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Time to stop hating Microsoft

At this week’s NZ Tech Podcast host Paul Spain threw me a hospital pass: Is it time to stop hating Microsoft?

Younger readers may not remember, but at one time Microsoft was unpopular in many circles. Yes, there were even people who hated the company.

There were reasons for this. Pedants might argue Microsoft Windows was not a monopoly. Yet its 95 percent plus share of desktop operating systems sure felt like one.

Abusive monopoly

In effect Microsoft called all the shots. At times it abused its monopoly. It wasn’t always ethical1.

There are too many examples to mention. People have written books and doctrinal theses on the subject.

Microsoft attempted to parlay its desktop OS monopoly into other areas.

At one point it set out to win the desktop applications software market. Microsoft Word and Excel were up and coming challengers at the time.

The Lotus position

There are reports an internal message went to developers: “Dos ain’t done until Lotus won’t run”. In other words, bosses told them to build the operating system so a rival spreadsheet was useless.

That story may be a myth. Yet it explains why there was so much ill-will towards Microsoft. The accusations didn’t have to be true. They only had to feel true.

There are actual examples of bad behaviour. Some ended up in court.

The Internet Explorer antitrust action was a low point.

In those days critics suspected Microsoft’s motives even when it did good things.

In 1997 Apple was struggling and needed cash in a hurry. Microsoft came to the rescue. It agreed it would support a Mac version of Office for five years. It is still going today. Apple agreed to drop a law suit over Microsoft copying Apple’s OS look and feel.

Microsoft personalities

Microsoft’s key personalities did not help. Bill Gates’ rubbed people up the wrong way. Steve Ballmer took that to new levels.

Ballmer left Microsoft in 2014. While he was boss the company’s share price stagnated. So did its technology. And the company’s hardball attitude. Often Ballmer would sink innovative projects to protect the Windows and Office monopoly.

Some of that was baffling. Like the excellent iOS versions of Office apps which was held back from the market.

Nadella takes over

Early in 2014 Satya Nadella took over the reins. He moved the company into cloud computing. More to the point, Nadella stopped the aggressive defence posturing.

Today’s Microsoft is a different beast. It is still big, some of the time it is the world’s largest company by market capitalisation. It can still upset people. Every large corporation has its critics.

No doubt there will be those who continue to hate Microsoft. You don’t get to be number one without creating a few waves. Yet there is less to hate, less to object to.

Even, gasp, Microsoft Open Source

Today Microsoft has embraced open source. It is possibly the world’s largest provider of open source products. By some measures the company’s Azure cloud services uses more open source than proprietary software.

Windows is no longer a monopoly. It still runs on more computers than any other OS. But it now has to compete with ChromeOS, MacOS, iOS and Android. It doesn’t dominate.

Likewise while Office remains popular, it is not the only game in town.

You don’t have to love Microsoft. Actually that would be weird. There are still plenty of things to criticise. But if you carry a grudge from 20 years or so ago against a company that is now different in many ways, that seems like a waste of energy. Go and do something creative with it instead.


  1. What’s the point of building a monopoly if you don’t abuse it? ↩︎

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39 thoughts on “Time to stop hating Microsoft

  1. I totally agree with the statement in your post that “MS has embraced open source”. Yes. As in Embrace, Extend, Extinguish. MS has open sourced almost none of their own code. MS loves OSS like a tapeworm loves a healthy digestive system. Oh, and they still HATE Copyleft.


  2. I think it’s a mistake to suggest that they’ve really changed. Their CEO’s changed… but that can change again, any time, so someone even worse than Ballmer… That much power in an totalitarian regime like a corporate is inevitably going to be evil, like all the Frightful 5.


  3. Just finished it and didn’t see who has replaced the great evil.
    I still think the office suite is still superior to the alternatives and Visio.

    If they make a genuine port of office to something other than Mac perhaps I would agree.


  4. Who’s worse? Oracle? Facebook? Google? Apple? Amazon? Zoom? Slack? They’re all just as bad, have way too much power and influence, and they should all be dismantled and sold for scrap.


  5. Even with that they’d be evil. Proprietary formats controlled by a totalitarian regime (OOXML is unilaterally controlled by MSFT) is totally undesirable for all (except MSFT shareholders, but I have zero love or sympathy for them).


  6. Wow, still lots of ill will here. I agree with Bill: Microsoft is fading softly into irrelevance. Let it go.

    Better to spend your ire on Facebook and Zuckerberg’s refusal to censor hate speech — if it comes from Trump or right wing white supremacist terrorists.

    And: Amazon’s attempts to completeley take over online shopping; Google’s increasing surveillance of everything you do on the internet; AirBnB’s enabling of unlicenced (and scummy) hotels in tourist cities; Uber’s enabling of unlicenced (and scummy) taxi companies.*

    Particularly Facebook. Facebook is a divisive and socially corrosive platform where lies travel around the world before truth has got its boots on, and it should be blocked. Mike Hosking is enough to deal with, thank you.

    There was lots of rainbows-and-pixies talk about “sharing” with Uber and AirBnB. Of course rich thugs soon latched on to buying fleets of apartment buildings or cars and flooding the listings in their areas. And ripping off the poor saps who work for them, as well as their customers. Not to mention increasing congestion (Uber) and driving up rental prices for locals (AirBnB).

    1. Facebook is a divisive and socially corrosive platform where lies travel around the world before truth has got its boots on, and it should be blocked.

      Disinformation is becoming a major problem as this (Two Conservative Icons Gave Opposite Advice on COVID-19. Those Misinformed Died in Higher Numbers, New Study Reports.) article shows. Two conservative hosts on Fox News told different stories about Covid-19. The listeners to the one who told the truth faired better than the one who told lies. In fact, the people who listened to the one who told lies had an 11% increase in death rate.

      To me this is the perfect case to make the purposeful spreading of misinformation a crime. That author killed people through his political misinformation and should be in jail.

  7. @billbennettnz I still hate the Microsoft of the late 90s-early 2000s. In the late 2000s with Ballmer at the helm they were a pathetic dinosaur slowly sinking into a pit, desperately grasping at anything they could to pull themselves out. Keeping Ballmer on as long as they did was a fundamental mistake, he was completely incapable of captaining the company through as rapidly changing market and “Windows on Everything” was proven again and again to be a terrible idea.

    I don’t hate modern Microsoft. They’re just there. Excel and Word are still awful, but their new initiatives are good and innovative and distinct from offerings from other players.

  8. Apple agreed to drop a law suit over Microsoft copying Apple’s OS look and feel.

    Then there’s the story of how Jobs got a look at Xerox’s PARC and copied that.

    There are a few GUIs that existed prior to Apple’s development of one. And when you really get down to it there isn’t a hell of a lot of difference that can be put into such a thing anyway.

    Yet its 95 percent plus share of desktop operating systems sure felt like one.

    There’s only one way to break MS’ monopoly in the desktop and that is for the governments of the world to declare Windows an open standard so that anyone can produce a compatible OS but they won’t do that as it encroaches upon private property rights and reduces profit.

  9. Yup, and the main reason gov’ts don’t take that step is because MSFT is like a sword of Damocles hovering over all of them… they’re all completely dependent on MSFT’s technologies, and if MSFT turned them off tomorrow, there’s little they could do to stop it. It’d make the economic fallout from COVID-19 look like a doddle.

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