Sigh… The End of an Abusive Relationship

by Victor Cheng

I’ve been in an abusive relationship for the past 15 years. Its a relationship where I’ve given, and the other side just takes, takes, and takes.

I’ve stayed in this relationship all this time because getting out seemed so difficult and complicated. Where would I go instead? What if a new relationship doesn’t work out?

Well I finally got fed up last week, decided to get out no matter the cost, and finally ended a relationship that should have been ended years ago.

Yes, after 15 years, I finally decided to dump Microsoft Windows and switch to a Mac.

I ultimately got sick and tired of Microsoft continually doing things not in my best interests as a customer.

Its is this attitude more than anything that I’m fed up with.

Let me give you some examples and also to explain why this kind of attitude towards customers is bad for business – whether that’s Microsoft’s business or your business.

First let’s talk about Windows Vista. It’s so slow.

Rather than creating an easier to use, faster, more efficient version of Windows, Microsoft got sloppy.

They assumed everyone would run out and buy a new computer with powerful hardware just so they can run Windows Vista and do pretty much what they were already doing in prior versions of Windows.

The problem is so bad that Dell no longer sells Vista as the default operating system on its new PC’s – it includes Windows XP instead.

That’s a pretty sad statement when you spend billions on R&D and your customers and partners choose your old products vs. your new ones.

I originally thought this was just an isolated incident.

But the more I looked into it, the more I realized this was a pattern.

For example, in considering the move to the Mac, I looked at reviews of Microsoft Office 2008 for the Mac.

I found a tons of complaints from Microsoft Excel users that certain capabilities that were in the 2004 version have been removed from the 2008 version. Yes, upgrade to 2008 version and get less than what you had in 2004 version.

A number of folks promptly downgraded to the older, more capable version.

It just defies common sense to expect customers to give you more money every few years, in exchange for giving them a product that gets worse and worse. It seems totally backwards to me.

Given the strategy of giving less and less, while asking for more and more doesn’t seem to work very well. Here’s the latest tactic.

About a year ago, I started getting Word documents from my clients in .docx format.

It was a format I had never seen before. I figured is must have something to do with Microsoft Word and its familiar .doc format.

It turns out it was the format that the latest version of Microsoft Word saves files in – the only problem is older versions of Microsoft Word can’t read it.

Of course, this prompts people like me to consider upgrading for no reason other than I can’t conveniently read clients fro other people.

Never mind the fact that the new version of Microsoft Word doesn’t do anything that my old one doesn’t – at least in terms of what I use it for.

Basically, Microsoft was having difficulty getting people to upgrade to newer versions of their products, so they deliberately engineered a compatibility problem which could be solved, by guess what, spending more money with Microsoft.

So at time when they can’t seem to earn money by solving customer problems better, Microsoft seems to have resorted to inventing customer problems that can be solved by spending more with Microsoft.

This more than anything was the deal breaker for me. It irritates me to no end to financially reward a company that engages in this behavior and that creates software that is frankly sloppy.

This was the “stick” that prompted my decision.

As for the “carrot”, I found a number of my clients were heavy Mac users. They weren’t just Mac users, they were all former PC users. And now they were the raving Mac fans you hear about.

Isn’t it interesting that you can’t find any “raving fans” about Microsoft?

I mean people use Microsoft products, but rarely does anyone just LOVE Microsoft stuff… I mean when was the last time you heard someone gush in their praise of Microsoft?

So I ended up getting a MacBook Pro… and you know what was the tipping point for me?

The incredibly level of thoughtfulness that Apple put into the design of the laptop battery… yes the battery!

You see most laptop batteries are a series of high end AA size batteries that are stacked together end to end and wrapped into the square or rectangular size battery you see for most batteries.

Imagine taking an 8 pack of AA batteries from the store, wiring together the batteries, and then wrapping a square plastic case around it, and you’ll see what I mean.

This is industry practice because it’s cheap and easy to manufacture from existing, widely available parts.

But from Apple’s perspective, it’s a very inefficient battery design. By putting a bunch of round cylindrical batteries into a rectangular case, there’s a lot of empty space between the batteries that goes unused.

Imagine opening that 8 pack of AA batteries, and pouring sugar into the little spaces between the batteries and the edge of the plastic packaging. Everywhere the sugar falls is “empty space.”

So Apple engineers did custom design work to develop square batteries that uses every little nook and cranny of the battery case. So in the same space, there is nearly double the electrical storage vs. a comparable size conventional laptop battery.

The end result?

Battery life of up to 8 hours on my MacBook Pro.  A serious improvement from the 2 – 3 hours on my old Dell laptop.

The easy route would have been to just follow the industry standard. But the fact that Apple took the considerable effort to make a better product (even though they could have gotten away with doing less), really impressed me.

I figure if they’re going to be that obsessive about the battery, they’re probably equally obsessive about a million other little things.

