Is Microsoft good at actual software?


Microsoft is probably the most experienced software company in the world. They have been around developing an OS and Major Productivity package as well as serious Enterprise software for almost 40 years now. I can’t think of any company right off hand with that much experience. Apple has been around almost as long but they were never just software focused.

I am just wondering shouldn’t they be better at it than they are? Don’t get me wrong they have covered a lot of ground and I respect that, but are they considered the best? Just curious what people are thinking.

Comments (61)

61 responses to “Is Microsoft good at actual software?”

  1. ErichK

    I used to think they were the best, but now I think I'm more of the opinion that they are one of many who are good at their craft. They seem to have way more competition than they used to.

  2. wright_is

    There are plenty of computer companies that pre-date Microsoft by many years or decades...

    • Darekmeridian

      In reply to wright_is:

      Well sure computer companies that predate Microsoft but I asked about software companies back in the day there was Sun, AT&T Labs, IBM, SCO, but not all of them were software focused. Most of these old companies made software out of necessity to run their hardware they wanted to sell. Microsoft was mostly of the opinion that they wanted to make computing easier. Unless I am missing something?

      • F4IL

        In reply to Darekmeridian:

        Although not exclusively a software company, Sun is famous for Java, dTrace, zfs, zones, (SunOS) Solaris, the precursor to Open/Libre Office, MySQL, VirtualBox, etc. Among other things (HW), they created some pretty impressive tech but due to their enterprise focus, I guess they were never popular in the consumer space.

        • skane2600

          In reply to F4IL:

          Solaris was a Unix clone (with some enhancements), Open/Libre Office started as Star Office by StarDivision, MySQL was created by MySQL AB, and VirtualBox was created by Innotek GmbH. Sun enhanced these products presumably, but didn't invent them.

          • F4IL

            In reply to skane2600:

            Oh yes, i'm not saying they invented all the above, just that Sun was the driving force behind their development.

            • hrlngrv

              In reply to F4IL:

              StarDivision developed StarOffice through version 5.2 for 14 years before Sun bought them in late 1999. Open to debate how much Sun added between StarOffice 6/OpenOffice beta in 2001 and StarOffice 9/OpenOffice 3 in 2009 before Oracle bought Sun in 2010.

              • F4IL

                In reply to hrlngrv:

                Interesting. Is it open to debate that they (Sun) open sourced it only a year later (2000), giving it a chance to live on and keep improving through 2018? Their past actions resulted in high quality software today and that (of course) is fact. My point is that Sun were good stewards of the software technologies they invented and/or acquired. They, like many others, could easily just keep it closed source and drive it to the ground based on profitability and/or market share.

                • skane2600

                  In reply to F4IL:

                  I think in the context of this discussion stewardship and maintenance aren't really relevant. Better to focus on Sun's real software accomplishments such as Java.

                  I don't think Sun played a unique role in whatever quality software has or doesn't have today - just one player among many. Nor do I see a lot of virtue in open sourcing software that that can't be sustained by market demand while holding more profitable software closely. Sun and now Oracle have no problem going to court to protect their intellectual property when profit is on the line.

  3. dcdevito

    I think the best Microsoft (software) products are:

    1. Excel
    2. Visual Studio
    3. Windows 95
    4. Windows XP
    5. Exchange Server
    6. Flight Simulator

    The rest are good/adequate/average

    • hrlngrv

      In reply to dcdevito:

      When was the last version of Flight Simulator MSFT developed? More than a decade ago?

      Excel is not without its warts, arguably top among them being it's inability to open multiple files from different directories with the same base filename, e.g., C:\foo\xyz.xlsx and C:\bar\xyz.xlsx in the same instance. From my modest research, it's unique among Windows applications able to open multiple files in this particular limitation.

    • moruobai

      In reply to dcdevito:

      Excel!! Excel is one of the greatest MoFo pieces of software ever written. An absolute masterpiece!!

      A few others perhaps worth a mention?

      + Outlook. Outlook is freaking amazing

      + OneNote

      + PowerPoint. Everyone hates it, but how rare it is to see a formal presentation without it!

      + Word

      + Windows Media Center - discontinued years ago but still unrivaled in many ways

      + Windows 7 - surprised this didn't make the list with XP and 95. All three were gems!

      + Age of Empires 2!!

  4. Jules Wombat

    Microsoft used to be really good at Software and supporting Software Developers. But they cannot seem to write robust browser software code anymore. Edge is appalling piece of software. Windows is subject constant update cycles, to overcome bugs and security flaws whilst only offering trvial and pointless feature updates. Their once great developer package Visual Studio got too bloated, so they had to release VS code to recover developers flocking away to light touch IDEs. The core .NET developoment stack has contracted in capability, with the 15 year old Windows Forms offering MORE desktop toolbox functionality (c.f. built in Charts) than the failed UWP development reliane upon third party NuGet packages to offer any reasonbable level of business funcitonality !

