Windows Insider

Microsoft Giveth and then Taketh Away

Redmond's new Windows Insider columnist discusses Microsoft's latest move to alter OneDrive storage limits.

At Microsoft, backward compatibility isn't just an item on a checklist. It's an obsession, a core principle.

You can still find features and components from the 1990s in Windows and Office today; though only a handful of customers still use those features, they're available if you dig deep enough.

When Redmond makes the decision to retire a product or a feature, it typically gives notice years in advance of its disappearance. Windows XP famously received an extension giving it 13 years of life, and some ancient (at least by Web standards) versions of Internet Explorer are finally dropping off the support list this month.

That's why Microsoft's recent withdrawal of "unlimited" cloud storage for Office 365 subscribers is so disturbing. It's the first time I can recall the company reneging on a promise.

If you haven't followed the story, here's the executive summary:

Back in October 2014, Microsoft fired what appeared to be a decisive shot in the cloud storage wars. In a blog post, the company declared that storage limits had become "a thing of the past" and that "all Office 365 customers will get unlimited OneDrive storage at no additional cost."

Over the next 12 months, some customers with Home and Personal Office 365 subscriptions saw their storage quotas raised to 10TB, but business customers never saw an increase.

And then, in a late-night blog post in November, the company abruptly canceled those plans: "We're no longer planning to offer unlimited storage to Office 365 Home, Personal or University subscribers," the company said. "Starting now, those subscriptions will include 1TB of OneDrive storage."

The announcement didn't address the fate of its promised unlimited upgrade plans for the OneDrive for Business service included with Office 365 Enterprise and Business plans.

Let's be clear: Offering unlimited cloud file storage was a terrible business decision, one that should never have seen the light of day. But once you make a commitment like that, you have a responsibility to your customers to follow through and not renege on it. And you don't have to be a conspiracy theorist to see this as a bait-and-switch move that could bite customers of other cloud-based services as well.

With Office 365 and Microsoft Azure, the company has been aggressively courting business customers to abandon perpetual licenses and on-premises servers in favor of cloud-based solutions. Economically, the pitch is compelling: fewer expensive datacenters, no more monthly scramble to patch Exchange and SharePoint servers on the second Tuesday of each month, and a simple subscription bill each month without the worry of budgeting for upgrades every three years.

But is that move to the cloud a trap? What happens if Microsoft decides that its subscription prices are too low? In that scenario, the predictable monthly Office 365 subscription bill starts rising inexorably over time, the math starts to tilt back in favor of on-premises deployments and a profound sense of buyer's remorse sets in.

For business buyers, uncertainty is never welcome. As recently as September, Microsoft executives were saying publicly that they were still working toward the unlimited storage goal. And as of mid-December, "Unlimited storage for OneDrive for Business" is still on the Office 365 roadmap, listed under the heading In Development.

That's the same status it's had for the past year, and given the surprise announcement canceling the consumer version of this feature, Office 365 business customers have a right to be concerned.

My sources tell me that the decision to undo the promise of unlimited OneDrive storage for consumer Office was made months ago for economic reasons. Executives inside Microsoft were still arguing over how to break the news to customers when they were forced to rush out an announcement before a major news outlet broke the story. That's a terrible way to treat customers.

At least consumers know now where they stand. Meanwhile, businesses are left wondering, one year later, whether a promised feature will ever be delivered. Silence sends a completely different message.

About the Author

Ed Bott is a Microsoft MVP and an award-winning tech journalist who has covered Microsoft for 25 years. He's written numerous books on Windows and Office, including the best-selling "Inside Out" series from Microsoft Press. Bott delivers outspoken advice on a wide range of technology topics at his ZDNet blog, "The Ed Bott Report."

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