Windows NT 4.1 launched in 1997 and Windows 98. BOB met with heavy criticism because it occupied a huge chink of memory that was already in paucity and often made the system to hang. Moreover, it simply extended the task of opening an application by making you hover on the various items placed in the house to get to your application. BOB was a woeful fracas because it tried to assist you for something that you simply did not need. It in fact made your task more difficult. Microsoft big shots believed that BOB failed because it was way ahead of its time. Whatever it was, BOB features in millennium lists of worst tech products.

Microsoft XP Tablet PC Edition – 2002

Bill Gates unveiling the first XP Tablet in 2002

In what was another attempt of transcending the bounds of time, Microsoft became a little too overambitious about the prospects of tablet PCS a little too early. With the advent of palmtops being launched in the fall of 2000, Microsoft thought about adapting their next OS for the tablet PC environment and came up with a somewhat downscaled version of their XP operating system in 2002. This was followed by a furore with a lot of PC and laptop manufacturers coming up with quick models capable of running the new OS. Consequently, a lot of devices were sold with the new hardware coupled with the new OS and everybody began to believe that the tablet PC era is here. But soon enough, the ramifications of downscaling an OS became evident. Continuous page faults, invalid memory swaps, slow performance, and the frustration that piled up because of downscaled features not working properly on a not so powerful machine eventually kicked out the devices off the market. Once again, Microsoft tried to create a niche only when the iPad was introduced by Steve Jobs of Apple in 2010.

Windows Millennium(ME) – 2000

In 2000, Microsoft was brimming with confidence after the success that they had with the Windows 98 Second Edition SE). But now, with the advent of the new decade, century as well as millennium, the Windows 9.X series was to become a bygone. Hence, Microsoft came up with 2 new operating systems, one after the another. One was Windows 2000 and other was Windows Millennium or ME which was promoted as Me to turn it into a cult. Whereas Windows 2000, which comprised of 3 server editions and a single personal user edition, was largely targeted towards users of Windows Server environment, Windows Me was positioned as a replacement for Windows 98SE. However, the replacement turned out to be worse than the ancestor. Extremely slow performance, illimitable number of bugs, random errors related to DLLs and file system and the celebrated blue screen of death made it a source of animosity towards Microsoft for its users. The professional edition of Windows 2000 and the entire gamut of Windows Me were later replaced by perhaps the most successful Pc operating system till date – Windows XP.

Internet Explorer 7 and onwards

The Internet Explorer(IE) was once the pride of Microsoft and the users. It was considered to be the most streamlined browser with the best possible security and customization. However, complacence often gets the worst of you. In 1994-95 when Netscape Navigator was harrowing across the Internet Browser market with unique features and design, Microsoft started working heavily and burned the midnight oil to eventually come up with IE 4.X and IE 5.X versions of Internet Explorer that eventually eliminated Navigator by 1999. Later on, Microsoft played the masterstroke with IE 6 in 2001. IE 6 was the default browser of Windows XP and they together made the most successful combination of OS and web browser, providing users with unhindered experience. But then, Microsoft thought that’s it. No more need to work on a web browser now. And the next update to IE came as late as 2006, 5 years after the release of IE 6. In the meanwhile, ingenious browsers like Opera, Firefox and Safari came up with features like tabbed browsing, secure browsing and what not. And soon, an obsolete IE was eclipsed. IE 7 was haphazardly developed with inclusion of aforementioned features but it had already lost the buck. And with the introduction of Google Chrome, they had now another fierce competitor. Finally, the fracas in from of IE 8 and IE 9 simply did it for Microsoft with all the remaining loyal customers moving towards better alternatives. The same Microsoft which triumphed in the browser war in 1994-1999 was now swept out. Wait, the webpage is still loading!

Vista – 2006

And how can this list be over without a mention of Vista. You could have used it as a third degree measure to make convicts of felonies to confess. Slowest, heaviest and the most buggiest OS of the Windows family. It not only needed more Ram than average, even with that it often produced difficulties in browsing and deterred the smooth operating environment provided by its predecessor XP. It was in fact nowhere near the brilliance of XP which could faithfully run on a single chip of 64MB Ram as well. Vista was made to look murky and trendy for no apparent reason. The buttons were provided some gleam and some experimentation was tried with the celebrated start menu, all of which added to the already built up agony of the users. The new OS was outright rejected and courtesy of some security loopholes and other lacunas, Microsoft eventually itself urged businesses to continue business to use XP until the next version was released. And once again, just like XP saved Microsoft from the blunder they made in the form of Me, Windows 7 saved them from the embarrassment caused by Vista.

The list is by no means comprehensive. Other prominent failures include Zune, Kin and their smartwatch. Microsoft, with due respect, still holds substantial market share in its bulwark arenas, but this list shows how even a gigantic corporation can falter.