Goodbye, Bill!

As you might know, today is Bill Gates’ last day as a full-time employee of Microsoft. It’s kind of… odd in a way. Although many feared him and many more hated him, Bill Gates was always there. And, in a very real sense, he was Microsoft. It’s almost as if Paul McCartney left the Beatles or something!

Anyway, in honor of Bill’s departure, eWeek magazine has created this list of the 10 Best and 10 Worst Microsoft products over the years. I read the list and agree with a few of their choices and disagree with others… so much so that I made my own list of the 10 best and 10 worst Microsoft products:


1) Windows XP – Sure, Windows XP had a number of security holes and incompatibilities over the years. But it fully completed Microsoft’s vision of a unified desktop operating system, a dream that began with Windows 2000. And, over the years, Windows XP became a stable and reliable platform for PCs.

2) Windows Server 2003 – What Windows XP did for the desktop, Windows Server 2003 did for the server. Compared to any of its predecessors, Server 2003 is secure, stable, and easy as pie to use. In fact, it’s almost… beautiful, man!

3) Office 2007 – Office 97 was one of the most successful office suites ever… so successful, in fact, that it became the standard UI for all office suites since. Except for Office 2007. With this version of Office, Microsoft introduced the “ribbon” toolbar – which is absolutely awesome (once you get the hang of it). Not to be overlooked is the change in document formats, too. While many have complained about the switch from DOC to DOCX, the new format is so small and convenient that it’s simply too good not to use.

4) Exchange Server 2003 – If you ever had to administer Exchange 5.5, you’ll know why Exchange 2003 makes this list. It’s (mostly) secure out of the box, easy to implement and maintain, and it… just works. When Exchange falls down it’s still a huge pain in the ass to fix, but thankfully, Exchange 2003 doesn’t crash anywhere near as often as 5.5 or 2000.

5) Visual Studio .NET – I’m not a programmer, but I’ve heard programmers rave about VS .NET. In fact, I hear that a lot.

6) Sidewinder – Microsoft’s line of gaming equipment – game pads and joysticks – was (sadly) discontinued in 2003 due to poor sales. Perhaps this is because the stuff was built so well that no one ever needed to buy a new one! I still own a first generation Sidewinder gamepad, and this thing is as indestructible as a Model M keyboard. When I was done playing a game, I’d usually toss the Sidewinder to the floor; I’d then forget it was there and step on it as I stood up… hundreds of times.

7) Visio – OK, so it’s not technically a “Microsoft product”, since MS bought Visio corporation back in 2000. But Visio is still a kick-ass diagramming app. It’s one of those programs that’s simply so much fun to use that I can sit at ny desk and play with it for hours. I’m sure that people that use it every day might disagree… but I love it!

8) Active Server Pages – ASP was an awesome entry to the server-side scripting market. ASP was easy to use and came with great documentation, making it a joy of web developers everwhere.

9) Small Business Server 2003 – It doesn’t seem quite fair to put this on the list, since Windows Server 2003 and Exchange Server 2003 (both huge parts of SBS 2003) are already on the list. But still, SBS 2003 is rock-solid Godsend for any small company that needs a suite of back-end products, and the overall licensing costs for SBS are just sick. What would cost around $20,000 individually is all wrapped up together with user-friendly wizards starting at $599!

10) Live Mesh – It seems a bit presumptions to put a product on this list that hasn’t even been released yet. But if Live Mesh works as advertised, it could be one of the coolest apps ever. Basically, you sign up for a Mesh account, then install a small Mesh client on your desktops, laptops and other mobile devices. You set up file sharing on one (or more) of the devices, and PRESTO! you can log in to your Mesh account from any web browser and have access to the desktops (and files) from those computers. It’s about frickin’ time someone came up with an idea like this, and let’s hope MS’s implementation of it is good.


1) ActiveX – Let’s see… let’s create a web browser. Now, let’s create a plug-in technology for that browser that lets web sites install software on the user’s local machine. Now let’s fill that plug-in technology with so many holes that it’s easier to break into an Internet Explorer-based computer than Helen Keller’s house! ActiveX wasn’t so much a horrible idea – I’m sure MS had visions of corporations building all kinds of useful web apps for their employees. But it was implemented in such a horrible way, and with such naivety (“Spyware? What’s that?”) that it beggars belief.

