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Microsoft: Put Users First!

Memo to Microsoft: The administrator isn't the customer anymore. The end user is.

Even at this late date, with Microsoft playing catch-up on smartphones and tablets and losing overall PC share, there is daily evidence that Microsoft doesn't get it yet.

My most recent example: I was participating with a community group in a demo of a Software as a Service content management system for the group's Web site. We were doing the session over GoToMeeting with a vendor.

No sooner had we booted up the group leader's Windows 7 laptop and finally gotten the GoToMeeting presentation running both online and on the phone when Microsoft, in its administrators'-concerns-are-always-paramount wisdom, shut everything down to launch the latest Patch Tuesday updates. The entire group had to sit there in limbo until Microsoft deigned to give us our system back.

Now, I know these things can be configured to give the user more or less control, and I completely understand that critical patches must be installed. Yes, I also get that many users will never get around to patching if Microsoft gives them too much choice. That said, those configuration options are rarely very clear, and there has to be a way to back out of the update process.

Here's the thing: There was no obvious place for us to say, in effect, "Stop this update process! We are actually using this computer to do one of those productivity things it's supposed to be intended for. We've scheduled five people on two coasts to meet right now. Put this off until we shut the computer down later."

It's a small example of a once-competitive but now self-defeating mentality in Redmond. If Microsoft doesn't put the user experience at the center of its engineering decisions, users will move their centers to platforms that seem to care about them.

There's ample evidence in the Windows Phone OS that I use on a daily basis that some Microsoft product groups understand this new reality. Hopefully, that understanding will pervade the Windows 8 team.

For a long time, the user experience was a secondary concern for Microsoft because there was really nowhere else for users to go. With the consumerization of IT, users have a lot more power. Microsoft would do well not to forget that.

Posted by Scott Bekker on December 20, 2011 at 11:58 AM