Software

Does Microsoft intentionally hobble some new products and why should you care?

A key missing feature can make the difference when it comes to deploying software. Does Microsoft do it on purpose and what can you learn from this approach?

Like most organizations out there, Westminster College relies pretty heavily on software from Microsoft to run our operations.  Unlike some organizations, however, we generally look forward to Microsoft's new wares and we evaluate and deploy a lot of the company's products relatively early on.  From a cost perspective, we generally look at the Microsoft option before looking at others; with the Microsoft Campus Agreement that we have in place, licensing costs for Microsoft products are quite attractive and our very MS-centric infrastructure makes integrating new services pretty easy.

When Microsoft releases something new, we, at the very least, give the product a look to see if it will meet a need or enhance a process.  Twice in the past couple of years, I've gotten the distinct impression that, for some of its products, Microsoft might intentionally hobble "version 1" of the new product.  I'll use two examples in this column, but there could be others.  There are some lessons to be learned from the Microsoft approach.

In particular, let's look at the original release of Exchange 2007 and the original release of Office Communications Server 2007, both products that Westminster either considered or deployed very early in the product lifecycle.  While both products were upgrades from existing Microsoft products, both were also revolutionary upgrades in a number of different ways. For example, Exchange 2007 turned the Exchange paradigm upside down with a major architectural overhaul and OCS 2007 was Microsoft's first significant foray territory formerly under the firm control of the PBX.

In both products, there were missing features that were key to many serious deployments.  Let's look at Exchange 2007 RTM, which was missing a GUI-based method for managing public folders.  Although this could have been a simple architectural decision based on the fact that Exchange 2007's internal reliance on public folders is gone, the conspiracy theorist side of me thinks that Microsoft made the intentional decision to exclude complete public folder support from Exchange 2007 RTM.  Why would the company do this?  Personally, since Exchange 2007 was such a major departure from Exchange 2003, I think the company wanted to control the release a bit.  By excluding reasonable public folder support, Exchange 2003-based organizations would think twice about deploying Exchange 2007 RTM and might wait for SP1, at which point Microsoft would have a much better understanding of customer support needs and scenarios and be able to better react to issues.  In short, by eliminating what many organizations considered a "must-have" feature from the initial release, Microsoft could still have a successful product on their hands, but with deployment happening in a more phased approach.  Of course, there were ways to work around the lack of real public folder support, but may organizations would rather wait for "official" support.  Another way to look at it: Obviously, most organizations don't deploy release candidate software into production, opting instead to wait for the RTM.  Maybe the Exchange 2007 initial release was a way for Microsoft to extend the real-world testing cycle while at the same time giving early adopters the comfort that they were deploying production quality software.

It's important to note that Microsoft went out of their way to say that the RTM release of Office Communications Server 2007 was not an attempt to displace the PBX, but rather to supplement it.  It's a good thing, too, because OCS 2007 RTM was missing so many critical features that it could really only reasonably be used as a supplement.  Of course, with the release of OCS 2007 R2, many PBX-centric features have made their way into the product and it's conceivable now that an organization could possibly rip out their PBX and replace it with OCS.  Again, if Microsoft has built the original OCS 2007 in the way that the current R2 is built, it's more likely that initial OCS uptake would have been a lot higher (not that it was really bad anyway).  Further, if Microsoft had included such features as E911 location information, hunt groups, and traditional conference calling, Microsoft may have had a lot more trouble finding those initial OCS partners.  Again, some of these features, such as hunt groups, are so basic that not including them in the product release was a real head scratcher, so my theory is that the company made the intentional decision to hobble the product as a strategy to release the product while still being able to work on direction and support structure.

So what does this have to do with you?  When you think about it, what Microsoft has done, if these decisions were truly intentional, was to control the release of new products in a way that made them supportable, helped to refine future direction and avoided alienating partners.  This intentionally phased approach can make sense in a lot of IT projects, too, and is really a pretty common project development model in which projects are broken down into phases, but with working, usable deliverables at the end of each phase.  By breaking projects down like this, IT can deliver to customers the most critical aspects of a project while still being able to commit to other organizational priorities.  Rather than being tied down to a single project from start to finish, IT is tied down from start to finish of a single phase after which priorities can once again be assessed to determine if the next project should be Phase 2 or something else altogether.  Further, by deploying projects in this phased approach, the IT developer can then analyze user usage patterns and support requests to inform future development.  For example, if users are constantly calling the help desk about a particular item in a project, perhaps that item can be addressed in phase 2.  Of course, the difference between Microsoft's approach and an internal IT approach would be the fact that your own development team would not be likely to omit a key feature, but every organization has its own ways to do things.

