In-Depth

The Microsoft Survey

Love Microsoft? Hate it? Somewhere in between? It's all of the above in the Redmond magazine survey of your attitudes toward the world's most important computer company.

I've made my living for the past 10-plus years on Microsoft products. It is a love/hate relationship." That simple comment by John Pricolo sums up the sentiment of Redmond magazine readers toward the world's dominant technology company.

Pricolo was one of 3,407 readers to respond to our survey covering a wide swath of topics, from licensing to Longhorn and the open source threat. The general feeling is that, while Microsoft has been a boon to the IT industry, to maintain its preeminence the company needs to address shortcomings ranging from its pricing strategy to—of course—security.

First, the good news for Microsoft: In responding to our 54 questions, the majority of respondents have a favorable view of the company. Glenn Staggs expresses a fairly common sentiment when he says that without Microsoft, "The technology world would be significantly behind where it is today."

Michael Lewis says Microsoft has made it cool to be a tech-head. "I was always a nerd. I was picked on because of it. Then along came Bill Gates. He proved being a nerd could be the totally coolest thing in the universe. I love Bill."

Question 22
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While most survey respondents didn't take it to that extreme, there is obviously a lot of good will toward Microsoft. But that doesn't mean supporters are blind to its faults. Kevin Ward, while using a bit of hyperbole, believes Microsoft is too powerful. "Nothing less than world domination will satisfy" the company, he says. Eric Schooley has a slightly different take on essentially the same issue. "Microsoft knows it has large market share and brand recognition, and as such it continues to push sub-standard products to market knowing people will buy them (or must buy them)."

On the whole, though, readers see Microsoft as beneficial. When asked, "Is Microsoft good for the computer industry?" about 88 percent say yes, while just 7 percent say no.

Question 10
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Time for Longhorn?
Microsoft's next major operating system, code-named Longhorn, is generating significant interest. A majority of respondents, 62.5 percent, say they're looking forward to Longhorn, although nearly a quarter say they aren't. Similarly, almost 57 percent expect Longhorn to have many new features that they'll use while 24 percent say they don't expect to have much use for Longhorn's new goodies.

The story is much the same with respect to WinFS, the much-touted unified file system that was originally scheduled to be released with Longhorn client (due sometime in 2006), but was stripped out. Fifty-six percent of respondents say they're interested in WinFS, with 24.5 percent saying they don't care and the rest either not caring or knowing much about it.

Question 12
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Wes Miller, on the other hand, is looking forward to something besides WinFS in Longhorn. "As a platform, .NET is still relatively meaningless until Longhorn ships with 2.0 baked in," he comments.

Question 9
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Just under half of all survey participants say Windows, as a server operating system, needs a major upgrade. About 37 percent say Windows already does what they need it to do, while 13 percent aren't sure.

Those findings are somewhat contradicted by the fact that less than half of all respondents say they'll upgrade to Longhorn server when it appears. Slightly more than 45 percent intend to make the switch, but a combined 55 percent say they either will not upgrade (25 percent) or don't know yet (30 percent). Michael Kerwin, for example, says Longhorn isn't on his horizon. "Our needs are simple, so [the additional] features in Longhorn would not be used."

Question 11
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Longhorn client is generating significantly more interest, however, with 55 percent saying they'll upgrade when it's released. About 20 percent don't plan on migrating and nearly a quarter are unsure.

Thin Is In
Whenever Longhorn client comes out, Microsoft needs to consider its footprint, as a strong majority of respondents, 62 percent, say they want thinner clients from Microsoft. That majority is likely to be disappointed, however, because Longhorn client will most definitely be bigger than XP, given the new Aero Glass graphical interface and enhanced security capabilities, among other features.

Let's put it this way: Microsoft is recommending Longhorn client machines be outfitted with 512MB of RAM (see "Enter the Longhorn PC").

It's a similar story for another of Microsoft's core products, the Office suite. About 65 percent want Office to go on a diet and get thinner, contrasted with about a quarter of those who don't. Bruce Webster is in the "thinner-is-better" camp: "Software bloat drives me insane. [Microsoft's] constant push to create new products to sell also drives me nuts. I mean, Office 2003, for instance—frankly, most people won't even use what's in Office 97."

