Back in 2014 when Satya Nadella took over from Steve Ballmer to become the third CEO in the history of Microsoft, the software giant embarked on a huge transformation process that led to the birth of what many people called “the new Microsoft.”
The company adopted a completely new strategy regarding customers and rivals, becoming more open to feedback and, at the same time, embracing a more gentleman approach for the other players in the tech field. At that point, this overhaul that happened overnight seemed odd, especially because it was completely different from the vision of Steve Ballmer.
Among others, Ballmer has remained in history as the man who called Linux a cancer, and the one who laughed at the iPhone, thinking such an expensive phone would never sell in high numbers.
In the last couple of years, this “new Microsoft” reached new heights under Nadella’s umbrella. The company became an innovation leader in the tech industry with products like Surface, it boosted cloud services to the point where they became its number one cash cow, and started building products, like Windows 10 and Office, with users’ help as part of Insider programs.
Everything pushed the software firm close to record market valuation, and more recently, analysts estimated that by 2020 or 2021 the latest, Microsoft could reach the $1 trillion cap.
And yet… it looks like Microsoft is going in reverse these days, with controversial decisions reminding of the “old Microsoft” living in the Ballmer era. As I see it, there are three big signs that Microsoft is gradually losing the cool factor that it gained with so much work in the last few years.
Microsoft is becoming way too aggressive and acts without users’ consent
The first critical moment that reminded of the “old Microsoft” happened in the first months after the release of Windows 10 when the software giant started updating some systems running Windows 7 and 8.1 to the new OS version without asking users first.
All files were downloaded in the background and the company “accidentally” tweaked the Get Windows 10 app, which was responsible for performing the upgrade, to replace the behavior of the X button, which typically means no or cancel, to represent users’ consent for the Windows 10 installation.
Microsoft was sued by users, investigated by consumer groups, and criticized by many IT admins across the world for this rather aggressive approach that was believed to be a desperate attempt to boost Windows 10 market share.
The Windows 10 push also included privacy settings that made many believe the company was trying to spy on them. Even though that was clearly not the case, Microsoft communicated poorly with its customers, but eventually fixed the problem by updating privacy controls in Windows 10.
But this doesn’t mean that this aggressive approach has ended. More recently, Microsoft updated some old Windows 10 systems to the Fall Creators Update “by mistake,” even if Windows Update was turned off. There were also moments when Windows 10 displayed Edge popups right on the desktop in order to persuade users into trying the new browser, and Microsoft said these were just tips to highlight the features of the app.
And more recently, Microsoft started considering forcing Edge on users by opening all links in the Mail app with its own browser, no matter if Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox is users’ default setting.
Way too many botched updates
For Windows 10 users, installing the monthly cumulative updates shipping on Patch Tuesday is a crazy roller coaster ride. These cumulative updates, despite their good purpose, often do more harm than good and fail to install or cause other problems that completely ruin the experience with Windows 10.
Cumulative updates are supposed to bring a system completely up-to-date, and installing the most recent version saves users’ time, as they don’t requite any other patches. But since the release of Windows 10, cumulative updates caused issues nearly every month, and the best example is what happened with the March 2018 rollout.
Poor communication and user relationship missteps
Even though Microsoft pledged for increased transparency, there were moments when the company’s approach towards users was questionable, to say the least. And the best examples are the Microsoft Band and Windows 10 Mobile, two highly-appreciated products that were eventually retired.
In the case of the Microsoft Band, Microsoft launched it with much fanfare in October 2015 as its pioneering product in the wearable market. A second generation landed next year, and a third one was supposed to come 12 months later. The device, however, was quietly discontinued, and an announcement in this regard has never been provided. No confirmation of the demise has been offered, and without leaks happening through people with knowledge of the matter, nobody would have known the product was abandoned.
As far as Windows phones go, this is already an overly-discussed saga. Windows 10 Mobile barely received any updates since its launch, and despite Microsoft reiterating its commitment to the platform with several occasions, new features and devices were nowhere to be seen.
It took Microsoft more than two years to confirm the death of the platform, and the way this message was delivered once again proved the poor communication strategy. Joe Belfiore announced the demise of Windows phones on Twitter, and not in a public announcement, and users were even recommended to switch to Android or iPhone.
In the end, there’s still enough time for Microsoft to address all these problems, but needless to say, the later it happens, the bigger the damage. It remains to be seen if Satya Nadella can overturn these missteps for the second time, but the clock is already ticking.