Microsoft’s Lap Dogs

I recently nearly canceled my subscription to all my Ziff-Davis publications—and I still may. My disgust with the outrageous favoritism toward Microsoft had been brewing for months. I read news reports and reviews no one short of Microsoft’s flagship PR firm, Waggener Edstrom, could be spinning. Editors, rather than doing their jobs, were printing the gospel according to marketers holed up in a Redmond, Wash. closet.

The final straw was a July PC Computing article titled, “Office 97 vs. The World”. There contributors Leslie Ayers, Peter Deegan, Lee Hudspeth, T.J. Lee, Woody Leonhard, and Eileen Wharmby explained why Microsoft’s newest rendition of its productivity suite replaced virtually all other business programs. 

Some of their claims: Office’s Outlook e-mail client is a better choice than Lotus cc:Mail 7 or Qualcomm Eudora Pro 3.02; Office and Microsoft fax are good enough for most people to forgo Symantec Winfax Pro 8.01; Office’s Web publishing features are better than Claris Home Page 2.0, Netscape Communicator 4.01 or even Microsoft’s own FrontPage 97; Office’s Outlook desktop information manager bests Lotus Organizer 97 or Starfish Software Sidekick 97; Office produces better newsletters than Adobe PageMaker 6.5 or even Microsoft Publisher 97; Office’s flowcharting is equal to Visio Corp. Visio Professional and better than Micrografx FlowCharter 7.0 or Corel CorelFlow 3.0; the Office photo editor surpasses Adobe Photoshop 4.0 or Jasc Paint Shop Pro 4.12.

Office lost some of the categories, such as scanning which went to Xerox PagisPro 97, but all the categories it won are outrageous. I’ve tested all these products and would dispute every claim. Worse, the reviewers biased the outcome by ignoring clearly superior products in their test.

My experience is more in line with Windows magazine, which recently pulled Office 97 and Outlook 97 (but not Excel 97) from its coveted Win 100 list. I, too, caught up in the product’s bells and whistles, quickly endorsed Office 97. Real-world testing jaded me: the more I used Office, the less I liked it. I now use Lotus SmartSuite 97 and would handily recommend Corel WordPerfect Suite 8.0.

Microsoft is a tribute to the power of marketing, the ability to crush opponents with ruthless tactics. Any OEM will quietly admit to the pressure Redmond’s wonder company can apply when looking for outlets to preload Microsoft products.

I know bitter OS/2 users who fault the operating system’s demise on IBM’s lousy marketing. This, I agree, is true, but to a degree. Microsoft’s notorious licensing arrangement, where OEMs paid for DOS/Windows on every machine whether Windows was preloaded or not, may be more the reason. Who would be stupid enough to pay a second OS licensing fee on already tight margins?

IBM, for all its faults, advanced technology. Microsoft continues to hold the industry hostage by milking every last cent out of the DOS/Windows platform. If Big Blue operated like Microsoft, we all would be using personal AS/400s running VMS and toting 25 lb. ThinkPads.

At one time, the operating system and CPU running it were fairly matched, but today Intel and it’s competitor chips are generations ahead of Microsoft’s feeble Windows platform. Now, Ziff-Davis writers would chain us to Office, too.

Today, we stand at the crossroads of computing, no less important than the personal computer’s challenge—David facing Goliath—of the IBM-dominated mainframe market. Java, the network PC, the collision of television and the Internet hold the promise of more open standards where no company stifles innovation to market code ancient in dog years.

But computer magazines didn’t proliferate 20 years ago to evangelize the status quo. Microsoft employs good marketers to sing its product’s praises. Responsible publications should evaluate technology critically, not promote products wholesale. For this, I fault Ziff-Davis and laud CMP, which in Windows had enough guts to courageously pan Microsoft’s bread-and-butter product. After all, Office accounts for something like 60 percent or more of the company’s profits.

As for you, Ziff-Davis, I changed my mind. The cancellation slip for my five subscriptions is in the mail.

Photo Credit: Stephen Bowler

Editors Note: On July 28, 2017, this post was recovered, using Wayback Machine, from a snapshot of my first website, at strangely called: “Blue Sky, Business, and the Maine Outback”. What was I thinking?