Microsoft, come in, glad you’re here, take a seat. Interventions are never welcome but I’m afraid we have to talk.
You’re doing great work! Let’s start with that. The pivot to enterprise cloud services is brilliant. You’re managing to do what no other tech company is able to pull off – you’re increasing revenues, profits, and your stock price without creating enemies or attracting antitrust and regulatory threats. Good job!
And lest you misunderstand my criticism later, I think Windows 10 and Windows 11 are wonderful. You offer broad support for an incredible variety of hardware and software. You’re powering the world’s businesses, its creators, students, home users, game players. Many things that used to be painful about personal PCs are easier now as you improve Windows – setting up hardware, resetting PCs, using the internet, integrating cloud services, so much more. And Windows 11 has a nice modern look to it. As always, you have some problems with consistency; Apple is still much better at finishing touches so everything looks pretty. But still, nice job with Windows 11.
But I’m afraid there are some issues that we have to talk about.
It’s not a surprise to you that consumers don’t think you’re cool. A few years ago I said you’ve become “painfully unhip,” and I understand that hurts your feelings. I don’t hold it against you that you’re still marketing to consumers anyway – of course you are, your consumer-facing products are a multi-billion dollar business and that’s still important even if it’s declining. Marketing as if you’re still hip, commercials showing happy consumers using Microsoft stuff – all perfectly fine!
There are, however, a fair number of things in Windows that we don’t want to use, and you need to get over that. Because your obsession with the unfairness of it all has led you to do a few things lately that go far beyond acceptable limits. There is no excuse. It’s not a joke. You are deliberately trying to confuse us and make our computers more frustrating to use. Why are you doing that?
The worst is a feature in Windows 11 – the way it handles defaults – where you’re lashing out at us like a spoiled child because you’re not getting the special treatment that you think you deserve. We’ll get to that in a bit.
Here are a few things we don’t use.
- We don’t use Bing for searches. Google has set the bar really high for online searches and Bing is pretty weak.
- We don’t use Edge for web browsing. Chrome is good enough for almost everyone, thanks. You know that Edge isn’t up to par – hell, your first release of Edge was so crappy that you rewrote it from the ground up a couple of years ago, and it’s still lagging far behind Chrome in virtually every respect.
- The built-in apps in Windows for music and video aren’t very good. You tried to turn each one into a money-making business – selling music, selling and renting movies – and then we started streaming with Spotify and Netflix and the rest and you lost interest. But Groove Music and “Movies and TV” are still the default apps in Windows, even though you’ve mostly abandoned them.
Bing and Edge have miniscule market shares in their categories. Instead of accepting that and moving on, you’re doubling down on insistent, obtrusive ads and changes to Windows to wear people down into living with what they don’t want – and maybe using subterfuge to inflate the usage numbers so you can brag about an “increase in monthly active users” even though it’s a lie.
A few months ago you introduced an app for Windows 10 called “News and Interests.” It shows a newsfeed of terrible, terrible stories – really, the most horrifically useless crap. The above picture is from my newsfeed tonight, a random example. It’s like walking past tabloids at the supermarket. News and Interests just showed up uninvited on the taskbar one day. In Windows 11 the name has changed to “Widgets” and there are some extra features but it’s basically the same newsfeed.
There are two reasons you pushed that app on us.
First: if we are fooled into clicking on a headline, we are taken to MSN.com, where you can show us advertising. Like all clickbait, you’re not trying to make us happy, you’re trying to increase the eyeball numbers shown to advertisers so you can charge higher ad rates.
Second: clicking on a link opens Microsoft Edge, regardless of our choice of default browser. And that’s not cool, Microsoft, not cool at all. If we wanted to use Edge, we would keep it as our default. If we choose Chrome – which we did on purpose – we want to use Chrome for web browsing. You’re trying to get us to open Edge by accident so you can claim that Edge usage is increasing. If we search for something in that copy of Edge you fooled us into opening, the search will use Bing, so you can claim its numbers are up as well. For you: win-win! For us: lose-lose.
But there’s something else and it’s even worse.
Windows 11 deliberately breaks the process of setting program defaults in a way that hurts us
The above picture is an ad for Edge that you’ve been pushing on us in Windows 10 for a long time. Changing the default browser is one of the first things almost everyone does with a new PC. Everyone who has clicked on Start / Settings / Apps / Default apps and picked a different web browser has seen the above message – “Before you switch / Try Microsoft Edge / Check it out / Please love us / We’re so lonely.”
It’s been annoying to have to bypass an ad but the process of setting a default web browser and other default programs is decent in Windows 10 – comprehensible and flexible.
In the pre-release versions of Windows 11, you have deliberately broken the process to make it more difficult to change defaults.
There are thirty different file types that are assigned to Edge by default. If you want to switch to Chrome in Windows 11, you have to click on thirty different file associations and set each one individually.
Another example: if you want to use VLC as your lightweight player for audio and video in Windows 11, you will be confronted with a list of nearly a hundred file associations. Each one has to be changed individually.
If you’re not a technical person, you have no idea what that means. You want a button that says, more or less, “I want to use Chrome for everything.” That’s the button that Microsoft has removed from Windows 11.
The setup for setting defaults in Windows 11 is hostile to your customers. Its only justification is to make Windows more confusing and more frustrating. You have made a conscious decision that you are okay with making people angry if that means a few more of them use Edge because they can’t accomplish what they really want to do.
If you want more details, go read about the Windows 11 changes in The Verge or Gizmodo or Digital Times or Ghacks.net (sample headlines above). Go read Paul Thurrott’s comments: “There’s one area in which Windows 11 is more chaotic and complicated than before. I am referring, of course, to Default apps, which has been gutted in Windows 11, no doubt intentionally, to make it harder than ever before to switch away from Microsoft’s default app offerings.”
Several years ago I wrote an article complaining that computers are too hard for non-technical people to use. I have made the same point frequently since then:
Computers should be getting easier to use, because that’s our fundamental need. We need to be able to sit at our desks and get work done without a constant stream of frustrating and irritating encounters.
The process for changing defaults in Windows 11 is indefensible. It is a hostile act born of desperation. It reflects badly on you, Microsoft.
There’s still time. Change that part of Windows 11. Say you got “customer feedback.” Say you got a message from the future. Say it was a mistake and we were never supposed to see these new screens. Make up whatever excuse you want. Just repair what you have broken.
And get a grip! An advertisement – just an ad – brought down Windows 11 for testers a couple of weeks ago. A misguided and buggy push to incorporate Bing brought down Windows Search all over the world last year. Now you clearly intend to flood Windows 11 with advertisements and dark patterns.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Please, please, think deeply and change your behavior. Because if not, at the next intervention we may have to discuss consequences.