    Yep Microsoft has lost its Software MoJo, and instead see their future in constantly churning the Azure Servies, with 'Here Today Gone Tomorrow' development features. Its no wonder that Developers are no longer inspired at Microsoft Builds.

    • ecumenical

      In reply to Jules_Wombat:

      If MS is no longer any good at supporting software developers and people are flocking away from Visual Studio, why do they control the #1 and #2 spots for developer environments in the latest Stack Overflow survey and 35% more market share than they did 2 years ago?

    • curtisspendlove

      In reply to Jules_Wombat:

      Visual Studio is still the best IDE available, especially if working with MS languages.

      VS Code is arguably he best light weight code editor available.

      But it was created to support a different style of programming, not because VS was too big or bloated. Sometimes you need a complex IDE, sometimes something lighter is better.

      • hrlngrv

        In reply to curtisspendlove:

        . . . VS Code is arguably he best light weight code editor available. . . .

        How do you define light weight? Lighter than Visual Studio doesn't mean light.

        Visual Studio Code uses a lot more resources than Notepad++.

        • ecumenical

          In reply to hrlngrv:

          It's inevitably an arbitrary definition. Some people think Notepad++ is too heavy compared to Notepad or TextEdit. The point is that VS Code has rapidly become one of, if not the, most popular non-IDE dev environments.

        • curtisspendlove

          In reply to hrlngrv:

          “Visual Studio Code uses a lot more resources than Notepad++.”

          Yes. Essentially I meant “not an IDE”. Applications commonly referred to as “text editors” instead of Integrated Development Environments.

          But the the lines are blurred. And VS Code is definitely heavy. Especially if loaded up with some plugins.

      • Jules Wombat

        In reply to curtisspendlove:

        Yep my preferred development choice is C# in visual studio. But the VS studio IDE is a lot more fragile, convoluted of late. Ten years ago I could rough up a quick desktop WinForms Application in VS2008 with lost of features. It is a lot slower and cumbersome to do this now in UWP, as the fuynctionality scope is a lot smaller (no Charts etc) so I have to hunt around for third party components, for a less stable solution.

        Modern Developers moving to Python etc will use PyCharm, PyDev or VS Code in prefercne to 'full blown IDEs. Visual Studio may be great for Microsoft Language development, but that is diminishing marketshare with Microsoft itself emphasing, JavaScript Python etc.

        The Visual Studio and Development teams used to inspire us at Build. This is no longer the case.

  5. MutualCore

    Well Flight Simulator was considered an innovative piece of software back in the 1980s...

    But all joking aside, Visual Studio is either amazing or a monstrosity depending on how you use it.

  6. skane2600

    I don't think asking if a company is the best at software is a reasonable question. First, because a company is a collection of individuals and the membership of that collection varies over the years. Second, a company like MS has a lot of different software and the quality of that software can vary from product to product.

    Products should always be evaluated on their specific qualities or flaws, not on which company created them or what process was used to develop them.

    • wright_is

      In reply to skane2600:

      The other problem Microsoft has, is that they are caught in the Legacy trap, whilst trying to move forward. They can't throw out the crap code, because users rely on it and businesses won't let them abandon it.

      Other software companies make arbitrary decisions about crap code and just cut users off and make them update to newer, more modern software. MS has to try and plaster over the old cracks with new software. If they make a cut and throw Win32 in the bin, Windows would be a lot more modern and reliable, but none of the "classic" software would work

      I find it amusing, that users rant about Android being fragmented and users being left behind and how their devices aren't being update and are insecure, they are enthusiastic about upgrading to the latest version of iOS or macOS, yet berate Microsoft for trying to do the same to Windows...

      I guess it just shows which are the real work tools and which are just toys.

      • skane2600

        In reply to wright_is:

        I don't think legacy implies crap code. Recent versions of iOS have had more critical problems than Windows does.

        It would be foolish for Microsoft to give up their cash cow on the basis of some "newer is always better" ethic. If they threw out Win32 it would make Windows more "modern" in the trivial sense of "more recent" but the claim that such a new Windows would be more secure is just speculation.

        IMO, what Microsoft should have done years ago was make a mobile OS, not called Windows that was 100% legacy free and designed specifically for mobile use without any delusions of "desktophood". Both Apple and Google were wildly succeeded by taking that approach.

      • hrlngrv

        In reply to wright_is:

        . . . throw out the crap code . . .

        That crap would be the main value to using Windows for most people.