Question 48
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Lisa Cutter gives another example of Microsoft's drive to make everything bigger and better, at the expense of size and ease of use. "I was using Visio long before Microsoft acquired it. It was a straightforward, easy-to-install, small-footprint little product that has been transformed into a complex program with too many bells and whistles," she explains. "Some of the new features are useful, but the whole package is just too bloated."

Too Big for Its Britches?

Although the overwhelming majority in this survey believe Microsoft has changed computing for the better, there’s also a strong sense that Microsoft has been changed by its success, becoming arrogant over the years. When we asked respondents to rate Microsoft’s arrogance as a company from 0-10, with zero being "not arrogant at all," and 10 being "supremely arrogant," 63.2 percent answered in the 7-to-10 range, with the largest chunk (24.4 percent) settling on 8. Those who don’t feel Microsoft is arrogant, which would roughly translate to those who rated Microsoft between 1 and 4 on our scale, made up 16.6 percent of the whole.

Question 21
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Ronald Weight is undoubtedly on the high end of that scale. "Microsoft is arrogant and does not seem to care much about customers. It has a majority market and uses that to gouge customers on price and quality."

Klark Perkins quotes Han Solo in "Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope," to point out a danger of excessive hubris. "Great, kid. Don’t get cocky," Solo says to Luke Skywalker. "Don’t get so cocky that you think that you don’t have any competition—that is when they sneak up on you and blow right by you," Perkins says.

Karen Dunne says it’s time for Microsoft to start thinking small again. "Large corporations tend to lose track of the "little people" who actually helped make their success. Step back and continue to perfect applications that everyone uses—ease of use for average users is the key."

— K.W.

It's the Security, Stupid
Whatever Longhorn server and client ultimately look like, it's clear that they need to be secure out of the box. No single issue in this survey garnered the comments and negative reaction that security did. We asked respondents to rate their opinion of how important security is to Microsoft, on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 meaning it's the top priority. To its credit, 62 percent of survey-takers rate Microsoft's commitment a 4 (39 percent) or 5 (23 percent), a quarter of respondents say it's of medium importance to the company, and about 12 percent rate Microsoft at a 1 (2 percent) or 2 (10 percent) on the scale.

Question 23
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Digging beneath the surface, however, we found a strong undercurrent of dissatisfaction with the security of existing products, and much questioning of Microsoft's commitment. "Lack of emphasis on security," is Microsoft's biggest failing, says John Richardson. "Reaction is never preferable to action." M. Gerling suggests one possible solution: "Throw out 9 of 10 Microsoft lawyers and hire security specialists instead!"

Enos Pennington blames one product in particular for giving him ulcers: "A year ago I would spend three to five hours a week removing spyware/adware from client PCs. There have been times since where it's been three to five hours a day, thanks to Microsoft not making Internet Explorer fixes fast enough. I've since started moving everyone over to Firefox." That may be a chief reason the open source Firefox browser is picking up market share in a hurry, all at the expense of IE.

Another advantage Firefox has over IE is that it's significantly less complex. It's a problem that affects Microsoft operating systems as well, survey-takers say. When asked if the complexity of its OSes makes them more vulnerable, 65 percent say yes.

Microsoft is, of course, well aware of the problem and is tackling it head-on with its "Trustworthy Computing" initiative. That fact was borne out in the survey. "Microsoft is starting to realize that 'secure by design' isn't just a catch phrase—it is a design theology," says Travis Hilton. Andrew Arana agrees, commenting that, "I would like to see Microsoft incorporate more security into its products. The new Microsoft AntiSpyware tool is a great start."

