Microsoft used to have a internal mantra known as “Embrace, Extend, Extinguish” that helped to ensure that they always maintained market dominance. This was the driving force behind Internet Explorer, Microsoft Edge, Microsoft’s Microsoft Java Virtual Machine, Microsoft Virtual PC and countless other products. This strategy essentially had Microsoft embracing promising new technologies and extending the features of the technology (often by adding exclusive features that work best on Windows) and then using their newfound market dominance to destroy the competing products. Aside from a few legal battles, this strategy often proved very successful for Microsoft however for some unknown reason, Microsoft decided to take a different approach with Google’s line of products – “Troll, Smear and Embrace”. I have compiled a list of my top 3 examples.
Beginning at the end of 2012 and lasting for 2 years, Microsoft begin a smear campaign to attack Google Search and GMail. The campaign was designed to convince users to start using Bing for their searches and migrate to Outlook.com instead of GMail. This attack pointed out the fact that Google uses the context of your activity to serve targeted ads – essentially Google’s primary way of making money. Microsoft famously used their marketing dominance to pre-load Windows with Internet Explorer/Edge pre-configured to use Bing as the default search engine and gladly assisted people setting up a new Windows 8/8.1 or 10 computer with creating a Outlook.com email address to allow for several Windows 10 features to work.
From the beginning Microsoft was criticized for their move with some writers even calling the campaign “sleazy” and pathetic. An incredible amount of money was spent on this campaign to produce high-quality content (just lacking truth).
Microsoft produced several cringe-worthy commercials that were designed to attack Google at every chance they got. Microsoft’s marketing department even enlisted the help of the cast of “Pawn Stars” to troll Chromebooks, sequentially saying that they are not laptops because they don’t have Microsoft Windows or Microsoft Office an saying that they are completely useless offline – needless to say that the commercial aged as well as the Pawn Stars show.
Admittedly the first few generations of Chromebooks were glorified web browsers but as most users, even in 2011, were already making the shift from traditional installed applications to web applications. This was a time where new cloud storage providers were popping up every day and social networking websites were becoming the primary reason for most people to get online – things that are useless anyway while online. Maybe the worst problem is that Chromebooks may have been ahead of their time as most people always have access to WiFi.
Microsoft was fast to also point out that the results of a Google search will depend more on the budget of the website rather than the quality of the content so Google can maximize revenue. This is patently false, there are no legitimate ways to pay to get to the top of Google – you need to have quality content.
Finally the final nail in the coffin of Scroogled was how Microsoft pointed out how Google tracks/shares your activities between your devices such as browser history (and bookmarks). Of course Microsoft conveniently leaves out that users must opt into this by signing into the device with their Google account. Microsoft also leaves out the fact that users can opt-out of any tracking via their Google Dashboard — unlike the Telemetry features in Windows 10. Microsoft’s Telemetry feature collects a frightening amount of data including where a user clicks, installed applications and usage patterns… oh and it is almost impossible to disable on “consumer” editions of Windows.
Tech outlets and websites were quick to point out the hypocrisy in Microsoft’s marketing materials and the campaign was quietly killed off in 2014. Microsoft has also distanced themselves from the campaign almost entirely and deleted all references to it on the official Microsoft blog. The domains for Scroogled now redirect to a tasteful feature breakdown between Google, Microsoft and other competitors. Fragments of the Scroogled campaign can still be found online as the official YouTube channel
To Microsoft’s credit, this may have prompted Google to respond by them releasing a statement that they were going to discontinue scanning e-mail context to serve ads – as Lauren Weinstein points out, this never had any privacy implications either way.
In 2017 Microsoft began to embrace Chromebooks, even to the point that they optimized the Android versions of Microsoft Office to take full advantage of Chromebooks in late 2017. Microsoft poured a lot of resources into the web versions of the Microsoft Office suite which also work flawlessly on Chromebooks and the Chrome web browser. Microsoft finally understood that the future is on the web for most users. Sadly the only thing that Microsoft has not accepted is that nobody actually wants to use Bing.
