Archive for May, 2011

Microsoft After Bill

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011 Mike Ficco

In 1998 I was working at a company that had tens of thousands of customers.  Like most companies, they dreamed of having tens of millions of customers.  The most significant impediment to their goal of mass-market acceptance was the futuristic application of their primary product.

In 1998, the Internet was still a baby, new PCs were made from the Pentium II, and less than half of them had CD readers.  It was this year, this company, and these circumstances that revealed to me the secret of Microsoft’s early success.

My company’s software had grown too big to fit on a single floppy.  It required three (3).  In 1998 Internet delivery of the software wasn’t even considered by my boss.  Considered, but rejected by the CEO, was delivery on a CD.  He didn’t want to lose access to over half the PCs by requiring a CD reader.  To put this in perspective, the company had less than 50,000 customers and the CEO decided that access to 20 or 30 or 40 million potential customer was just not enough.  He demanded a bigger pool.

The unfortunate consequence of his decision was the delivery of this futuristic product was being dumbed-down to retain compatibility with old PCs.  Here was a product, most likely to be attractive to “early adopters”, but it was being crippled by the antiquated image of having to repeatedly swap floppies to install it.

It was during this time that I started thinking about how Microsoft did things.  Bill Gates seemed to not care about under-powered and feature-poor PCs.  So what if the customer’s current PC was too weak to provide a good user experience, or perhaps too anemic to work at all with his new software?  Unlike most corporate leaders, Bill saw the future and didn’t wait for the world to catch up.

His approach, and it worked very well, was to provide desirable features and functionality attractive to the early adopters.  They in turn went out and bought new PCs so they could get maximum enjoyment from the new software.  In the process Bill as the CEO, from memory and very brief research, led Microsoft to something like a 10x stock price gain from when it went public in 1986 until he stepped down as CEO in 2000.  At that time the Microsoft stock price was about $45.  Here we are in 2011 and the stock is about $25.

This isn’t to malign the leadership that followed Bill – only to encourage them to do better.  Yes, Bill was good but without him Microsoft has needlessly become a follower.  In a sense, they worry they may lose customers by requiring a CD reader.  They’ve come to believe others are more innovative.  As a result they look to acquire web search technology, cloud anything, Skype, etc.  I don’t remember Microsoft creating any new market or ground-breaking technology since Bill stepped down.  Worse, and now we get to the reason for this blog, they are doing just plain stupid things.

Example 1:  Windows Explorer search

Have you tried searching for anything with the Vista or Windows 7 versions of Windows Explorer?  I first encountered this nonsense a few years ago on Vista.  Windows XP search was just fine.  You give it a full or partial file name and tell it what to look for inside the files that match – simple, easy, and it worked.  On Vista, there didn’t seem to be a way to tell the search to look inside the files.  After poking for quite a while and web searching I figured out how to force Explorer to look inside files.  Unfortunately, I never figured out how to specify file names so some searches became very painfully long as the search looked inside every file no matter how big or irrelevant.

Amazingly, they didn’t fix this in Windows 7.  Last week I was doing a search for a file but I just couldn’t find it.  I assumed I just remembered the content incorrectly.  Later, I found the file for which I was searching – and the content was as I remembered it.


I went back and searched again.  Knowing where to look, Explorer could not find the file.  This file was standard ASCII text (in fact it was Python code).  I could see the text in Notepad and I could see the text in Eclipse.  Hummmmm?  Maybe I have to turn on Windows indexing?  So I tried that and it corrupted my Subversion project files and I had to reinstall the entire project.  Grrrr!!!


Hey Microsoft guys.  I’ve been using computers for over 30 years.  I’ve used more operating systems and file systems than you ever heard of – from Intel’s RMX, Univac, DEC’s RSX, Unix, Linux, DOS, Mac, and EVERY version of Windows ever made…

AND, after HOURS of playing…

I can’t figure out how to use the new Windows Explorer search.  This is a bad, BAD product.  Fix it!  And while you are doing that, put BACK the ability to tell the search file names to look in so I can help narrow the search.

Example 2:  The Windows 7 calculator.

What the HELL were you thinking?  Some time ago I was working on a record structure that had 16 bit binary time stamps.  Using the Windows 7 calculator in hex mode, I was converting the binary number to decimal seconds, then dividing by 60 to get the minutes.  After several records I was surprised they were all evenly dividing by 60.  After several more I became doubtful and actually started to look at the numbers instead of blindly typing.  Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the Microsoft calculator didn’t work!  In what crazy universe does it make since to force the “programmer” view of a decimal calculator to ignore decimals?  You do know that sometimes programmers use these things called floating point numbers, right?  You know, programmers don’t always use integers, right?

To do my binary seconds to minutes conversion, and see the result was not an even multiple of 60, I had to save each value and toggle to the “standard” view to do the division – then toggle back to the programmer view for each record.

Have you guys ever tried to use this?

BAD – BAD – BAD!!!

Fix it!!!