2) IIS 5 – The web server software that launched a million viruses and trojans. IIS 5 was so bad that Microsoft did near complete rewrite for IIS 6 (which resulted in a much more secure (and stable and easy to use) product.

3) Windows ME – It looked like Windows 2000 but was Windows 9x under the hood. Unfortunately, Windows ME offered none of the stability of Windows 2000 and none of the flexibility of Windows 9x. In fact, Windows ME almost seemd to be the worst parts of the NT and 9x codebases thrown together into one horrible product. Is there anyone out there still using this product? I would have thought that people with decent computers would have upgraded to Windows 2000 and people with older computers would have gone back to Windows 98.

4) Internet Explorer 6 – Fewer products embody the “Swiss Cheese School” of computer secuity design more than IE 6. Although IE 6 was a massive success in terms of the number of users out there, it had (and still has) giant holes a hacker could drive a truck through.

5) Outlook 97 – Although Office 97 was a smashing success, it became so in spite of Outlook 97, not because of it. In fact, Outlook 97 was such a steaming pile of bug-riddled poo that Microsoft offered free upgrades to the (much improved) Outlook 98 on its website. To be fair, part of Outlook 97’s problems came about due to its timing. It was released just before “open standards” (like HTML email) came about. But still, many of Outlook 97’s problems can be directly traced to some bone-headed decisions by Microsoft’s design team. I still have nightmares about Outlook 97.

6) SQL Server 2000 – Hey, speaking of “Swiss Cheese Security”… it’s SQL Server 2000! And not only was SQL Server 2000 a hacker’s magnet, it had a needlessly complex interface that made it as difficult as possible for non DBAs to troubleshoot. I also still have nightmares about supporting SQL 2000.

7) SMS 2.0 – SMS stood for “Systems Management Server”. It was software that was supposed to make life easier for system administrators by polling client computers for inventories and pushing out patches and “approved software” as necessary. The only problem was that SMS was an Olympic-sized pain in the ass to work with. Thankfully, I never had to actually use SMS, but I was close with someone that did, and nothing made this guy swear more than SMS. Nothing. Not rapists, child molestors or terrorists. In fact, if he was given the choice between being raped as a child by a terrorist and using SMS… I think he’d take the rape.

8) SPOT – Back in 1999 (I think) Microsoft announced an exciting new line of products… wrist watches that used FM radio bands to get all sorts of nifty information, like weather forecasts, sports scores and traffic alerts. The world of Dick Tracy had finally arrived! Sadly, Microsoft had apparently never heard of an even newer technology called “cell phones” that could do all that plus actually make phone calls and send text messages, too! To make matters worse, most SPOT watches had monochrome displays and looked like something a Unix geek would have worn back in the 70s – uuuuggggllllyyy. Plus the watches needed recharging every couple of days, making them useless for vacations (and forgetful people, like yours truly). SPOT was truly a solution looking for a problem.

9) Windows NT Server 4.0 – Perhaps this is a controversial choice. After all, NT Server 4.0 wasn’t a totally bad platform in its day, right? I think time has healed most of the wounds caused by NT Server 4.0 – unless you had to actually administer the damn boxes, in which case you probably still have memories of service pack confusion, downloading the “special high-encryption version” of said service pack and other fixes because of US government requirements, needless reboots, frequent and mysterious bluescreens, no USB or Plug and Play… admit it – it’s all coming back to you now, isn’t it? Shiver.

10) Microsoft Bob – No list of “worst Microsoft products” would be complete without mentioning Microsoft Bob, would it? Back in 1995, MS got the idea of creating a cartoon-like interface that would run on the top of Windows. An animated dog (the precursor to the much-hated Clippy from Office 97) would appear on the csreen and walk you through using your computer. Instead of clicking on icons on a desktop, you’d be a “house” and you’d click on objects to manipulate them (such as clicking on a stack of mail to check your email). It was intended to be a friendly interface for non-techincal users (like, say, your grandparents). Instead it was a complete failure. Microsoft Bob routinely makes “Ten Worst Tech Ideas” lists on websites and in magazines. But I won’t fault Microsoft for that. Hell, they were trying to do something useful and innovative with user interafaces (although the end result did, in fact, suck). Poor Boib’s been so beaten up that I just can’t be too mean to him. But hey – guess who was the product manager for Microsoft Bob? Melinda French… who is now Melinda Gates. So I guess Bob wasn’t a complete failure for Bill, huh?

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