Edge is Better Than Chrome
If you are a typical Windows user, you likely only use Microsoft Edge for one purpose – to download Chrome. This apparently started to annoy Microsoft in late 2017 when they decide to start adding features to Bing, Edge and even Windows in order to plead with people to stick with Edge. It is safe to say that Microsoft was a bit butt-hurt due to the abysmal usage rates of Edge. Microsoft not only attacked Google but also Mozilla’s Firefox browser in this campaign.
Between 2017 and early 2019, if you were to type “Chrome” or “Chrome Download” into the Edge search bar (which defaults to Bing as the search engine), you would be shown a massive ad that claims that Edge was faster, more secure and would increase your laptop’s battery life. The claim of Edge being more secure was patently false and the claim of Edge being faster was also under dispute. There may have been a bit of truth to the battery life claim but the numbers in real-world testing turned out to be negligible at best.
Microsoft also released a update to Windows 10 that was automatically installed on users computers without consent as a Windows Update that started to nag users who were using Firefox and Chrome by placing ads in the Windows notification area and system tray. This “Windows Update” was essentially “Adware”.
Finally if you ever tried to change your default browser, Windows would not let Edge go down without a fight. You would be given a prompt begging you to continue using Edge. It is quite pathetic actually.
Fast forward to 2019 and out of nowhere Microsoft announced that development of the “Chakra” engine that powered Microsoft Edge would cease and Microsoft would be rewriting Edge around the Chromium web browser – the open source version of Chrome. This is essentially adding a Microsoft Skin on top of Chrome and calling it Edge. Microsoft’s new Chromium based Edge even plays nicely with applications in the Chrome Web Store. Microsoft quietly pulled all of the videos on their YouTube channel that claimed that Edge was more secure, faster and has better battery life. As far as we can tell, the only major feature changes Microsoft made was to remove the Google Account Sync features and default the search engine to Bing. At least this change may actually give Windows users a reason to stick with Edge – of course this really wont cause anyone to want to use Bing as the first thing they will look for is how to change to a different search engine.
On a silver lining, Microsoft has open sourced the Chakra Engine so it may eventually see a new life in a future browser.
Windows 10 Mobile/Windows RT vs Android (Google Play Store)
There was a time where Microsoft had dominance in the Smartphone industry with its major competitors at the time being Palm, Blackberry(RIM) an Symbian. Windows CE and Pocket PC phones were packed with features that allowed them to grow to market dominance and eventually snuff out all of their competitors. I even rocked a PPC7600 smartphone for 2 years. Microsoft believed that they were unstoppable in the field until the release of two new mobile operating systems that quickly cause Microsoft to hemorrhage their entire share of the smartphone market in a few years. These two new competitors were Android and iOS.
Microsoft did not attack Apple’s iOS except for a brief (and comical) statement from Future CEO, Steve Ballmer on how the iPhone will not appeal to businesses as it does not have a physical keyboard. This mindset turned out to be one of Ballmer’s biggest regrets but then again, Microsoft was still focusing on phones such as the Kin and media players such as the Zune.
Unlike the iPhone however, the first generation Android Phones did have a physical keyboard but Microsoft did not see them as a threat at first.
When Microsoft’s marketshare of smartphone users started to take a nosedive, Microsoft went into full damage control. At first they went to Nokia (eventually buying them) and creating a new breed of Windows Phone that had a amazing camera such as the insane Nokia Lumia 1020’s 41 Megapixel Camera which was a camera first with a phone as a afterthought. During this time, Microsoft’s commercials were comical and admittedly well done. They poked fun of Apple and Android users, again focusing on the camera over the other features of the phone. Of course, in the end the campaign did not save Windows Phones.
Around the same time, Microsoft also started to feel the pressure due to slumping Netbook sales in favor of Android Tablets and the iPad. Microsoft tried to rebound with a tablet offering own – enter Windows RT tablets made by Nokia and Microsoft (Surface RT). Microsoft’s entry into the ARM tablet field was seen as a massive failure with most Windows RT devices being offloaded at fire sales.
