How much did Microsoft’s quality cost you today?

Windows is rusting, like cars did in the American mid-west during the 1970s.

There’s another problem, too: like cars of that era, Windows is fully loaded with myriad user options that make quality assurance a difficult — if not impossible — undertaking.

Japanese car manufacturers, like the Linux world in the Windows scenario, worked out how to use better metal in their cars and limit the possible user options to a customer-pleasing high common denominator.

Thinking first, then adding things such as fuel economy, gave them an arguable lead in quality and market share that still holds true.

Microsoft was lucky most recently and used a novel DNS trick to thwart the effects of the Blaster crack.

But this isn’t the first sign of rust, as there are (by my count) an accumulation of patches and fixes for Microsoft products now totalling 581 (includes Windows 95, 98, 98SE, ME, Windows 2000 Professional and Windows XP Home/Professional) and 392 more if you count Win 2000 Server editions and Internet Explorer.

Clearly, there is a quality problem.

Microsoft’s quality problems might be killing the Windows goose that laid the golden eggs.

A huge cottage industry has blossomed that manages patches for Microsoft’s largest revenue-garnering products. The populist revolution that fuelled Windows success (and the business model that built Windows-run desktops cost-effectively) is now a group of people who are weary from having to deploy what have become mandatory personal and corporate firewalls.

This is done in the hopes that third-party protection (Symantec, McAfee and so on) will beat Microsoft to a fix whenever a new problem is found.

To hold Microsoft accountable would be foolish. Few systems exist with wholly Microsoft software (including drivers) on them. And therein lies the cop-out: Microsoft isn’t culpable for problems third parties cause and vice versa. Worse, Windows was designed before the Internet.

Software quality standards were different then. Now, all Windows problems from its Win 95 and NT heritage are surfacing.

The world made Microsoft rich because Windows gave them personal power. But the power is waning as frustration levels mount. What new holes will be found?

Henderson is MD of ExtremeLabs and a Network World Global Test Alliance member

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