Barney's Rubble

Loving to Hate

Doug talks about this month's cover story, "The Microsoft Survey," and how Microsoft should interpret our readers' opinions.

A lot of you think Microsoft doesn't listen to customers, but nothing could be further from the truth. Microsoft listens carefully and listens often. It just doesn't always do what you ask.

In the 1980s, Bill Gates traveled incessantly from city to city, visiting user groups, showing off new products, and meeting and greeting and dining with as many IT pros as he could find. Bill personally pitched products and heard first hand from customers what was wrong with both his and his competitors' software. No other software exec has come close to this kind of customer connection. Those trips were a huge part of Microsoft's early success.

Other Microsoft executives share that passion for close customer contact. I've been grilled by the biggest of the big wanting to know what Microsoft customers are saying about its products, the lawsuits and Redmond's own style of competition.

Listening and acting are two different things, though. Microsoft has its own personality and culture—and it's about as hard driving as Dale Earnhardt half a lap from the finish. That's both the beauty and the beastly part of Microsoft—and the reason so many love 'em and just as many love to hate 'em. Most of you probably have both feelings at once.

Some resentment naturally comes from a reaction to power. Get elected president and half the country instantly hates you. Microsoft rules the software world with more authority than George W. rules America, and probably his own family (those Bush girls never seem to listen and even Laura has been ribbing George lately). Microsoft's kind of control doesn't exactly breed friendships.

Doug Barney Listen Up!
Now Microsoft has a new opportunity to listen—the Redmond magazine survey where more than 3,000 readers weighed in on everything from ship dates to whether Bill Gates is a genius. I think Microsoft could use the results of this survey as a roadmap.

Here are some directives from Redmond readers to Microsoft:

  • Microsoft must tackle, once and for all, the issue of security.
  • Simplify and rationalize software licensing, which should lead to lower overall prices.
  • Provide realistic ship dates, perhaps a range of dates within which a product would be complete.
  • Thinner clients and simpler, scaled-down applications (something like Office Lite) would be welcomed.

And now for the love—Microsoft has worked long and hard to build an integrated family of products. It's like a quilt, with each new tool another carefully fitted square. SQL Server may not be the best Windows database, but many use it because it slides in so nicely. Readers appreciate this level of integration and praise the company for its deep adherence to standards.

Finally, readers admire Bill Gate's intellect, and even more so his unparalleled philanthropy. Don't forget, though, that as a Microsoft customer, your dollars are helping Bill save the world. Just don't try to deduct it on your tax returns. Send your thoughts on Microsoft to dbarney@redmondmag.com.

Thanks Maggie
Redmond just picked up a Maggie award for the best Computer/Software, Training & Programming Magazine of 2004 for November, which was only our second issue! Overall, the Redmond Media Group was nominated for five awards.

About the Author

Doug Barney is editor in chief of Redmond magazine and the VP, editorial director of Redmond Media Group.

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