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7/19/2004
06:39 PM
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Microsoft: Hated Because It's Misunderstood (Opinion)

Prejudices and misconceptions about Microsoft make it hard to evalute the company's merits. The biggest myths about Microsoft are that its desktop products are overpriced, it doesn't respect its customers, and reliability and security are poor. And some think the company is downright evil.

Prejudices and misconceptions about Microsoft make it hard to evalute the company's merits. The biggest myths about Microsoft are that its desktop products are overpriced, it doesn't respect its customers, and reliability and security are poor. And some think the company is downright evil.

In nearly two decades of studying Microsoft, I've been able to dig through the hype that the company generates, as well as the misconceptions its detractors create, to see more of the real company than most of you can ever experience.

It's handy to think of the other side as evil in business competition and litigation (as well as in war and religion). While this can be interesting and provide focus if you are in competition, it can also lead to costly mistakes, because you make assumptions about behavior that is based on a world that is largely fictional. I'm betting your perceptions of Microsoft are largely fictional, and while many of mine may be as well, I have spent more time than most people meeting with and drilling into the company.

What I'm going to attempt to do is provide a different perspective than the one you currently have, because I strongly believe that much of Microsoft's problem comes from a lack of effort by Microsoft in helping people get a balanced perspective. People will tolerate a lot from a company or a person that they believe is on their side. They won't tolerate even the existence of a company or person that they believe to be against them. And too many people clearly think that, whatever Microsoft is, it isn't on their side.

There are three key legs to the belief that Microsoft should be avoided: They charge too much, they don't respect their customers, and their products are unreliable and insecure. Of the three the first is, in my view, the most prevalent.

Pricing
Microsoft's dominance on the desktop leads to the perception that the company's products are overpriced, simply because the lack of alternatives gives customers no reference points for comparison. By being the dominant player on the desktop, Microsoft sets prices. This means that the buyer can't, through competitive comparison, determine if they are getting a good deal. And Microsoft has not improved desktop products in a way that would justify the cost of upgrading to the latest versions, according to some of Microsoft's most vocal critics.

Moreover, software has no material cost of production that sets a hard floor to overall cost. Making new copies of software product, once the software is written, is nearly free to the vendor. Making a new copy of Windows is just a matter of striking another CD; it's not like making a car, where the cost of steel, plastics, glass and other raw materials set a limit on how low the price can go without the vendor losing money on every sale.

As a result, the prevailing perspective about Microsoft products is that people are being made to pay for a product that they may not want and don't fully use. Sun, very effectively, has coined this the Microsoft Tax and positioned their own product, StarOffice against it. Because I've been asked to do this work in the past by clients, I've found that the Microsoft product is still in general the best choice when all of the financial aspects of the decision are factored in, and once that is done people seem to feel better about the choice.

Do the analysis yourself. Don't just base your cost estimate on software cost, which often is one of the smallest components in any software product or platform decision. You may be both surprised and more satisfied with your decision to use Microsoft software, but at the very least, you'll have justified whatever decision you eventually make.

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