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The Operating System that Stole Christmas

Before asking for a new Windows PC this holiday season, remember the old adage: “Be careful about what you wish for.”

In the best of all worlds, we would all benefit from the so-called “network effects” that result from most people using the same software: everyone could easily communicate with each other and teach each other how to use the software efficiently. Unfortunately, since Microsoft uses network effects to maximize its profits rather than to benefit users, the world it delivers is far from the best.

Consider Vista, yet another “great” new operating system that Microsoft rolled out this year, together with Office 2007. The first person at my company to use Vista was our Executive Vice-President. He was furious. Vista and Office 2007 came with his new Dell computer by default. Dell didn’t ask: “Would you prefer the old versions of the operating system and MS Office that you know how to use?” So our VP got a shiny new computer that he didn’t know how to use: functions were rearranged, and keyboard shortcuts were different.

Think of the productivity cost of millions like him having to adjust to a new system. Moreover, his coworkers couldn’t read the Microsoft Word files that he sent them in the new “.docx” format. They wrote back and asked him to resend files in the older “.doc” format – which might not have worked if he had inadvertently used some new-fangled formatting feature.