Is Everything Microsoft's Fault? Avoiding the Blame Game

Rob Enderle

This week I've seen two interesting pieces:

  1. Coverage of the SanDisk earnings conference, during which that company blamed Microsoft Vista for the fact that its solid state drives don't work well, though Toshiba and Samsung apparently aren't reporting similar problems at the moment
  2. a piece by Walt Mossberg pointing out that Apple's MobileMe doesn't work and voicing some skepticism of Apple's excuse that it's all Microsoft's fault, even though Apple has been working on this for over a year and ActiveSync was never designed to work as a cloud service
For much of my time covering Microsoft, it seems that whenever anyone has a problem anywhere near a Microsoft product, it is Microsoft's fault. While it undoubtedly is sometimes true, in many of the instances I've personally looked into, at best it was a shared problem and often it was the firm pointing the finger that was actually was at fault.


Let's talk about why this exists, why it is bad for the industry, and how it could be corrected.


Microsoft Should Buy the Target Logo


Microsoft rarely touches the customer. It is more of an ingredient provider. Yet back when I was measuring customer satisfaction across vendors, I ran into an interesting statistic.


Those that paid extra for support from Microsoft were vastly more likely to be satisfied than those that didn't. It kind of sounded like some kind of organized crime thing where, if you didn't pay, Microsoft caused you to break more often.


But, in looking at the cause of the difference, it became clear that the real reason was that when people were working directly with Microsoft, rather than a reseller or OEM, they got to solutions while the Microsoft partner would more often just complain about Microsoft.


In one instance, I had been made aware of a company that was so upset with Microsoft and Dell that it was switching to Linux. I discovered that the firm had been manipulated by its service provider. This provider had low-balled its way into the account and then manipulated the situation to make both Dell and Microsoft look bad so it could do a very expensive migration. This migration entrenched it into the account and vastly increased revenue from that account. It was brilliantly, if not too honestly, done.


In another instance, during the DoJ trials, Real Networks testified that Microsoft was intentionally breaking its technology. It actually turned out that Real Networks hadn't followed the published guidelines, which is what caused the problem. It was easier for the engineering staff to blame Microsoft than to actually do causal analysis and fix the problem.


Why Blaming Microsoft, and Focusing on Blame in General, Is a Bad Thing


It's too easy and too often inaccurate. If, as I suspect, the problem with the SanDisk controller is that it was poorly designed, then the real fix, which doesn't hinge on Microsoft, could happen much more quickly.


More importantly, publicly blaming Microsoft for the problem is probably not going to make Microsoft eager to work with SanDisk to fix it -- even if Mirosoft is at fault. That makes laying blame seem counterproductive in all cases. Think about your own shop. How many times have you heard that a problem is related to Microsoft's technology? How many times do you think that this was probably not true and just used to buy time or to prevent blame?


Blame Doesn't Fix Anything


Focusing on blame works against fixing any problem. Look at the cost of gas, for example. If you focus on finding ways to conserve gas, rather than blaming government, you can actually mitigate the problem.


This may actually be one of the real values of Linux in that it makes it much harder to find someone else to blame and forces people to work on fixing a problem.


Fixing the Problem


I'm a big believer in results and solutions-oriented approaches. The other day, I was contacted by a disgruntled employee who wanted my help in fixing a "clueless" CEO. My response was to find a new company to work for because that would get them the result they actually wanted more quickly.


People waste way too much time on finding people or companies to blame. That same effort could often fix the very problem they are complaining about. Back at IBM, we argued for months in huge meetings about a bug in a piece of software. Finally, two managers got fed up and fixed the bugs by working through a weekend. This took a fraction of the resources we were wasting arguing about whose fault the problem was.


I believe people are paid to overcome obstacles, not be incredibly proficient at finding, creating or listing them. Yet we all know people who seem to thrive on doing exactly that. I generally believe that the real fix often has to do with getting rid of those people.