Given the chance, Apple seems to very consistently strive to exceed expectations. In comparison, the Microsoft approach seems to be focused finding creative ways to get away with doing less and less.

So what’s the business lesson in all this?

Well, I think anyone can get away with taking short cuts with customers temporarily.

And in Microsoft’s case, given the unique traits of the technology industry and the importance of compatibility (which tends to favor creating industry giants), Microsoft may continue to get away with it for quite some time.

But, there are cracks starting to appear in Microsoft’s armor. Apple market share in the PC market has been steadily climbing. Microsoft is getting creamed online by Google (who takes Apple’s approach of exceeding expectations and has executed it incredibly well online).

For the average business owner like you and me, it’s a very dangerous thing for customers to merely “tolerate” doing business with you. It breeds complacency and an entitlement attitude.  And that’s a very slippery slope.

And it is precisely in times of a recession where people on slippery slopes get exposed.

You can hide fundamental problems in your business in a boom economy.

But in a down economy, all those problems get exposed.

I have no problems with giving Microsoft or any other company money. I just expect them to earn it.

That used to be too much to ask, but now I realize it’s NOT too much to ask… and that’s why I made my switch.

Here’s my question for you.

Do you run your business more like Microsoft or more like Apple?

Are you doing as little as possible deliver your customers value? Or are you actively finding ways to truly, deeply make their lives better?

Comments

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Andrew Celentano August 14, 2009 at 5:10 AM

One of the other problems with VISTA is the interface, which is so different that even seasoned PC users have to relearn how to use it. Users value their time and don’t need to waste it learning a new interface. Once you force them into that position, they may consider spending that time learning your competitor’s interface instead. You have just lowered the threshold !

Here are a few ideas for all software developers everywhere:

1) Give users the option to keep the old interface
2) Give users the option to disable certain new features easily
3) How about giving users the ability to adjust your navigation in a manner that makes sense to them (in Word, for example I would put Header and Footer under EDIT and not VIEW.

Andrew Celentano August 14, 2009 at 5:19 AM

I am not a MAC user yet, but my daughter is, and I find the user interface is much closer now to a PC than it used to be, so it is on my radar. (I have been resisting the transition – maybe because I worked for IBM for 15 years).

She and several of my friends also rave about how wonderful Apple support is. My friend Mike made an appointment to drop in for some help and when he arrived at the very busy store he assumed he would be painfully delayed. Instead, as he approached the support desk, someone approached him with a clipboard and said. “Are you Mike?” He was in and out of there in 15 minutes. They honor your time and go the extra step to make you feel like they really care. How is that for a great customer experience?

Just like your book says, you have to do something so remarkable that people talk about the experience. Apple getting free publicity ! how ironic.

Oliver Hoffmann August 14, 2009 at 7:03 AM

Perennial Mac users won’t be surprised by your discovery, Victor. Apple’s made some mistakes of its own, but has generally acted swiftly to correct them. One thing most PC users fail to factor into the Mac vs PC buying decision is that Macs tend to last much longer. I don’t have proof for this, but my Mac laptop is 5 years old and I still use it daily. I have a Mac in my kitchen that’s 7 years old and still gets heavy use by my kids. And neither of these has any virus protection running. My PC loving friends convert their machines to doorstops within 3-4 years.

Victor Cheng August 14, 2009 at 7:26 AM

I actually used to be a big Mac user the 10 years prior to switching from Mac to PC. Back in Steve Jobs 1.0, Apple had a big arrogance that their way was better. So they invested very little in making Mac’s talk to non-Mac computers.

This created a pure experience for the individual user but made it impossible for corporate CIO’s to buy Mac’s for any department other than the graphics department. This gave Microsoft the chance to dominate the graphical operating system starting with Windows 3.11. It was a huge mistake in hindsight.

What is so impressive under the tenure of Steve Jobs 2.0, is how massively interoperable today’s Mac’s and iPhones are. They’ve gone way out of their way to not repeat that mistake and use all major connectivity technologies to make Macs interoperate with Windows, etc… Because it’s better for customers.

A.Michelle Blakeley August 14, 2009 at 7:46 AM

OMG! I LOVE it! I try to convert PC users on the regular. I’ve been a MAC user for over 7 years and I would never dream of returning to a PC. The reliability and functionality doesn’t even compare.

95% of my business is virtual, so I can’t afford to waste time dealing with a lot of technical issues and viruses.

All I can say is, WELCOME to MAC!

A.Michelle

Chip Dizard August 14, 2009 at 8:22 AM

I also am a MAC convert, but it seems more like a cult. At work I use a PC just for testing files and uploading but I run Windows on my MAC as well through VM Fusion. You can find a lot of good things on a Mac and I wish you the best of luck, just know that Microsoft is looking and improving and Windows 7 is looking really good.

I feel that competition is ultimately good for the consumer and best wishes and welcome to the “Cult of Mac”.

