A history of Microsoft Word, and an insight into the Microsoft outlook
(Ok, couldn’t resist adding the accidental pun to the title.)
Fascinating article from 2004, from a Microsoft employee.
I plan to revisit this post and clean it up (as always?), but here are some interesting quotes:
After a year of distrusting the company somewhat, I began to gain an appreciation of how Microsoft worked, and to see it for what it was – a machine that was focused on building products that people wanted, as quickly and as well as they could. Note the “quickly” – this was what distinguished MS from Apple in the end – a focus on moving quickly, and beating the competition. Details like great design were simply not critical to most (business) customers, so that sort of thing didn’t really make it into most products, except where it mattered to the target customer. It’s hard to fault this logic really – it is pure efficiency from a business perspective…
This is illustrative of the Microsoft outlook on doing business: great design is a “detail”; the main goal is to beat the competition and gain market share.
Both Microsoft and Apple have very smart people as employees. The goal at Microsoft is to grab as much share as possible, even at the cost of shoddily designed software if necessary. The goal at Apple is to design software that is simple yet powerful, and a pleasure to use. And both have been phenomenally successful at what they want to do.
The Microsoft approach is to get a release out of the door, see what the main reasons people have for not using it (not necessarily what people most complain about), throw patches (or wizards!) to get those issues across the level of acceptability, add new things, move on, keep moving — the appropriate scenario is not software design, it is war: it is all Fire And Motion.
So, that in a nutshell is the Microsoft method. Understand the market, and the customers, and then go pedal to the metal, with release after release focused on what the customers need, incorporating their feedback. That puts the competition into reaction mode. And of course it helps if they also make a strategic error because they are under so much pressure.
And how successful they have been. Even creating markets where there none.
“I think there is a world market for maybe five computers”
— Misattributed to Thomas J Watson, IBM president, 1943.
No one can disagree that Microsoft has had a bigger role in bringing computers to the masses than anyone else. Perhaps it would have been better if they hadn’t.
Another point is that it shows (again!) (twice!) that it is a really stupid idea to throw away all your code and start over.