How Microsoft Screwed Customers and Why It Matters

Have you ever noticed how software companies refer to us as “users” rather than “customers” as if, somehow, their responsibilities to us, as consumers, are mitigated by referring to us as “users”?

Well, it goes deeper than that.

Microsoft was in trouble for awhile. They were being pressed hard by Google in the competition for market share in cloud services market and were losing customers to Google Docs and Open Office, also known as Libre to Linux users.

Their biggest problem, however, was the hundreds of millions of users who simply refused to upgrade to Windows 10.

There were several reasons that users were refusing to upgrade.

Some companies are locked into proprietary software programs for their industries, or their specific business, that simply would not run properly on Windows 10.

Many retail users discovered that Windows 10 would either not install at all or would not run properly on their older computers…and they didn’t want to buy new hardware in order to ungraded to Windows 10.

Some people just don’t like being bullied by their software. (Yes, I am in that category.)

What was at stake for Microsoft was literally billions of dollars in revenues from the “no longer free” Windows 10, which now costs $140 for a fully licensed (in other words, not bootlegged) installation.

There are approximately (because no one really knows the exact number) 1.5 billion Windows customers. At last count, 65 percent of those users are now on Windows 10, while 27 percent are still on Windows 7. The remaining eight percent are still using older systems. (The federal government had a special arrangement with Microsoft that allows government agencies to continue using Windows XP with ongoing support from Microsoft, even though that version of Windows was officially retired, but that agreement may have run out by now.)

According to these numbers, there are approximately 400 million die-hard Windows 7 users out there. At $140 per unit, that works out to $56 billion in lost revenue…and that doesn’t include the annual revenues for Microsoft Office 365, and you will have to either buy or rent Office 365 because many of the older versions of Office will not run on Windows 10. (Show of hands please. How many of you think that’s an accident?)

You can purchase Office 365 outright for $250 per unit. Since everyone who upgrades to Windows 10 will also have to upgrade to Office 365, which represents an additional $100 billion. The upgrade is a one-time purchase, but you can also rent Office 365, paying from $5 per month to 12.50 per month, forever. With 1.5 billion Windows users, this represents potential annual revenues from $90 billion a year up to a potential maximum of $225 billion per year (at $12.50 per month.)

There was nothing intrinsically wrong with Windows 7, except that Microsoft had to absorb the cost of maintaining Windows 7 without any commensurate return on their maintenance costs, so Microsoft did what any company would do: they turned a cost center into a profit center, disregarding the impact of that decision on the consumer.

Microsoft is also selling computers now, and the company is pushing hard to get consumers who are upgrading to Windows 10 to buy their Microsoft branded machines. Even if many, if not most, of those consumers, decide to go with other (and for the most part better) computers, Microsoft is still pulling the entire computer hardware sector to higher levels of profitability by retiring Windows 7 and forcing users to upgrade to Windows 10.

Why This Matters

On April 25, 2019, Microsoft stock was trading at $130 per share, breaking the trillion-dollar barrier and becoming the third company (after Amazon and Apple) to reach that mark.

On January 16, 2020, two things happened. Microsoft was trading at $166 per share, which works out to $1.395 trillion in market value…and Alphabet, Inc. (Google) just surged past the trillion-dollar mark on January 17, 2020. Credit card company Visa and Facebook — all American corporations — top off the first six positions on the revenue list before you get to Alibaba at number seven, as of June of 2019.

What caused this jump in value?

Well, that was when Microsoft, after pleading for customers to switch for two years, announced that support for Windows 7 would end on January 14, 2020, two days ago.

The end of the support program means that there will be no more updates for Windows 7 and that means there will be no more patches to close security holes that shouldn’t even be there in a ten-year-old computer program with 1.5 billion users.

Well, so far, so good. Nothing catastrophic has happened.

Just for the record, I have backed everything up to my Google Drive account and I have a backup Linux system in case Windows does crash on me. That doesn’t mean that someone couldn’t hack into my system, which I why I never leave my computer on when I am not sitting in front of the screen. It is very difficult to hack into a system that isn’t on, and even more difficult to hack into a system that has the proper security measures installed.

In the meantime, however, in advance of Microsoft’s drop-dead date, something strange started to happen with my system a few months ago.

All of a sudden, and for no reason, I could determine, I was no longer able to open Microsoft Word programs directly from Windows Explorer.

This is a royal pain in the ass if you are a writer who has a lot of ongoing projects because it becomes more and more difficult to find the projects you’re working on if you can’t open them.

What happened, instead, was that a program called Doxillion Document Converter would open up and offer to convert my perfectly good Windows files to the new Office format. This never happened before, and it turned out to be a real pain in the ass because the program won’t actually open the converted documents since it is looking for an Office 365 link, not an Office 2007 system. (Doxillion comes from NCH Software, which has written some very good programs. This isn’t one of those programs. Avoid it.)

The Solution That Works For Me

My Office 2007 system still works perfectly, no problems there. I can open any file that I can find…but I have over 10,000 Word files in my system. Trying to find one out of 10,000 is a non-trivial activity if you can’t use Windows Explorer.

So, I did two things.

First, I switched to Apache Systems Altap Salamander, which is a really good alternative to Windows Explorer, and Salamander will open any Word file in Open Office regardless of the version, without any hiccups. This enables me to review any document and determine whether it is actually the one I need.

This also means that I am finally kicking Microsoft Office to the curb and switching over to Open Office…but there’s a hitch.

Open Office is a great program. Does ALMOST anything that Microsoft Word does…with one glaring exception.

There’s no outline function, which makes it very difficult to work with longer documents, and especially difficult to work with book-length manuscripts.

So, I will have to compromise. Either I have to write a patch that will add that functionality to Open Office (which, since no one has done it, is probably a daunting task that I am NOT going to wade into) or I will have to go back to Microsoft Word for my longer projects unless I can find another third party editor that has outlining functionality.

In the meantime, Microsoft is cleaning up, with a share price that has jumped 21.6 percent since the drive to retire Windows 7 kicked off a year ago.

There are a lot of suckers in the world…and I’m one of them. After doing all of this, I discovered that the problem with Windows Explorer simply went away altogether. All I had to do was delete the Doxillion program. Problem solved.

The problem is that I still don’t know how that application ever got onto my computer in the first place.

Hmmm.

Alan is a poet, journalist, short story writer, editor, website developer, and political activist. He is the executive editor of BindleSnitch.com.