-Chip Dizard
AbsolutePresence.com

Cleve Dayton August 14, 2009 at 9:24 AM

What a timely rant for my situation. I was at the Apple store yesterday checking out the Mac Book Pro. I’ve decided I’m going to buy one this weekend. I started my computer experience with Macs but I had to change to PCs when Quickbooks stopped supporting Macs. Ever since then I’ve been a reluctant user of Windows. I actually have had both Macs and PCs for years. Macs for music, video and photography. PC for business. But now I’ve had it with this Vista junk. I’m going to do everything on a Mac from now on!

I run my painting business with the Customer’s experience as the top priority. We try to go out of our way to make painting their house a pleasant and problem free experience. So I appreciate a company that has their Customers satisfaction with their product and service as their #1 priority. Go Apple.

Victor Cheng August 15, 2009 at 12:17 PM

Chip,

I’ve definitely noticed that. The enthusiasm among mac users is in some extreme cases cult like. The interesting thing is I don’t see any such behavior amongst Windows users! I wonder what that says. Realistically, I will be using both Macs (primary) and PC’s (secondary) for a number of years.

-Victor

Victor Cheng August 15, 2009 at 12:21 PM

Cleve,

Cool… I too started my computing experience with Apples… Apple II’s in the late 70’s early 80’s, switching to the Mac when it came out in 1984. But switched to the PC in 1994 when it became clear that all the big companies and their clients were all PC’s users – and the Macs back then didn’t work well with them. Apple has so learned its lessons and now the Macs are so interoperable with Windows environments to the point you can run Windows on the same machine as the Mac. Pretty impressive.

As for customer experience, check out the story behind the magnetic power cords on the MacBook Pro – such attention to detail.

-Victor

-Victor

Paul Rogers August 15, 2009 at 3:23 PM

Victor, Well put. I agree 100%.

MS has created so much ill will, with all sorts of policies that when a viable alternative appears, MS customers will embrace it by the millions. If Google’s OS lets users run Legacy Windows applications in emulation mode, the market for MS Windows could dry up over night. Perhaps Apple and Google should co-operate to make this possible.

To avoid abusing customers, it is a good policy to imagine, that your customers already have the free choice to move to a competitor and consider how you would behave in that circumstance. You would be well advised to treat them very fairly. In MS’s case. WIN7 would be given to all VISTA users to make amends. XP would be continued. An optional ‘upgrade’ from XP would be modestly priced to make XP users feel happy to move to WIN7. The glossy UI of WIN7 is not worth a large amount anyway The value of your OS is the applications it can run. XP runs all current Windows Apps and WIN7 doesn’t run them all, so really XP is more valuable not less. The incremental value of WIN7 over XP for most users is marginal and certainly not the same as the value of XP in the first place, but MS want to charge you even more for WIN7 than you originally paid for XP.

The policies I have suggested might cost MS a few billion dollars in lost sales, but moving tens of millions of users to WIN7 makes it harder for Google and Apple to catch up and the good will engendered would be worth many billion more. Of course, if MS thinks they have a monopoly that’s impossible to break, then they can do what they like, but such an assumption is dangerous.

Salle Hayden August 15, 2009 at 5:15 PM

Hey Victor, I got a little Dell notebook a while ago, because I wanted the XP Pro OS, but then it had no software, so I went to Open Office. I love it! It gives me so many choices of how I want to deal with files and who I need to share them with. Because I didn’t have WiFi in the house, I downloaded it to the desktop, where it sits quietly waiting to be useful, and sneaker-netted it to the laptop. Now, my next book will be saved as an Open Office word processing file so that it will be easy to save it into a PDF (I don’t want to spend for the higher version of Adobe for that).

Salle Hayden August 15, 2009 at 5:19 PM

AND, my brother is really trying to convert me. I also switched from Apple to PC at work, between two employers I had little choice. Now, I’m saving [many] pennies so I can look at MAC again.

Victor Cheng August 16, 2009 at 12:05 AM

Paul,

I love your comment about how Microsoft should assume that their customers have the free choice to move to a competitor and to act accordingly. So true. They exploit the fact that it is difficult to move to competitors rather than assume the limitation isn’t there…. and try to earn our business on the merits of their products. Too bad you aren’t running Microsoft!

-Victor

Dr. Becky McGinnis August 16, 2009 at 8:16 AM

Victor,
I couldn’t agree more. I switched to a Mac PowerBook in 2004 and never looked back. Since then I’ve also gotten an iMac with a georgeous 24″ screen (without a big bulky tower) and an iPhone. Apple continues to brainstorm conveniences for the customer in their hardware and software and I appreciate the ease of function that all of their devices have by making it run in a logical and common sense manor. I don’t ever have to take it in (or have a member of the “geek squad” come out) and I love that I don’t have to invest hundreds of dollars a year in anti-virus software and updates! I LOVE MACS!

Leave a Comment

{ 1 trackback }

Previous post:

Next post: