Ford vs. Microsoft

Post ImageFellow blogger Larry Borsato and I have a friendly little discussion taking place in which we’re comparing Ford and Microsoft. It started with Larry’s comments on Microsoft’s $100 million campaign promoting the new version of Office and the comment I made on that post. Larry then posted a pretty indepth comparison of Ford and Microsoft:

He has an excellent point, and though it is difficult to compare the tangible Ford truck with the less tangible software, I feel it necessary to try.

And he does a pretty good job too, but there’s a few things I felt it was important to point out. Let me start with some of the things I disagree with.

Not Quite!

First of all, I guess it is technically correct that software doesn’t “wear out” in the same way a mechanical product does. On the other hand, the “platform” that your Ford truck requires to work will change very little in say, 20 years. What do I mean by that? Well your Ford truck requires roads and highways to operate on. Your operating system and by extension the software applications that run on top of it require a computer with certain hardware components. In 20 years, roads won’t change much, but your computer hardware sure will.

I’m not sure this is really a software issue:

So let’s use my laptop that died the other day as a basis for comparison. So basically my Ford truck has just stopped working, and a bunch of indicator lights are lit. The laptop indicated that the system file was corrupt; that I should use the Windows XP CD to restore it. Ok, but I didn’t get one with my PC, so now I had to buy a copy for $129.

Why didn’t you get a restore CD? Almost all major computer manufacturers provide a restore CD with their computers, so in the worst case, you can restore your machine to the state it was when you purchased it. And they work quite well too! I just restored a Sony laptop for a client last week, and it was extremely simple. Not having a restore CD isn’t so much a Microsoft issue as it is a vendor issue. It’s kind of like buying your Ford from a dealer that neglected to give you a spare tire (or donut spare). You can still use the truck, but if something goes wrong, you’ll likely need that spare tire.

I think patches are kind of like oil changes. You need an oil change once in a while to keep your vehicle running smoothly, just like you need a patch once in a while to keep your software running smoothly. I realize that an oil change doesn’t “fix” anything whereas a patch is usually repairing some problem, but intuitively they are the same – something that needs to be done once in a while. And in XP, Microsoft has made patches pretty painless with Automatic Updates – you can’t have your oil changed automatically.

The other argument is that a Ford truck never requires something like Service Pack 2, where the guts are changed and improved. While that’s true, think of it this way. If Ford decides to change the interface of the truck to make something easier, you have to buy a new truck to get it. With SP2, Microsoft made many things much simpler, like wireless connections for example, and they made it available for free (unlike Apple). That’s a feature thing though, what about problems? Well vehicles are not immune, and there have been many recalls over the years. Faulty tires, driving columns that would catch fire, etc. How to fix them? You’ve got to take your vehicle in to have it serviced. With your computer, you’ve just got to download and install a service pack. It’s fairly unobtrusive by comparison.

Room For Improvement

Now there are many areas that software, and in particular Windows, can be improved. One such area is in backups – they are far too hard. Restoring your computer from a CD may allow it to become operational again, but all of your data is lost. This is a problem, and it needs to be easier! Unfortunately, part of the problem lies with hard drives, which are not the most reliable pieces of machinery ever invented. Software plays an important role though too.

Most of all, a year after I buy an F-150, Ford may try to entice me with a new Ford based on more power, more features, or new body styling, just like Microsoft. But they won’t tell me how stupid I am to have bought last year’s model; that I’m a dinosaur because I’m not buying the newer model. In fact, Ford is proud of the fact that their cars are durable.

Good point. Microsoft doesn’t seem very proud of their old operating systems, but it is kind of related to what I mentioned above – the roads are still the same, but the computers are quite a bit different.

Software reboots need to be eliminated! So far the stuff I have read about Vista shows that progress is being made in this department – fewer reboots required when changing operating system files. This needs to get to zero reboots, but that will take time.

And my truck won’t start driving more slowly as the day goes on. Provided I get regular oil changes of course.

Too true. The operating system needs to do a much better job of keeping things running smoothly. In the software world, the “regular oil changes” are akin to defragmenting and memory management, both of which a user should never have to see. They should just happen automatically in the background.

It Takes Time

Ford wasn’t always very reliable (and some would argue they aren’t today either when compared to Toyota). It took time for Ford vehicles to get to the point they are at today – over 100 years in fact. By comparison, we’ve really only had ten years of widespread operating system use, since Windows 95. What will software look like in another 90 years?

