Monday, August 25, 2008

Microsoft Quality

I read a question on the internet today that basically asked why Microsoft quality was so bad compared to Apple. The author gave the example of his printer not working with Vista. Wow, where to begin? Oh, I am a Microsoft supporter so if that's not the direction you thought this was going, you might want to read something else.

The simplest reason that your printer does not work with Vista is that the manufacturer of your printer did not want to bother making sure that their software was compatible with the new operating system. The fact that your printer does not work with Vista is not Microsoft's fault in any way. Oh sure, Microsoft could go out of their way and try to accommodate you and your problem, but then they would need to do that for everyone and all the printers they bought from lazy third parties. No one does that, not even Apple. Oh wait, Microsoft does do that.

Microsoft writes compatibility fix after compatibility fix into every operating system they've written since Windows 3. The problem is that the x86 hardware and Microsoft software architectures are so much more wide open than Apple that it is impossible for one company even the size of Microsoft to make sure everyone is covered. I am sorry that they missed your particular compatibility problem. I am. But, no other operating system writer would have even tried in the first place.

Once you accept the fact that most 'Microsoft quality issues' are the vast majority of the time not Microsoft's fault, we can start talking about the differences between Apple and Microsoft that cause so many more issues on the x86/MS platform. Apple does provide a tighter user experience I'll admit that. Apple products get the job done in ways that people want at a price many are willing to pay for. I'm not writing this to say that one is good and the other is evil, or that one is inherently better than the other. I'm just writing it to say that they have different priorities.

Apple may be considered a creative company by some, but their biggest strength is polish. Oh, they can polish anything, from marketing campaigns to computer hardware, they're great at it. And I won't say that isn't important, it's very important. It is exactly that polish that creates the Apple user experiences that everyone loves. But they don't write the guts of their software and they don't create the guts of their machines anymore. A situation I don't find very creative or innovative. They pick up existing technology and they lock down everything they can which is why their computers are able to provide a more stable experience. And because of that lock down, Apple products don't get the job done for me. They might be x86 machines right now, but I can't play my media on them. Every so many years when they rewrite their OS they make a conscious decision that existing software will not run on the new OS. My peripherals and consumer electronics don't work with their operating systems. Their hardware is more expensive for the same performance. I don't trust that Apple cares about giving their users options now or cares about their users' long term investments in Apple as a platform.

But my software has always worked when Microsoft has released a new OS. I rarely have a detrimental compatibility problem with MS products and never one that isn't fixed soon enough for me. I just don't upgrade until it's all good. The open direction Microsoft has decided to go means that there are many more entities in their game. Sometimes this is bad, from lazy third parties to virus writers, x86/MS just has more of them. But usually the open platform is a good thing. From video cards and printers to any type of software, there are many more people creating for x86/MS than for Apple. I like this. To me, it means more options. It is the open architectures of x86/MS that have allowed for so many choices and advancements in hardware and software over the years and will continue to do so into the future. The Mac would not exist in its current form without x86/MS. And I find it very hard to believe that something better would have coallesced given the lack of history of Apple as an innovator of hardware or software with staying power.

Staying power in hardware and software is important. This might not be a big deal to the minority that can afford to buy and prioritize buying not only more expensive Apple hardware, but also buying another copy of most of their software from time to time. But I don't want to spend that money and I know I'm not alone. Fine Apples can be dual booted now and so I wouldn't need to buy new software, but if all of my software runs on MS, why would I need the Mac OS on the machine at all? Why would I pay more money for one of their machines? I just don't think it's worth it. And in the business realm, I don't think you could numerically or otherwise prove that a company with 20 years of x86/MS platforms investment would ever make back the money it would cost to transition. Linux may be free, but all the man hours to rewrite software, install, support, re-educate users etc. is not. And I won't even dig too deep into the total cost of ownership debate. What with everything being GUI based now, it's probably about the same anyway. But Apple's history of jettisoning OS's makes it a risky proposition to start even a gradual transition. It might be Linux based now, but Apple has yet to prove that they are willing to tie themselves to any technology. And even if they do stick with Linux, I'm still skeptical that they will ever commit to creating a platform that will be anywhere near as backwards compatible as Microsoft has been over the years. I'm not saying that MS was perfect in that regard, just that they have been better than everyone else and good enough for me.

In the end, deciding if Apple is a better platform than Microsoft for your purposes is a give and take on what is important to you. Do you want the open nature of the x86/MS platform and the lower cost of hardware? Do you want all the hardware upgrade, peripheral and software options that come with such a platform? Are you willing to take a bit more responsibility to make sure your systems run smoothly? On the flip side, are you willing to pay more for hardware, have fewer options and probably re-buy all your software from time to time in order to get the tighter Apple user experience? You can tell where my preferences lie, but I don't think other people are stupid for not agreeing with me. I just think that people use the tools that get the job done best for them.