Why People Think Microsoft Sucks.
While it is partly a product of their market dominance, it is still remarkable that public irritation with Microsoft and jokes about the blue screen of death, Clippy and error messages feature in popular culture. I am not a Microsoft hater - I have no ideological resentment of their profitability and (not being a geek) I neither know nor care about the intricacies of their technical solutions. But I am a user and, at times, a very frustrated one.
Why? Well, computer software is all about automation and automation is mysterious. Thus expectation is high and comprehension low and when usability falls short, resentment builds (especially when fatuous advertising campaigns bombard you with claims of the mythical WOW factor).
It's unfair but it's what I experienced yesterday when, for the first time this year, I needed to use MSN Messenger. I was greeted with an announcement that a new version existed and I would HAVE to download it if I wanted to use my account. I managed to do this, but it was not the "plug and play" experience I've grown used to with other software and, to add insult to injury, I discovered upon returning to it today that successfully accessing the new version had not led to it replacing the old version.
To summarise then, Microsoft gave me no choice, made the experience less than straightfoward and then failed to deliver its promise. Now this was just what I, an individual low-level user, felt yesterday but if I sense a cultural disconnect between geekdom and user, then you have to wonder if it pervades all areas of their business?
Because success is all about usability - here it was literal usability, but the word can be applied to all areas of business where you interact with another party - do they find it easy (or should that be as easy as you promise) to do business? If they don't, you, like Microsoft, have a festering problem.
Within the technology field, this might have been obscured from corporate view by dint of inherently high transfer costs which may have militated against potential user retention problems. Within other fields, the shorthand of brand loyalty and customer ignorance may have served the same purpose.
But today, technology is cheaper and more varied; brand loyalty is questionable and fleeting; and customer ignorance is vanishing down those broadband pipes. So if you don't want potential users to think that you suck, you have to get that usability right.