        MSFT has dropped support for 16-bit MS-DOS and Windows software, though there's DOSBox for those who insist on still using it. Dropping support for Win32 would be not just learning nothing from Windows 8, but actually deciding to go further down the path of new for the sake of new while burning any lines of retreat.

        People don't use Windows PCs just to run Windows and bask in the glow of its UI. Nor, apparently, do they use Windows PCs to run Store apps, either UWP or packaged desktop software. People use Windows PCs to run what you're calling crap. The main value to Windows is all the application software which can run under it, and the vast majority of that software both in terms of numbers of titles and in terms of ISV revenues is Win32 software. If MSFT wants to remain relevant, it can't risk throwing Win32 in the bin.

    • Darekmeridian

      In reply to skane2600:

      Well I didn't really ask if they were the best, I asked if they were good at software. The nature of software makes it hard to find the best, because someone is always out there at least attempting something better.

      I am trying to get a sense if people think what Microsoft is doing and has done in the past is good product overall, and if it should be better or are they about where they should be.

      • skane2600

        In reply to Darekmeridian:

        I think you did ask: "Don’t get me wrong they have covered a lot of ground and I respect that, but are they considered the best?"

      • hrlngrv

        In reply to Darekmeridian:

        Since Windows 3.1, Windows has been pretty good. FWLIW now, MS-DOS 5 and 6.x were pretty good. I had issues with Windows ME, but it seems it was OK for some, dreck for others. That happens. Also personally, my first NT4 home PC was the last new computer experience I've had with Windows PCs. Yes, I've bought a few new PCs in the last 20 years, but none have been particularly exciting.

        Office is competently implemented but bloated. Same could be said about Visual Studio.

        • skane2600

          In reply to hrlngrv:

          The pre-NT versions of Windows were OK but fragile due to real mode code. In the late 90s early 2000s I was working for a company that used cc:Mail for email and most of the company used Windows 98 or Windows ME. My group was working on a project that required NT, so we all were using it in our offices. The terrible cc:Mail would crash everyone's Windows PCs on a regular basis while those of us running NT would just keep working.

  7. jimchamplin

    It seems as a whole, software quality is on the ebb.

  8. Bats

    This is a very easy question to answer: NO.

    Microsoft Money and Small Business Accounting could not best Quicken and Quickbooks.

    Street and Maps got pummelled by online sources Mapquest and Google Maps

    No one really buys or uses Outlook/Outlook Express or (perhaps) Microsoft Mail on a personal level, but rather opt for the webmail.

    Let's not forget PictureIt, Photodraw (versions 1 and 2) .....failed.

    Remember Frontpage? Or how about those suite of tools? I think they were called Windows Live Tools, like movie maker? Well, I forgot what they were called.....DONE.

    LOL...even Microsoft Onecare.....terrible and could not last.

    There was also Microsoft Games (or something like that).....GONE due to unpopularity.

    Microsoft just isn't a very good software company (and hardware too).

    • irfaanwahid

      In reply to Bats:

      You are somewhat right.

      But you have to give credit where its due. They are now transitioning from pure software company to more cloud providers.

      They have done a very good job with Office 365 and now MS 365. O365 is a very successful business. My company moved from on prem Exchange to now O365. It's one of the best services out there.

      They can't burry their heads and pretend it is only Windows world and the most important OS. It is not. Hence as a company they are doing the right thing, moving to cloud.

      For consumers Outlook may not matter, but in my 12 years career I've never seen a company not using Outlook.

      Companies do have their hits and flops, & MS is no exception but they are doing really well now, Azure, O365, Surface brand is all doing great.

    • skane2600

      In reply to Bats:

      One can always point to failed products for any company. Like Google in recent years, Microsoft in it's heyday with plenty of cash on hand dipped their toe in a number of categories to see if they could expand there.

    • Waethorn

      In reply to Bats:

      Well, OneCare was the least resource-consuming security product, and it introduced multi-PC licensing to the AV world. It didn't rate well with AV testing metrics, but I don't believe that they do really offer a realistic assessment of security threats in the wild anyway. More people get rogueware type software like what Malwarebytes detects than they do of traditional viruses.

      Frontpage was replaced with Expression software, but it didn't last before it was considered obsolete for HTML5 design. Microsoft, along with lots of other companies, believe that HTML5 is built for web app development, not WYSIWYG static page design.

      • MikeGalos

        In reply to Waethorn:

        OneCare also vastly dropped the cost of anti-malware. You might recall that, way back then when it came out, you typically had to buy a copy of the malware protection engine every year or two and additionally buy an annual subscription every year to updated virus signatures. And each of those purchases cost more for one PC than Microsoft charged for a multi-PC license.