What do you think?  Does Microsoft intentionally omit key features?  Does your organization use a phased approach to project completion or do you opt to do one large project from start to finish?

About

Since 1994, Scott Lowe has been providing technology solutions to a variety of organizations. After spending 10 years in multiple CIO roles, Scott is now an independent consultant, blogger, author, owner of The 1610 Group, and a Senior IT Executive w...

31 comments
Neil Colthorpe
Neil Colthorpe

I went to the Tech-Ed conference in 2006 and in an Exchange 2007 lecture one of the speakers said Microsoft intended to drop support for Public Folders by 2012, (which as a system administrator I was very happy with). If this was the case then it is likely Microsoft were just giving a hint to customers that they should be thinking about phasing out their Public Folders and migrating them onto Sharepoint. Following a backlash, Microsoft then moved the supported date to around 2017 and bolted on the GUI-based method of PF administration. That's just my view on this particular incident

bill.tkach
bill.tkach

They have time lines to finish products, and I bet that often many of those options get dropped as projects near their release date. They require everything to be working and tested by the time it leaves and is on shelves, so to speak. If there are parts that don't get finished, then they are likely removed to be added at a future date, be it as a patch or a new version. Microsoft makes lots of products, so is easy to pick on. But I'm sure they would still sooner release a product that is missing a few features, than a product that has many features that don't function correctly, or cause errors. Vista had many problems. I don't even know how they released it at first. Maybe they were trying leave all those features that didn't work properly in there (like taking 10 minutes to delete a few hundred files, or the horrible security mode). These items should have been removed or fixed far before initial release. How could Microsoft play such a fantastic game with XP, and then miss all the balls with Vista?

norm.abookire
norm.abookire

Sure they do. Take the hobbling they did to netbooks with Windows XP Home and the restrictions they put on manufacturers and features. Also the Windows t implementation for netbooks. All designed to cripple. With a Linux Distro the customer has more control. Microsoft dictates to the consumer.

mwagner
mwagner

They don't intentionally hobble products they just don't perform any product testing before release. That's the job of the consumer. Then when they fix the problems they will release the new version and have you pay for that one. Like the release of vista which sucked and now finally windows 7 which fixes the problems in vista.

maclovin
maclovin

Cha-ching! We're the ones spending the money on the products. We SHOULD care. "Micrsoft-partner"??? WTF does that mean. You think that means something? No, no it doesn't. If you are a partner of another entity, typically, both parties listen to the other partner, except in this case, apparently. Everyone should care when they are getting screwed. Why is it that people are yelling and screaming in town hall "discussions" with a government that's only trying to help them, but they're not yelling and screaming when it's been proven that M$ is trying to screw them, er, IS screwing them? .......without so much as the common courtesy of a reach-around I might add. And THAT, people, is what really GRINDS MY GEARS.

maclovin
maclovin

Entourage anyone? (All Mac products for that matter) They made it slow as hell. And the way it creates the DB, which is probably the root of the problem, is horrible. I have one person that insists on using Entourage for three total Exchange accounts. Entourage DB size: 80GB, no joke. They wonder why they keep having to rebuild it!!!?!? Mactopia? I think not. MacHell? I think so!

jedih
jedih

you have a point! but judging by Vista, sometimes it's just bad planning, although the service packs usually have a way of smoothing things over :)

TNT
TNT

I've no insider at Redmond to bounce your idea off of, but it does make some sort of sense. Supply a limited release (but don't call it "limited") so that you can be in the market, building strategic partnerships and gaining user intelligence before releasing the product as it as originally envisioned. I've got to say that, if true, its pretty sneaky and pretty smart at the same time.

steeleblue_cactus
steeleblue_cactus

I worked for many years on our proprietary in-house software. I was the business analyst responsible for translating user needs for developers to work with. After the first couple of promises "we'll get to that in Phase 2" we learned our lesson. WE NEVER GOT TO PHASE 2. Something else always came up. So we had to make sure we had everything we needed in phase 1. Might have been stripped down but at least we were not left hanging forever for some element we really needed. MS either: 1) starts off including everything but the kitchen sink and as time goes on and deliverables slip things begin to get cut. 2) or they actually do plan the phase 2 initially to speed up roll-outs. As long as the initial offering functions AND a phase 2 actually comes out in a reasonable amount of time things should be ok. If the initial offering is not usable or phase 2 never comes - I would start searching for another vendor.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

