It makes me cranky when I consistently bump into problems when working with Microsoft's websites. Based on casual discussions, I know that Microsoft's website problems also make many of my peers grumpy. Recently, I was surprised to learn that Bill Gates was also annoyed by the same frustrations.
Microsoft's Websites Suck
It's no secret that Microsoft manages mountains of data and information online for a gob of different products. However, my beef with Microsoft is that the company manages this information through a mish-mash of cobbled-together sites and portals that result in a disjointed, Frankenweb of disparate designs and user experiences that are less than ideal to navigate. If this problem were merely restricted to the fact that different departments and teams within Microsoft seem hell-bent on having their own feeling or presence within corresponding portions of the company's website, then that would be a big enough problem in its own right because that approach makes it very difficult to find necessary information and resources.
In my experience, Microsoft's problem is much more than simply providing a disjointed user experience. Instead, the problem lies in the fact that aspects of Microsoft's web presence are managed by different teams, groups, and organizations, which results in several ugly problems. There are two big problems that come to my mind. First, certain portions of Microsoft's web presence work only on Internet Explorer (IE) such as the Partner Portal or Azure Dashboards. It's not just lame, it's also unbearably insulting that Microsoft continues to foist IE 6 onto the world by actively supporting IE 6 until 2014.
Second, Microsoft apparently doesn't seem to fathom or care about link rot. Personally, I can't count the number of times that I've read a blog post or book and clicked or typed in the URL for a particular reference to technical documentation, only to have MSDN or TechNet tell me that the content can't be found. Granted, I fully understand that content occasionally needs to move as schemes for managing URLs or huge amounts of data change and become optimized. What I don't understand is why Microsoft seems to have a hard time providing forwarding addresses, because it's not like HTTP doesn't support such a concept (i.e., HTTP 302s). I think what bugs me most about this problem is that this situation often occurs when someone has tried to better explain a Microsoft product or solution and has linked to support documentation, only to have his or her efforts ruined because Microsoft moved the content but didn't provide any forwarding information.
What Does All of My Kvetching Have to do with Bill Gates?
If I had more time, I'd explain how tedious and painful it can be to find service packs for previous versions of SQL Server by trying to make your way through the navigation options on the SQL Server home page. I might even relate how lame a recent experience was when I tried to renew my partner status by following email instructions that were apparently written before the Microsoft partner site was completely revamped.
Instead, I thought it would be fun to link to some very similar complaints from Bill Gates himself.
In this email, Bill relates the hassle and confusion that he had to endure when trying to download Movie Maker from the Microsoft site. My favorite quote is the following: "So they told me that using the download page to download something was not something they anticipated." Personally, I've wondered if that isn't the case for a lot of products. There have been several occasions when I've found myself scratching my head and wondering exactly which binaries I need to be downloading to get a particular product, feature pack, or service pack installed and running.
Although Bill's complaints are a bit dated, I still couldn't help but find them cathartic. Not only because his comments echo some of my own frustrations, but also because they come from someone who has worked at Microsoft and wanted -- and expected -- more from the company. In that regard, or based on those comments alone, it's too bad that Bill Gates isn't still at Microsoft, regularly kicking butt, taking names, and demanding a better overall user experience from Microsoft's myriad web properties.