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Jul 25, 2008 6:24 PM Whats in a Name Whats in a Name  says:
" The web contains vast amounts of information, but not everything worth knowing is on the web. An enormous amount of information resides in people's heads: millions of people know useful things and billions more could benefit from that knowledge. Knol will encourage these people to contribute their knowledge online and make it accessible to everyone." Your blog is KNOL by itself and we are priviliged that you share such wisdom with the rest . and when I read " This provider had low-balled its way into the account and then manipulated the situation to make both Dell and Microsoft look bad so it could do a very expensive migration. This migration entrenched it into the account and vastly increased revenue from that account. It was brilliantly, if not too honestly, done" I have no doubt left in my assumption , what a vast storehouse you are . Please let us learn from your experience and share if you will , as to how this provider actually did what it did . If only we can help us better protect ourselves . Thanks & Regards Reply
Jul 27, 2008 7:22 PM Tomas M. Barrameda II Tomas M. Barrameda II  says:
In the first place, was there POINTING OF FINGERS or blaming for problems ? It should be alright for people to try to define problems and identify how and why they arise -- in order to shed some light over problems in need of attention. Keeping silent about views cannot lead to any improvement at all. If the solution is to tell people to find another company to work with, then that will discourage the other people from expressing their views freely in order to improve the company. I would rather collate all views, check the accuracy of allegations, communicate whatever should be known about the problem, and thank all contributors for expressing their views about the problems. But it will be also wise to inform everybody about the findings after investigating details about the problems being experienced and analyzed by different members of the industry. The answer to fault finding is not another finger pointing back. It is diligence. Then follow up with shedding more light after careful review and investigation of various comments. Reply
Jul 28, 2008 9:25 AM jan jan  says:
Wonder how much this schill for Microsoft is getting paid? Of course MS should get the blame. They build their software and force everyone to comply doing it their way, so ultimately every problem ends up pointing at them, as it should. Engulf n' Devour is their tactic, if they would be nice about it and not play dirty games in the play-yard, we wouldn't have to put up with blame-game stories. Customers pay enough for the software, why should they have to pay in addition for service too? Service should come with the software and MS should respect the customer. Reply
Jul 29, 2008 1:33 PM Rob Enderle Rob Enderle  says:
Agree if Microsoft or any vendor is causing the problem that needs to be identified and corrected but first the problem itself needs to be defined. Any vendor can be replaced but I've found that often that is like tossing the baby out with the bathwater and that the easier path is to actually focus on solving the problem together first. In my own case, we had a joint project with Microsoft and our team was constantly saying that the Microsoft folks and technolgy was worthless. When I personally looked into it the real problem seemed to be we couldn't keep a spec constant for more than a week and we were using people who didn't like or know how to use Microsoft tools. It didn't help that the Microsoft team wasn't forcing us to lock down a spec so they weren't blameless but we were most of the problem. We had a similar problem with Notes, couldn't get it to work, turned out the company we hired to implement Notes for us was learning how to implement Notes on our nickle. No wonder it wasn't working. Diagnose the problem first and then propose a solution rather than blame the provider first and let them defend their position. I think the former is simply the better path. Reply
Jul 30, 2008 5:18 PM Marc Lijour Marc Lijour  says:
You "suspect" but I don't see proof. Obviously both company A and company B have incentive to blame the other when something that should work is not working, but how can we know who's right? As you mention, badmouthing company A does no good. Sympathy towards company B is not helping either.I don't know if they did, but if SanDisk were to publish their specs then Open Source guys could work at it, if they are too lazy or if they don't have the resources to make it work themselves. Once an implementation is working on Linux (FreeBSD, BeOS, or you name it) then it is a software issue and there is no excuse left for Microsoft.The comment you make about this less than honest consultant seems to imply that Linux in the corporate world is some kind of a scam. It may be the case, but I know for sure it is not always the case.Again, the answer is in the proof. Reply
Jul 31, 2008 12:27 PM Rob Enderle Rob Enderle  says:
Actually anything can be a scam depending on how it is done. I can recall AT&T saying that Windows 95 would save $1,000 per year in desktop support. The average annual cost of desktop support (using Netware as a base) at the company I was working at when they said this was around $500. We wondered if they were planning on writing us a check or if money was going to start flying out of PCs butts. The example was not intended to diss Linux, it was just the best one I had to prove the point. Reply
Jul 31, 2008 3:10 PM DP DP  says:
So hey, MS is not always to blame... what about the vast number of times it is? Unreproacheable, intentionally bureaucratic in interfacing help, but mostly walled-off from dissent and hidden from the often justified rage of people with business/money/time lost, MS nevertheless greedily sucks up for free all the expertise advice of the thousands of skilled administrators who endlessly and tirelessly come up with fix after fix after fix and post it to their beleaugered colleagues on forums. Make money off other people who are fixing your screw-ups. THAT'S how to get rich... oh, they did... IT people fix stuff. And don't have time to cstalogue the 1000's hours they do free making MS run as advertised. Reply
Aug 11, 2008 5:54 PM Eric H. Eric H.  says:
Rob...... lol! That is why I'm a loyal subscriber! I'm debating if it would be a good idea to send this to my boss, who consults on our infrastructure security and other issues with this guy who worships LINUX. Not only that, he is one of those IT nutbaskets stuck in the 90's who blames Microsoft for everything. Great article! Reply

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