April 30th, 2004 • 7:11 am
Chris Pratley is the manager of the Word program management team at Microsoft, and he’s started publishing a blog in which he’s sharing quite a bit of information about the product and the way it has been and is being developed, etc.
It is quite an interesting read. While the focus of the blog entries is obviously not on the Mac versions, we all know that Word for Windows and Word for Mac have a lot in common, including large chunks of code and the vast majority of their feature set. And Chris does mention the Mac product on several occasions.
Before getting into some of the details that are more relevant to the Mac version, I cannot help but comment on the following paragraph:
I’ve been a little gun-shy of blogging about Word for fear of being inundated by what are as far as I can tell a gang of “net thugs” who roam the net making outrageous claims about Microsoft and its behavior, motives, etc in every public forum they find (none of which information they are privy to, little of which they have evidence for, and basically all of which I find personally offensive, not to mention incorrect – since they often are implicitly about me and therefore I for one know them to be incorrect). But enough about that – let’s just dive in and see what happens. Hopefully the net-dwelling paranoid delusional conspiracy theorists won’t descend upon me… :-)
With or without the smiley, I find this paragraph very problematic. Once again, it confirms my worst suspicions about the attitude of Microsoft employees regarding the feedback that they receive, directly or indirectly, from a good portion of their clientele. What Chris (and other Microsoft employees, including some more closely involved with development of the Mac version) seems to be unable to grasp (maybe the constructive feedback he’s getting on his blog will change his mind) is that the “thuggish” behaviour and language that can be indeed observed from time to time is the direct result of the years of accumulated frustration with a product that fails to do even simple things reliably and consistently.
For example, nowhere in his blog does Chris mention (so far) the major issue of document corruption. Is it really surprising, given the persistence of this issue (and many other important issues, both in the Windows and in the Mac versions), and given Microsoft’s failure to address it, that, over the years, people have ended up commenting on “Microsoft and its behavior, motives, etc.“? When a company refuses to acknowledge problems and solve them, in spite of extensive reports on the problems and the very serious impact that they have in the real world on people trying to get work done, then obviously people are going to get frustrated, and they are going to accuse Microsoft of things, even if they don’t have the evidence to support them.
How is this amount to being a “thug” or a “conspiracy theorist”? People come up with conspiracy theory in spite of all the evidence that proves them wrong. But we do not have any evidence that Microsoft is taking the problem of document corruption seriously. Or the “Disk is full” bug — just to mention two of the most crucial and dangerous problems.
Personally, I find it insulting that people who, out of frustration, try to come up with theories about Microsoft’s motives are lumped together with conspiracy theorists. The fact that high-ranking Microsoft employees are starting to speak openly about their work, like Chris Pratley is doing, is a good sign that Microsoft is finally becoming aware of the need to provide users and commentators with the information needed to make more informed judgements on Microsoft’s products and practices. But we still have a long way to go. And people like Chris Pratley would do well to leave this tendency to lump vocal critics together with conspiracy theorists behind them.