For Microsoft Customers, It's About Perspective Not Religion

I'm a pretty heavy user of Twitter again, which certainly has its pros and cons. On the pro side, I get to interact with people who share the same love of technology as do I. On the con side, I get to interact with people who believe that the anonymity of the Internet lets them make callous and incorrect remarks about, well, me. Case in point: I was just offhandedly described as a "Microsoft shill," along with noted Windows expert Ed Bott, another guy who's spent his life helping others with technology.

Truth be told, I came to the Microsoft side of the fence for the same reason that most did, not out of any particular love of the company or its products but rather from pragmatism. This was, after all, where all the action was at: Microsoft made, still makes, the mainstream computing platform which we all use. Now, 17 years later, after over 20 books, 16 years of the WinInfo newsletter, 13 years of the SuperSite for Windows, and 5 years of the Windows Weekly podcast, I feel like I shouldn't have to explain myself to a virtual character assassination.

Maybe it's the Memorial Day holiday and a never-ending series of World War II specials on The History Channel, but this episode has caused a bit of reminiscing. I came to Windows and the Microsoft sphere in a roundabout way, having been impressed with the software giant's early work. I convinced a computer shop owner to copy Windows 3.0 for me because, as I said at the time, "Who the heck would pay for Windows?"—I just wanted to see how it ran on my wife's sadly little IBM PS1. (Poorly. Very poorly.)

As an Amiga advocate without a home after Commodore's overdue bankruptcy in the early 1990's, I bounced from platform to platform but saw nothing but dead-ends: DOS and Windows 3.x (technically inept), Macintosh (too expensive, too out of date), and OS/2 (interesting technically, but I could tell it would never succeed).

A couple of Microsoft products finally caught my eye: Word 3.0, which was perhaps the first great GUI word processor, and then Windows for Workgroups (WfW) 3.11, which provided the first real 32-bit underpinnings for Microsoft's mainstream OS line (and not Windows 95, as many have come to believe). It was also a welcome respite from Novell's abysmal Netware.

My first books were about Excel (on which I did little beyond fact checking) and Visual Basic 3 (on which I ended up doing the majority of the writing). And then Windows 95 (known as Windows 4.0 back then) came along. Here, finally, was a Microsoft OS which I could rally behind, one that combined the technical backend of WfW 3.11 with a truly modern and beautiful UI.

The rest, as they say, is history. But I remember. Not all of it is good.

I remember when Microsoft basically ruined NT, twice, first by artificially integrating its Internet Explorer web browser into this previously unassailable product and then by letting the marketers rename NT 5.0 to Windows 2000. These decisions both stick in my craw, even today. Yes, seriously.

I remember the US government suing Microsoft for sweeping antitrust violations, and when Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson ruled that the software giant should be split in two. Here's one for you: I thought he was right, and I still do. In fact, it's hard not to look at the past decade and wonder whether Microsoft's shareholders and customers wouldn't be better off now had that happened.

I remember when Microsoft announced Longhorn at PDC 2003 and set the tech industry on its collective ear in a way that even Apple can't muster today. We've watched people stand in line for so many iPhone and iPad launches that we forget this, but Microsoft was poised to change the world of computing forever in 2003, or so we thought. What we didn't know on the outside for years later was that Longhorn was a house of cards that could never have come to fruition. The product that eventually appeared out of that mess, Windows Vista, was a wan shadow of its former Longhorn self.

I remember when Microsoft belatedly addressed the iPhone and Android with its innovative Windows Phone platform and then sat on it for its first year in the market by releasing only one minor functional upgrade to the OS while its faster-moving competitors never stopped improving their products. I love Windows Phone as much as anyone can love anything inanimate, and it pains me to think how much better this thing can and should have been by now. The war's not lost, not yet, but the first battle was kind of a blow-out. Not the good kind.

There were good times, too, of course. But the point here is that Windows users—even Windows fans—tend to be a lot less religious and a lot more pragmatic about the technologies they choose. I remember the bad stuff too, not just celebrate the good times. And the sum of all this time is still net positive. What I have come to, with Microsoft and its products, is a sense of respect and of trust. I use many Microsoft products, yes, and I support others in their own use of Microsoft products. I don't regret this and if my life were to suddenly change tomorrow, I'd continue using Windows and PCs, and would follow along to see what happened next.

The biggest difference between those who advocate non-Microsoft solutions and those who simply use Microsoft's products and services is that the former are obsessed about their choice and the choices that other people make. On the PC side, we're simply not obsessed about either. Obviously, we use PCs. And we understand that some other people do not. We're just not interested in pushing our worldview on others. This sounds very general, and it is, but it's also very true.

Shill or not, one thing I'm very comfortable with is the decision I made years ago to back Windows. Microsoft has not always done what I've wanted it to do, and certainly the past decade in particular has seen its share of ups and downs. But the same things that attracted me to this world years ago are here today, they're just shifted in some ways, to the cloud perhaps, to the server products, and to mobile devices. But the excitement is still there, the future is in play, and Microsoft has a role in all of it.

I can't wait to remember the next 10 years. I bet it's going to be something special.

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