Question 47
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Others point out that Microsoft isn't solely to blame. "The source of the problem is not Microsoft but the malicious hackers who simply target the largest installed base in order to disrupt the largest number of people. If the Firefox browser or Linux achieves a sizable market share, then many of these same [hackers] will be hacking and disrupting productive work and commerce running on those platforms," according to Terry Frazier. His solution? "Microsoft, the other major vendors and government entities need to take a much more aggressive and prosecutorial stance to these malcontents and make them pay a high price for the damage they do." Microsoft, in fact, is doing just that, and has filed a number of lawsuits against hackers and spammers, who have in some cases joined forces.

Survey Methodology

We invited all Redmond magazine readers, via e-mail, to complete a Web-based survey form. The survey was open for two weeks, and we received a total of 3,407 responses. Respondents were required to provide a name, country of residence, and valid e-mail address. This was not a scientific survey, but given the quantity of responses, we’re confident the results provide an accurate reflection of the attitudes of our readers. In the interest of getting the most candid answers, we didn’t ask for personal information like job titles or city and state of residence.

— K.W.

Not Enough Bang for the Buck
Security is the biggest complaint survey-takers had with Microsoft, but a pretty close second is the price of its products. About 70 percent answered in the affirmative that Microsoft products are too expensive, compared with 26 percent who don't think so.

Elise Crull says Microsoft is "starting to price itself out of reach of small government entities and small business." Floyd Kelley says that in today's economy, and in the face of competition from free, open source software, Microsoft must understand that it is "unacceptable" that software such as Windows XP costs almost as much as the hardware it runs upon.

Several others echo Kelley's point about innovation and competition. Ryan Landis says, "Microsoft can't buy out Linux, and the momentum is there to take over the market. [Microsoft] better change the OS costs and the way it does business or it will die a slow and painful death."

John Doty, like several others, says software piracy is part of the problem with high prices. "Microsoft needs to get a handle on piracy so it can drop the price of its products, so other operating systems and products don't look so enticing. People use products like OpenOffice and Linux because they are cheaper, not because they work better."

Can You Hear Me Now?
Question 24
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For a large company, Microsoft does pretty well in listening to its customers. Fully 84 percent of those surveyed say that Microsoft "always" or "sometimes" listens to its customers, although most (73.1) fall into the "sometimes" category.

"Microsoft is listening to the feedback it’s getting from customers; it doesn’t always respond perfectly, but it does respond," says Terry Constable, a technology consultant in Columbia, South Carolina. On the flip side, Bart Engels speaks for a number of respondents when he says, "Microsoft should listen more to people from the SMB [small and medium business] sector."

Question 35
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Listening is meaningless without action to back it up. According to our survey, Microsoft is reasonably quick to respond to problems. We asked survey participants to rate Microsoft’s responsiveness on a 1-to-5 scale, with 1 being "not responsive at all" and 5 being "instantly responsive." Approximately 44 percent gave Microsoft a 4 (33.1 percent) or 5 (9.8 percent), with the largest single percentage (41.3 percent) placing Microsoft squarely in the middle of the responsiveness category.

— K.W.

Paul Christmas, on the other hand, points out an often-overlooked fact regarding Microsoft's pricing strategy. "They provide more free help: Knowledge Base, TechNet, webcasts, etc., than any other IT company." He could have added to the list lots of free tools like the Microsoft Baseline Security Analyzer (MBSA), Windows Software Update Services (WSUS), the Group Policy Management Console (GPMC) and countless white papers.

Question 18
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Licensing Lacks Logic
One factor that affects pricing in a big way is licensing, another area survey respondents say Microsoft needs to take a hard look at. As Bruce Meyer says, "You need a Ph.D. to understand licensing options." David Hale complains that Microsoft's "licensing has gotten way too complex."

Just 35 percent of respondents say Microsoft's licensing programs are fair, while 51 percent say they're not. John Gorman feels Microsoft is trying to bleed him dry. "Why do I need two licenses for Office if I have an employee who works at home using Citrix one day a week? He can't work at home and at the office at the same time. Microsoft has figured out every possible way to stick us with licensing 'gotchas.'"