Read: Larry Borsato

5 thoughts on “Ford vs. Microsoft

  1. Three other key differentiators – IP ownership, customer expectation and interoperability.

    Ford owns (or at least controls) everything about the truck – it decides when everything in it changes, and will likely to its hardest to make sure its suppliers conform. Microsoft is part of an eco-system. Sure it tries hard to influence it from standards to licensing agreements, but it rolls with needs and expectations of others that are no within it’s control.

    That brings me to customer expectation. As mentioned many truck owners want the thing to last 10 years – they don’t car about the new thing. Customers are symiotic with Microsoft these days: Microsoft provides goodies; the customer laps them up and wants more – all at a far greater pace from for vehicles. Vehicle manufacturers know that customers are demanding new stuff so they an milk their existing products for longer – not so with software where demand for competitive advantage affects feature demands. This is also the reason the visible technology in new vehicles is so utterly disappointing – I’m the slave to other customers’ low technology urges; it’s hard to find new vehicles with usb/audio/i-pod hook-ups for examples. With the OS, even the average user demands more and are happy to pay for it whether they need the other 1000+ features or not, when they just wanted say less reboots.

    And lastly. Trucks don’t talk to each other yet (and it would scare the average consumer ‘cos they’d probably fear a virus given all the shock hype in recent years). Software does need to be interoperable, both in terms of intern components (that change in open market eco-system mentioned above, for the customer expectations also mentioned) and with other systems. Brings everyone up to the web services level takes upgrades (though again not necessarily all of the other features Microsoft would have you pay for at the same time). Ironically web services do help you to not have to upgrade old equipment (or perhaps make minimal upgrades) so much but still gain interoperability.

    So in terms of why customers swallow such marketing: customers can partially blame themselves and the cyclic feeding nature of the customer-Microsoft relationship; business (and more recently customer things like P2P) interoperability drive upgrades; plus the open-market eco-system that is the PC/Software industry.


  2. This comparison has been made many times and it is nice to read your fleshed out version. However I think I disagree with a fundamental point wrt patches.

    Patches are not like an oil change, patches are like replacing a tyre or redesigning the chassi. Now you could do some of this at a service station and some of it would require buying a whole new car. The analogy dies here, it just doesn’t work. On top of that a flaw in a car can’t be exploited by attackers from all over the world.

    I am not sure if the analogy holds true for patching.

  3. Colin – you make an excellent point that Microsoft really is only part of the overall ecosystem. I guess Apple is more like Ford, in that they control everything from the hardware to the software. You’re also dead on about customer expectations. Unless they lie every time they release a new product, most new features in Microsoft applications are customer-driven.

    Dominic – thanks for pointing that out. The entire analogy is kind of weak as Larry pointed out, and I kind of agree with you now that patches aren’t really like an oil change. I prefer thinking of defragmentation and memory management as akin to an oil change, as I also pointed out. I guess we should be happy that a flaw in a car cannot yet be exploited around the world (though this day may be coming as vehicles become even more computerized and connected).

  4. This should end the argument

    At a recent computer expo (COMDEX), Bill Gates reportedly compared the computer industry with the auto industry and stated,

    ‘If Ford had kept up with technology like the computer industry has, we would all be driving $25 cars that got 1,000 miles to the gallon.’

    In response to Bill ‘s comments, Ford issued a press release stating :

    If Ford had developed technology like Microsoft, we would all be driving cars with the following characteristics (and I just love this part):

    1. For no reason whatsoever, your car would crash………Twice a day.

    2.. Every time they repainted the lines in the road, you would have to buy a new car.

    3… Occasionally your car would die on the freeway for no reason. You would have to pull to the side of the road, close all of the windows, shut off the car, restart it, and reopen the windows before you could continue. For some reason you would simply accept this.

    4. Occasionally, executing a maneuver such as a left turn would cause your car to shut down and refuse to restart, in which case you would have to reinstall the engine.

    5. Macintosh would make a car that was powered by the sun, was reliable, five times as fast and twice as easy to drive – but would run on only five percent of the roads.

    6. The oil, water temperature, and alternator warning lights would all be replaced by a single ‘This Car Has Performed An Illegal Operation’ warning light.

    I love the next one!!!

    7. The airbag system would ask ‘Are you sure?’ before deploying.

    8. Occasionally, for no reason whatsoever, your car would lock you out and refuse to let you in until you simultaneously lifted the door handle, turned the key and grabbed hold of the radio antenna.

    9. Every time a new car was introduced car buyers would have to learn how to drive all over again because none of the controls would operate in the same manner as the old car.

    10. You’d have to press the ‘Start’ button to turn the engine off.

    PS – I ‘d like to add that when all else fails, you could call ‘ customer service ‘ in some foreign country and be instructed in some foreign language how to fix your car yourself!!!!

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