Fellow 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.
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