Bearing the brunt of the licensing anger is Microsoft's controversial Software Assurance (SA) program, under which customers are entitled to product upgrades for the term of the contract—usually three years. About 29 percent believe SA represents a good value, while 40 percent say it isn't. About 31 percent don't have an opinion, but those who do are mostly negative. "If Longhorn isn't released by the end of 2006, a lot of companies would answer that question 'No,'" says Kevin Rodwell, voicing a common complaint that SA customers pay for products they're not receiving.

There's so much angst about SA that half of those surveyed don't know whether they'll renew their current contracts, and only 25.2 percent say they will.

Question 19
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It isn't just SA that has respondents grousing; Randy Hinders says Client Access Licenses (CALs) have become problematic. "The CAL stuff has to go. We buy XP Pro, then Office, then Server and Exchange, then each user has to have a CAL for the server and Exchange. Throw in a SQL Server with Internet connections and it is too expensive."

Woodson Samuel, however, likes his particular licensing program. "I work under a Select Agreement. Many people have not been informed of all the benefits that go along with the agreement, such as home use while employed by the company. This is one of the best benefits Microsoft has offered."

The Potential Davids
Licensing is just one of many challenges facing Microsoft if it wants to continue to preserve its status as the dominant force in computing. Asked what the biggest threat to Microsoft's business is, Linux tops the list, with 25.3 percent of the votes. Combined with the 17 percent who cite the Firefox browser and other open source products, it's clear that "free" software is gaining on Microsoft.

Question 28
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Robert Trifiletti sums up the feelings of many. "Microsoft needs to stop the FUD [fear, uncertainty and doubt] on Linux. Hardware is a commodity. Software is heading that way, proprietary or open source. Microsoft had better look at its business model in terms of competing in a commodity market."

Andrew Ritting suggests a different strategy. "Microsoft should embrace Linux instead of fighting it. I would like to have a Microsoft desktop on top of a Linux distribution."

The other big threat to Microsoft is Microsoft itself—the huge, installed base worldwide that's perfectly happy with Windows 98, Office 97, Windows NT and Exchange 5.5 and doesn't feel the urgency to upgrade. Twenty percent, the second-largest vote-getter in this category, believe that's the main hurdle Microsoft has to clear.

Other significant threats come in the form of governments, both in the United States and abroad (specifically the European Union), and software piracy.

Bill Gates=Thomas Edison?
Question 51
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When it comes to innovation, survey respondents think quite highly of Microsoft. Asked whether Microsoft is an innovative company, 95 percent answered yes, although 37 percent of that total think Microsoft is only innovative "sometimes." Carl Grandin compares Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates to some of the great inventors of the past. "Microsoft is the future, now. What Bill Gates has done for computers is what Thomas Edison did for the light bulb or Alexander Graham Bell did for the telephone."

While no one else is quite as effusive in their praise of Gates, the survey reveals a high opinion of Gates’ intelligence: Almost 49 percent of respondents believe Gates is a genius. About 28 percent say he’s not, and approximately 23 percent wouldn’t venture an opinion on whether Gates should apply for Mensa membership.

Question 8
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It doesn’t take a genius, though, to snap up the innovations of others; Oscar Jones echoes the sentiments of many when he says, "Microsoft is a better marketer than innovator, and it tends to pick the best innovations of others and incorporate them into its own products."

Robert Burnett says Microsoft needs to do more to stay competitive, and offers some suggestions. "The test of Microsoft’s mettle will be the ability to innovate the PC platform. There has been little true innovation in the platform in the last five years. We need instant-on PCs, smarter networking protocols and easier ability to share secure information."

— K.W.

Talking 'Bout a Revolution
It's not easy to sum up the feelings of 3,407 people toward one company; in fact, it would be foolish to try, as any corporation with the comparable size and influence on one industry that Microsoft enjoys is going to generate intense passion on every side of every question. But Curt Spanburgh comes pretty close to encapsulating what Microsoft means to all of us who work with computers for a living.

"Many techs owe their jobs to Microsoft," he says. "For sure [its] software is not perfect … [but] Microsoft changed the world and continues to do so. Microsoft's revolution is still going on."

More Information

Click here to access additional charts from the Microsoft Survey. (4 pages, PDF format, 1.4MB)
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