You’d be hard-pressed to find an organization in Canada that doesn’t use software from Microsoft Corp. Yet the firm is still dogged by customer complaints around security and fears of vendor lock-in through maintenance programs.
Independent research firm Directions on Microsoft Inc., which focuses solely on Microsoft, in March released a to-do list for the firm in 2005 to achieve better relationships with its customers.
In terms of security, Directions said nowadays, users’ PCs need to be veritable fortresses equipped with antivirus, the latest security patches, service packs and anti-spyware programs before they can be safely connected to the Internet.
Although, Microsoft has made concerted efforts to improve the security of its products, the company is still losing the battle, Directions said. And although Microsoft isn’t necessarily at fault, it is still in a good position to do more to improve security, Directions said.
Dale Maw, regional director of information technology at Niagara Health Region in St. Catharines, Ont. also suggested that Microsoft create better tools for deploying patches faster, but said users need to take more responsibility for their own infrastructures.
“Microsoft is doing a fairly good job of keeping us informed when there is a security patch needed but companies are doing dreadful jobs of applying those patches. So whose fault is that?” he said.
Scott Riddell, manager, IT solutions at London Drugs Ltd. in Richmond, B.C. agreed, saying users still need to be taught to recognize risky situations. Also he said organizations need to employ tools to recognize and neutralize threats, a fast patch rollout process.
Jill Schoolenberg, director of Windows business at Microsoft Canada Co. in Mississauga, Ont., said Microsoft is working with industry partners and Internet service providers (ISPs) for security. In terms of authentication she said Microsoft is working on a way to authenticate e-mail before it enters the mail server.
MAPPING IT OUT
Directions points out in its report that Microsoft does not provide enough details about its products’ roadmaps, notably Windows XP, Office and Exchange. “Without credible product roadmaps, it’s harder and riskier to invest in Microsoft and its products,” said Rob Helm, director of research at Directions on Microsoft. Maw agreed that Microsoft should be more clear about its product plans but he said it’s not a big issue for his organization because it is not on the bleeding edge technology-wise.
Schoolenberg said she understands why customers would want clearer roadmaps and she thinks Microsoft is getting better at predicting when products will be on the market. “I think the challenge is that launching a product is not just about a date,” she explained, adding that customers always want to know what the specific release date will be.
“The date is one thing but quality comes first, and then there’s the date, and the features, so development groups are always trying to balance those three things out.” Directions also thinks Microsoft needs to do a better job of convincing customers to migrate to newer versions of their Microsoft software. But Riddell doesn’t think companies stick with older versions just because the legacy apps are good enough.
He said that newer versions often require faster hardware, which can be expensive to upgrade.
Justifying an upgrade to a better machine does require careful analysis of new features. “Microsoft could do a better job of marketing those features to the user community and business leaders, not just to the technologists,” he said. Schoolenberg said in Canada, Microsoft has had very good renewal rates on its maintenance plans, although it has been a challenge in other markets.
And with Longhorn, that’s where Directions thinks Microsoft should be putting more energy — into getting developers excited about developing for Longhorn on the .Net framework. Riddell thinks Windows developers will eventually adopt .Net, but just not as quickly as Microsoft had hoped for.
Also, he said Java IDEs offer more cross-platform support than the .Net framework, which is still a big plus for developers.