Microsoft was done playing by the rules of good sportsmanship and decided to resort to their sleazy tactics again. This time Microsoft decided to take direct aim at Android, specifically the Google App Store (later renamed to Google Play). Microsoft specifically attacked that Google shares information with the App developer of paid applications such as your name and email address without your permission in another Scroogled Commercial.
Yes, Google does share information about you, the customer, to the developers that you purchase your application from however the premise of this topic is flawed as you would also be shocked to learn that eBay shares your information with the sellers that you buy products from and so does Amazon and countless other “marketplaces”. In this case, Google is a middle-man that processes the payment and takes care of distribution – The app developers are responsible for taking care of all customer support on the applications they release.
The last problem with this is video is the fact that Google does not keep this a secret, it is outlined in the Terms of Service –
Information about You. Google’s privacy policies explain how we treat your personal data and protect your privacy when using Google Play. Google may need to provide your personal information, such as your name and email address, to Providers for the purposes of processing your transactions or provisioning Content to you. Providers agree to use this information in accordance with their privacy policies.
Whenever a user logs into the Play Store on a new Android Device, they must accept the Terms of Service before they are granted access to the play store. Furthermore upon purchasing an application, they must also agree to the Terms of Service on the payment screen.
I would agree that The Terms of Service is a great place to hide information like that however failure to read an understand what rights you have and what you are giving up before hitting Agree is hardly an excuse.
We share your personal data with your consent or to complete any transaction or provide any product you have requested or authorized. We also share data with Microsoft-controlled affiliates and subsidiaries; with vendors working on our behalf; when required by law or to respond to legal process; to protect our customers; to protect lives; to maintain the security of our products; and to protect the rights and property of Microsoft and its customers.
In 2017, things started to shift with Microsoft who is now beginning to embrace Android. Microsoft has started carrying “Microsoft Edition” Samsung Galaxy S8/S8+/Note8/S9/S9+/Note 9 Phones (running Android) and pre-loaded with Microsoft’s applications alongside the standard Google Apps. Microsoft has put a lot of work in optimizing MS Office to work properly on Android Phones/Tablets and Chromebooks. Microsoft has even begun embracing Samsung’s Dex platform and even sells Dex stations in their retail stores. Sadly these phones also have the Bing application installed.
Microsoft is also embracing Android even more in Windows 10 by offering a deep level of integration that includes screen mirroring and data sync. Microsoft even has an application to help you get their products setup on any Android Device – iOS too in a very limited capacity. In less than 10 years, Microsoft went from attacking Android to recommending it to their users as a preferred solution – even to business customers.
This article was not only designed to criticize Microsoft but offer some constructive feedback. You have proven time and time again that you can be an amazing software company when you embrace the technology that people in the market use. You do not need to destroy other products when you may be able to offer a superior product. You look silly, vindictive and immature when you smear your competition. Based on the actions of Microsoft, they seem to resort to these sleazy tactics when they realize they are failing.
Microsoft Office has improved a lot over the past few years and as a Office365 subscriber, I do use it although I do feel that Google Docs works better for my current workflow. I would love to see a native Linux Version so I dont need to resort to Crossovers.
Visual Studio Code is by far one of the best code editors on the internet. I love how it works flawlessly on Linux and even works nicely on Crostini. I would even offer to pay money for a “premium” version of this exact product. Visual Studio Code is actually superior to Visual Studio 2018/2019.
Microsoft Azure and Microsoft’s Cloud Computing is amazing and keeps getting better since Microsoft started to embrace more Open Source solutions such as Linux Apache, NGINX and MySQL.
Microsoft has proven they can be a team player as they have worked to open source several applications such as the Chakra Engine, Windows Calculator and even the Explorer.exe that was at the core of Windows 2.0. Lets not forget about Visual Studio Code also being open source. Microsoft has also contributed a lot to the Linux Kernel.
The hardest pill for Microsoft is that Windows should no longer be the core product of Microsoft. Technology is evolving at a pace that Windows makes little sense for a typical customer who spends 99% of their time in a browser. I will write my opinion on this in the future.