    • illuminated

      In reply to Bats:

      Very good explanation. Now I only have a very big logical problem. With pretty much 100% failed products it is very difficult to explain Microsoft's billions in revenue.

  9. ErichK

    What I always found interesting was how Microsoft has almost always had other companies nipping very closely at their heels. Before Excel became a big thing, there was Lotus 1-2-3 and Quattro. Before Word, there was WordPerfect, WordStar, Professional Write, etc. For programming you had Microsoft's compilers, but then there was the excellent Turbo Pascal and subsequent compilers from Borland. Even for operating systems -- DR-DOS comes to mind, back in the DOS days.

    • jimchamplin

      In reply to ErichK:

      GEM, DeskMate and DeskMate/X, OS/2 2 and 3, and GEOS were a few good competitors to Windows as well. Most were GUIs for DOS but OS/2 was of course a whole different breed.

    • hrlngrv

      In reply to ErichK:

      Given the actual timelines, it'd be more accurate to say Excel was nipping at 1-2-3's heals until Lotus came out with a complete POS first Windows version of 1-2-3. Likewise Word vis-a-vis WordPerfect. Then there was the era of Windows ain't done till Lotus won't run.

      Sadly for MSFT, Amazon, Apple, Google, Oracle and other ISVs have learned a lot from the nonstop cavalcade of mistakes MSFT's competitors in the 1980s and 1990s kept making on their pathways to the scrap heap of tech history.

  10. Minke

    I think all of the top companies compete for the best talent, and they all really try to make great software. Microsoft is handicapped by their legacy systems that continue to be supported, and by the fact that they do not control the hardware (in most cases). It is a lot easier to create great software when you also build the machine it will run on and you also are able to discard compatibility with a myriad of legacy stuff. Frankly, I am often amazed that current generation Microsoft software works as well as it does. Most software today suffers from "feature creep." They keep larding on more and more and more stuff that almost nobody ever uses, making things more and more difficult to use for 90% of us. Plus horrible UI.

  11. rameshthanikodi

    The problem with the software business is the business of software. It has changed radically over the years, and at more than one juncture, Microsoft has struggled to meet their goals of keeping the business afloat vs investing the technology that would move them forward.

  12. hrlngrv

    . . . I can’t think of any company right off hand with that much experience. . . .

    SAS Institute came immediately to mind. If you go back to its academic origins, it's roughly a decade older than MSFT. Then there's IBM. Plus most military aircraft manufacturers who started writing avionics software a few decades before Bill Gates wrote his first BASIC interpreter.

    Anyway, it's much more difficult for MSFT to write Windows so that it works with any permutation of base systems and peripherals all of which are, in theory, Windows compatible than it is for Apple to write macOS to work only with Macs and Mac compatible peripherals or iOS for iPhones and iPads or specialized computer makers for their own OSes or embedded system software to run on their own hardware.

    As for best, that's subjective. Windows used to be broadly customizable. I'm thinking of LiteStep and BBWin from Windows 95 through Windows XP. Windows Vista started breaking comprehensive alternatives to the Explorer desktop. By Windows 7 only a few still worked. From Windows 8, only a few parts of the Explorer desktop can be easily replaced, e.g., Start menu replacements. For me, that customizability put Windows on an even plane with Linux. These days, if customization is important, Linux is the only alternative.

  13. longhorn

    With someone like Nadella leading the company you can't blame MS developers for losing their passion. Windows isn't important anymore. It's all about "saving the world" now.

    • RR

      In reply to longhorn:

      You are mistaken. Nadella is a ruthless businessman. He saves the world because he recognizes that is what important constituents (many of them developers) want him to say. It is passe that in Silicon Valley, they cant simply make a thing, make their money and shut up it has to be because they are saving the world. Don't be evil, etc. I am not necessarily saying the two are incompatible. Maybe you are not in the developer crowd he is targeting with the message, or maybe the message will fall on deaf ears, being that those same developers already answered another siren call, but that is what he is doing.

  14. BlackForestHam

    Software engineeeing in a production context is a multifaceted endeavor, extending well beyond just the nuts and bolts of programming. Shops are an organism composed of human beings in cooperative capacities – – design, development, theoretical, sales and marketing, project management, etc. Sometimes these relationships become adversarial, even if unintentionally so, and individual politics/agendas will compromise the quality of a shop’s output.

    Companies like Microsoft, and their alumni, are in a great position to talk about the challenges they have faced and attempted to conquer over their existence. But white papers and management texts can only go so far. People are people.

    • Darekmeridian

      In reply to BlackForestHam:

      Good point, the politics and leadership of a large company can sometimes hamper quality.

      I am just thinking with so much experience and clear company goals there would be ways immunize the business political and leadership whims, but of course that's just wishful thinking,

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