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Whatever Happened to Customer Love? - 02 Oct 2008

By Michael K. Campbell

I have personal experience with many people and product teams at Microsoft who make an effort to be open-minded and who go out of their way to solicit feedback to make the next generation products better than ever. But I swear that there’s also another, more sinister, camp of folks at Microsoft that wants people to conform to their version of the universe.

Windows Mobile Won’t Close My Apps

I got into Windows Mobile very early on—way back during the days of the Philips Nino. (I still remember how excited I was when Philips released the color models.) Back then, the promise of a full-blown OS in such a tiny form factor thrilled my inner geek, so much so that I rode the Windows Media ticket for a number of years, through successive generations and versions of Windows Mobile.

But a few years ago I gave up on Windows Mobile, and I haven’t looked back. Part of my decision to abandon the product was that many aspects of it were so dumbed-down (network connections for example) that it didn’t feel like a real OS. But what really drove me away is the heavy-handed way the platform performs: A case in point is that Windows Mobile doesn’t close a program when you choose to close it. Instead, Windows Mobile just shunts the program into the background. With Windows CE 2.0 I figured this was just a mistake. By the time Windows CE changed to Windows Mobile and had gone through a handful of full-blown version changes, I came to believe that there were really only two developers on the entire team, and that they were both chained to a desk in Steve Ballmer’s basement. In my mind, there just wasn’t any other explanation why this problem wasn’t fixed over the years.

Interestingly enough, there have been many different applications (through the years of Windows CE/Mobile) that handle the task of actually closing your windows when you closed them. Some of these solutions were free and others were part of full-blown suites of mobile utilities (free and otherwise). But it always struck me as odd that just about the FIRST thing that anyone ever did when buying a new Windows Mobile device was either download or buy the ability to have their windows closed when they, well, closed them.

Wouldn’t PMs on the Windows Mobile team have learned about this end-user behavior by talking to just about anyone who used the product in the wild? But, as it turns out, hiding or minimizing windows instead of closing them was something that Microsoft felt VERY strongly about—to the point of requiring that, in order to be certified for Windows Mobile, an a application couldn’t have any visible way to actually close (for real) the application.

Talk about a heavy-handed approach to software development and working with your customers.

Windows Vista’s Bizarre Default Folder Views

Windows Vista rightfully got a bad rap for being released too early. But I’ve been using it for almost a year now, and I love it to death. I find that Vista is so much more stable and just easier to use than previous versions.

There’s one thing, though, that drives me absolutely crazy: It loses the settings for how you want your folders viewed. It also makes positively idiotic choices about which of the folder templates to use when displaying data. One of my favorite examples of this poor choice occurs when I open a folder full of nothing but .txt files (from IIS, for example) and Windows Explorer gives me columns for Artist, Genre, Album, and Track number. Even worse, if I go in and fix the default view on these problematic folders, if I end up dropping anything even CLOSELY resembling a media file into those folders, then my custom view settings are lost, and I’m back to trying to sort my .cs, .xml, and .proj files by album name, and my .css and .gif files by which camera they came from.

If you’re using Vista, you know exactly what I’m talking about. If you don’t use Vista then just realize that this is a mind-numbingly-painful problem. In fact, it makes pretty-much the top of every list on the Internet for “how to tweak Vista.”

Are You a Software Dictator Too?

Here’s the rub: I’ve installed Vista SP1. So how come I still have this problem? Virtually anyone with ANY technical chops who uses Vista runs into this folder-templates problem right away, and it’s not like Microsoft couldn’t have heard about it. So why hasn’t it been fixed? I know there are a couple of workarounds for people willing to hack their registries. And even though those workarounds do a pretty good job of ameliorating this problem, why in the world can’t Microsoft address the problem head on? The concept of having different templates for different folders or types of content is actually pretty cool. But delivering it to consumers in a 100 percent broken form makes the whole effort seem like a slap in the face.

It’s so frustrating that Microsoft hasn’t fixed this problem. I wish they’d spend more time working with existing customers instead of working on that hideous marketing campaign surrounding “Project Mojave”(which I won’t link to because it’s so bad).

In thinking about the frustrations that these two situations with Microsoft have caused me and other users, I wonder, even if we’re not software giants, if our attitudes at work ever impose pain on our end users or customers. Have you ever turned a deaf ear on customers or end users that feel passionately about broken technology they have to deal with on a day to day basis? If you’re an IT admin, have you ever forced your end users to jump through hoops because it’s your domain and you know better? If you’re a DBA, do you give people grief to show them whose boss? Or, if you’re a developer, do you make employees or customers deal with convoluted user-interfaces because that approach better suits your needs? What circumstances, I wonder cause us to act that way, even when we do care?

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