much longer term plan of MS. Remember when Windows first came out you loaded DOS, then Windows was little more than a user applications on top of the OS. Next DOS and Windows were released as an integrated package with Win 95. A little later we have Windows as the OS and the amount of DOS in the package is greatly reduced. Now, several years later, the MS marketing are making a bit of noise about how great the DOS support is in Win 7 - makes one wonder why they just didn't maintain full DOS support all along. Back in Win 95 they integrated Internet Explorer in Windows to get Netscape out of the picture so they could control the browser field and thus the Internet - they failed in that, thanks to court actions and Netscape. But now the Windows OS comes with integrated firewall, anti-virus, cd burning, data back up, and a whole lot more applications that other companies made a living from by selling as third party software. Given time, all those companies will also fail as people see little need to buy other software since MS have integrated it with Windows. An Operating System is just supposed to be an interface to run the applications on and simplify the writing of applications by removing the need to include all the code to drive the hardware - but now Windows is ten percent OS and ninety percent applications. All the applications a general user wants are now included in Windows, except the MS Office Suite, and that's not in there as they make too much money selling it separately. They couldn't make enough selling the others separately so they're included and the price jacked up. Now we have Internet Explorer 7 having a little program that tells you a web page is safe to go to, as decided by MS. Anyone see a long term move to have MS supplying ALL the software you want and totally controlling your Internet usage, just as they first said they wanted to when they introduced Secure Computing nearly fifteen years ago. They sure are giving that back door a lot of work to get to SC. Anyway, that's my view of the situation.

walker_
walker_

I personally hate the requirement to buy the "enterprise" version to have the one feature that would really be helpful. SQL Server database mirroring comes to mind. Works well unless you want to use the high performance setup, at which point you have to shell out big cash to "upgrade". Sharepoint is another case. M$ is the crack dealer of the IT world.

aandruli
aandruli

I really don't think the primary reason is to hobble the product but rather to rush a product to markey before it is ready to be released in order to generate revenue quickly. Sort of like putting cars in dealerships before the bumpers were put on.

dducolon
dducolon

Yes Neil, that is the case. MS has many ways to deprecate features. They do try not to deprecate functionality but what a feature is used for is hard to say and MS only has a couple people at most per feature who will determine if they provide comparably functionality via another mechanism. Sometimes the feature is hidden behind a regkey, others it is like you say they give you notification of a release or two. This is not always to my liking but hey it's better than drop and run which other companies try when they decide that the customers who complain are worth losing. My 2cents

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

design and development, what the hell were they doing - Oh, they spend the time watching Youtube, I understand it all now.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

a less capable version isn't hobbling the software - then what is?

maclovin
maclovin

The same: they want people to switch to their latest and greatest (ACK! Let me wipe up the puke on the floor from saying that), and then they want people to pay out through their noses for it, even though it's more like a service pack. I'm referring to Vista ----> 7, of course. You know, you don't HAVE to rely totally on MS. You don't even have to use Exchange as your mail/collaboration server anymore. Kerio is by far (opinion) heads and shoulders above Exchange as far as efficiency, speed, configuration, and management/repair time. Universities are, for the most part, one of the environments that are poster children for the closed-mindedness I typically speak of when it comes to IT-related operations. You know what I'm talking about....oi oi! Anyway, Office Space aside, how can you say that they DON'T intentionally hobble products when it's pretty much an observable fact, by even some of the dumbest users, not that all are dumb.

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

WinFS? I seem to remember something about that from the NT Days long ago which is yet to materialize. :D Col

dducolon
dducolon

Microsoft is a large company with smart people or at least that is what they say. Keep in mind that these are engineers not end users with average to low tech skills. That said, Microsoft is becoming more and more a schedule driven company and Office has been for decades. When companies set their release date and then plan the features, the first thing to get done are the marketable features and they all begin with "enable". There is the real clue, MS "enables" functionality which is a far cry from saying delivers. Then when time is short, what is the easiest thing to cut, yes you said it usability. So a schedule driven software product will either have poor quality or short scope and unfortunately sometimes both but late, rarely by more than a month or two out of a two to three year product cycle. So, let's not look for a complex reason behind the missing functionality when a simple solution is right in front of us, they either didn't think to plan it or they cut it to make a predetermined ship or code complete date. Simplest answer is usually correct.

