Microsoft held a very boring event this morning, and in the interest of not wasting your time, I’ll summarize it for you: AI, AI, new accessibility features. While I applaud the accessibility improvements (they are genuinely cool), the other stuff is what makes me skeptical of Microsoft’s direction.
Just a few short days ago, Panos Panay abruptly left the company. No fanfare, no nothing. Just a short farewell — with comments outright disabled — on Twitter. Some are pointing to Microsoft’s decision to cut back on “experimental” products (which includes the outright awesome Surface Studio desktop for some odd reason) as the reason for his sudden departure.
I personally feel like it’s much deeper than that. It could certainly be a reason, but his Tweet reads as if he wasn’t entirely pumped (sorry) about leaving Microsoft.
There’s a lot that I feel that a lot of blogs fail to cover, and it’s the fact that Microsoft’s been spiraling for a while. Not in a “circling the drain” sort of way, but in an “we’re having an identity crisis” sort of way. Let’s look at some examples.
The apparent lack of direction and the company’s increasing invasion of privacy
I hate being pessimistic about hardware and software because I’m so passionate about it. I enjoy getting excited about the new things these companies are doing. But Microsoft has fumbled basically every Windows release since 8 hit Release to Manufacturing status (RTM) in 2012, and that makes it incredibly hard to be optimistic about their direction.
I truly don’t think they have a direction, so they’re using everyone’s reliance on their paid software to extract even more money from them by taking every bit of data they possibly can and selling it off. Their new unified Copilot AI features are cool, don’t get me wrong, but there’s no doubt Microsoft is using all of your data to do it in a privacy unfriendly way that only benefits their wallet. Not to mention the fact that Microsoft’s only getting into the AI craze because it’s “cool” right now (and they happen to be a major investor in OpenAI): this, too, shall pass.
The worst part of the privacy thing, though: for Windows Home and Pro users, the best privacy settings for most Microsoft products is an option usually called “Required data”, which they could still theoretically use to “fingerprint” you. Only users of the Enterprise or Education editions of Windows can completely shut this off without the use of a Registry tweak or Terminal command, which I suspect is because (in some cases) Microsoft isn’t legally allowed to take data from them without consent. So, that’s why I think it’s being done on purpose.
Windows isn’t as secure as it used to be
Windows is still built on top of the NT kernel, which was conceived in 1993 and only used in the business-focused releases of Windows until XP’s release, where it replaced the “9X kernel” for home users. Since then, Microsoft has been maintaining some level of backwards compatibility with earlier iterations of Windows. At the time, NT was fairly stable, and it was iterated upon for years.
However, as time has passed, so many vulnerabilities have been found that it’s enough to call into question the actual security of the Windows platform. Most recently was the “ThemeBleed” vulnerability, discovered by former Microsoft employee gabe k earlier this month. But there are numerous other examples to mention; this past July, Microsoft plugged 132 security holes in a single update.
Linux started its development all the way back in 1991, two years prior to NT’s conception. Like any platform in the modern era, it has security vulnerabilities that are reported and plugged. However, unlike Microsoft where it may take a while to patch, said security vulnerabilities are very quickly patched in the Linux kernel due to how many eyes are on the project nowadays.
What I’m trying to say is, Microsoft seems to have the most security issues getting reported and patched for the Windows lineup. And the only thing I can personally think of that hasn’t changed in forever is the kernel. Since NT needs to maintain compatibility with software and other features from the Windows 95 era, it’s more susceptible to exploits being developed and abused. (You’ve probably heard this concept referred to as “backwards compatibility,” and I highly recommend checking out Tom Scott’s excellent video on this topic if you want to learn more about it!) And some of these vulnerabilities end up getting exploited for so long that it’s kind of concerning.
Forced use of Microsoft accounts on Windows
This is a small one in the grand scheme of things, but when Microsoft announced Windows 11, they stated on their system requirements page that Home edition users would need an internet connection and Microsoft account to complete first time setup. The Microsoft account requirement later expanded to the Pro edition (sort of), though you can bypass it much easier on that edition.
I prefer a local account to my Microsoft account. When I install a fresh copy of Windows or a Linux distribution, I don’t want the computer connected to the internet. I don’t want Windows Update installing drivers by itself. I want to do everything carefully, and by myself, because most of the time Windows Update gets it wrong and it ends up being a whole day spent on trying to undo the mess. It’s an awful experience that has literally been since Windows 8/8.1.
There are ways around the dumb Microsoft account requirements, by the way, and you should use absolutely them. Microsoft will try and use some scare tactics to convince you that you’re missing on groundbreaking features if you don’t sign in, but that’s not true. You’re literally not. So, don’t. The JayzTwoCents video I embedded above is a great resource.
This part could be its own blog post, honestly, so I’ll keep it as brief as possible. Microsoft Edge is objectively awful. Worse than Chrome, even, despite being built on Google’s own Chromium base. There are a few reasons for this.
For starters, it’s a bloated web browser. It includes way too many features and while some of them (like are good, others (like buy now, pay later service Zip) are predatory. And Microsoft is so desperate for people to use their browser and no one else’s that they’ll regularly sabotage the more successful competition on the Windows 10/11 platforms. They’ve even made it difficult to set your default web browser on Windows 11, sometimes going as far as to reset it after updating Windows. In short, they simply do not respect their users and their preferences.
You see, Microsoft is trying really hard to make Edge successful. Why? Because it holds the least marketshare compared to Chrome and even Safari, the latter of which is exclusive to Apple’s platforms. Data from StatCounter’s Global Stats suggests that it holds just 5.07% of desktop and mobile browser marketshare, which is only ever so slightly from what it was in August 2022 (4.39%).
This, however, is the worst offense: as demonstrated in a Linus Tech Tips video last year, there’s absolutely no way to remove Edge from your Windows system. Whether you like it or not, it’s staying there, unless you want to do some Registry tweaks or a bunch of Terminal commands (I’m noticing a theme here…) In the same video, LTT noted that Edge has a checkbox for collecting data from other browsers installed on your system. So, that’s nice.
Not everyone is going to agree with me here
Listen… discourse is inevitable on the Internet, so trust me: I know for a fact that not everyone will agree with me on this. That said, I do believe that a lot of my own concerns as both an enthusiast and a developer who works with these platforms on a daily basis are valid.
Microsoft has become a huge conglomerate, they are not simply a software company. They are many things: a game studio, maintainers of a social media network, a hardware company, and most notably, a software company. All wrapped up tight with a “cute” and no-so-little bow. They are absorbing competition like it’s nothing, and governments across the world are allowing it.
Microsoft’s power needs to be put into check. We need more strict antitrust and privacy laws in place here in the United States now more than we ever did before. And the consolidation of every industry into Microsoft’s umbrella needs to stop, too. Everywhere you look, they own something. There’s barely any consumer choice anymore, and that’s bad for consumers–and the industry at-large, frankly.