Ron_007
Ron_007

They came up with this "wonderful" new Ribbon gooey (GUI). What was missing: The "old" menu system that I invested 20 years of my time and money (books & courses) learning and memorizing. Sure the Ribbon is great for mousey newbies, but it really sucks for experienced keyboarders. The fix, simply include one more tab in the Ribbon that implemented the old menu. I saw the first 3rd party addons within a few weeks of Office 2007 GA. And now there are several versions you can get for free. It wouldn't have taken any significant amount of effort for MS to include a "Menu" tab. What was missing: reverse compatibility with old standards, like keyboard shortcuts. Many of the old standards work, but some, just enough to be annoying, don't. They had to come up with new key combos to fit the new Ribbon layout. What was missing: Functionality to customize the menus and tool bars. Sure they included the crippled "Quick Access Tool bar" but it can't do everything you could do in old tool bars. What was missing: Ability to customize menus and tool bars. MS will allow you to purchase an addon that will enable you to manipulate the 2007 ribbon XML structure. I hear that the 2010 version includes a limited amount of tab customization, but it too is still pretty crippled. What was missing: a consistent implementation of the new UI. Come on, where did the "office button" come from? Look at the menu under the office button. In Word for example, why is there an "Options" and "exit" button? (I hear they are gone in Office 2010.) Look in the "Advanced" option (in Word). There 10 headings you have to scroll through. Why not simply pull them all, or at least the largest ones, up from Advanced to be Options on their own. What is missing: one level or so down from the new Ribbon menu they simply invoke the old dialog boxes, with their tabs and buttons invoking several layers deeper dialog boxes. What is missing: why are dialog boxes still designed for 640x480 resolution? For example the "Find & Replace", why do I still (it's several versions old) have to click on the "More" button to see more search features. We all have plenty of screen resolution, so just display it all the time, save me the mousing. Then after forcing me to click the more, I still have to click another "Format" button to get another drop down menu, with more options to pick before a dialog shows up. What is missing: a text only mode for the ribbon. Hieroglyphics are nice, if I am a 4000 year old Egyptian mummy. At 1440x1600 resolution, many of those little pictures are just blobs. And to add insult to injury, the Ribbon is dynamic, so buttons appear and disappear and rearrange their positions depending on how wide you make the window. What is missing: In Word 2007 the "Highlight" tool is STILL limited to the original 16 EGA colors. All other coloring features allow "unlimited" colors. And to add insult to injury, I just figured out that Excel 2007 "Highlighter" allows unlimited colors. I could go on, I've go pages of gripes about the 2007 Gooey. Sorry, this turned into a bit of a rant

jck
jck

Microsoft just hobbled Vista some in prep for the Windows 7 release. Both my vista laptops (32 and 64 bit home premium) now take longer to boot and load startup programs than before the big patch on Tuesday. I think they're out to fluff their performance numbers for Win 7.

dducolon
dducolon

Rumor has it that exchange had active cache back in Office 2000 but did not ship it since it was not ready and the date was looming. But that does lead one to ask how did Office 2007 even get out the door. But I guess they would have had to cut well Office. :) Fingers crossed for 2010.

dducolon
dducolon

What version did they cut the networking out. That is one area they have made very consistent although small steps forward. I love home group, domains for homes, without the complexity of a Domain Controller.

Scott Lowe
Scott Lowe

Speaking personally, since I don't need WinFS, I'm not waiting for it. If it ever materializes, we'll give it a look, but it's never been on a must-have list.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

history and media reports, and read this lot: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trusted_Computing http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Next-Generation_Secure_Computing_Base http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trusted_Platform_Module Fifteen years ago they stated they wanted to lock everyone into MS software and MS approved hardware, and that's where they're headed, a bit at a time. Edit to add. Yes the simplest answer is often the best, but not always. And this is one case where the simple answer is not correct. The staff do as directed from on high by Stevie and Billy.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

customise the menu and tool bar of Open Office that my one line tool bar carries everything I use more than once a day when writing. I can make the tool bars and menus into anything I want, no wonder I love it and hate MS Office now - I gave up on Office and it's sub products back in 2004 after only fifteen years of using Word and Excel etc.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

join a domain of any sort - according to the MS web site. Since all the ADSL and Cable Modem/Routers we see down here have a default setting to allow them to act as a DHCP domain controller, you just plug a system with DHCP and you're instantly on. Plug in a system without DHCP and you've got many hours of work setting the system up to work.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

they tout Win BS, and shovel it on thick with each release. Get the letters right, it's the details that are important.

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

Of what M$ Claims it will do it really is a Must Have Item. :0 Pity that M$ has proved beyond any doubt that it just doesn't do what they claimed it would all those years ago. :D I just think that it amusing that it gets touted for every new OS release and then gets dropped long before the Product reaches the Alpha Stage. ;) Col

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