Tech + Lifestyle

games, gear, and googleplexes (joke)

Microsoft: A Study in Disaster

At the end of the day, or perhaps more appropriately at the close of business, what are a company’s top executives responsible for? The most obvious answer is that they work to make a company profitable, and if it already is, either increase profit or at the very least, maintain it. In the pursuit of that, I would argue that executives must come up with a cohesive business plan/model, something that applies to every product or service they develop. That plan is then passed on to upper-level management, who ensure that their respective divisions are working toward achieving a particular part of said plan.

That’s how it works. In theory, anyway.

Microsoft has apparently chosen an alternate method to business. All of their products are related, more or less, but creating something that is actually desired by the public seems to be optional.

“What on earth are you talking about?” you ask. “I thought Microsoft was doing pretty well, with the exception of that horrific bloatware they call Vista, and besides, didn’t they learn their lesson from that? My beta of Windows 7 is pretty good!”

Yeah, Windows 7 is a distinct improvement, and their productivity software is good, too. Even the Xbox 360 is doing pretty well, and the newest die shrink for the chipset seems to have solved the overheating that gave gamers that spectacular gift known as RROD. Believe it or not, Microsoft makes products other than operating systems, productivity software, and gaming consoles.

First, there’s Games for Windows Live. You don’t know about it? Don’t feel bad, most people have  no idea it exists. Even among PC gamers, those that are aware of the existence of Games for Windows Live are in the minority.

Let’s make a distinction here. There’s Games for Windows, which is an unnecessary initiative by Microsoft to ensure that games are compatible with Windows, as if that were necessary. Honestly, it’s nothing more than a bit of free advertising that gets slapped on the boxes of most major releases. Beyond that is a separate entity known as Games for Windows Live. Theoretically, it’s the PC gaming counterpart to Xbox Live. In reality? It’s useless, so far. There’s almost none of the functionality you get with Xbox Live. Most games don’t use it; the most recent exception to that is Fallout 3, which has admittedly given it more exposure than anything beforehand (there was Universe at War, but that’s about it). You start the game, and a little icon appears on your screen letting you know that you’ve been logged in.

Let’s say you’ve seen this. You probably thought something along the lines of sweet, what can I do with it? Does it allow multiplayer with Xbox Live gamers? Because that would be awesome. I’ve always wanted to do that.

The short answer is no, it doesn’t. (Update: CoolingGibbon has informed me in his comment that the games Shadowrun, Universe at War: Earth Assault, and Lost Planet Colonies are supported for inter-platform multiplayer. I apologize if this was misleading).Currently, it provides you with the benefit of involuntarily logging you out of Live on your Xbox 360. Wow, thanks. It’s not like I was using that or anything. According to Tycho of web-comic giant Penny Arcade, “I was surprised to learn that signing in to Games For Windows Live signed out my Xbox, which meant that a Gold Account was no longer signed in, negating my access to video streaming. Now perhaps it’s more clear why they don’t allow you access to Xbox Live directly from the Windows shell: because they have no idea how to manage this incredibly rudimentary scenario.”

So GFWL doesn’t let you game only supports three games for playing against people on Xbox Live, which would be the biggest potential draw for PC gamers. It doesn’t give any sort of extra functionality to you; in fact, if you also have an Xbox 360, it denies you Live functionality on there as long as you’re signed in on your PC. As of right now, you can’t even access GFWL from the desktop – you have to be in-game. What. The. Heck (trying to stay family-friendly here).

You might be saying, “Wow, that’s pretty dumb. There’s no way they could possibly come up with something worse than that.”

If you said that, you’re wrong.

Enter Microsoft Songsmith. Here’s how it works: you sing into your computer’s microphone, preferably when nobody else is around. Then Songsmith analyzes what you sang and adds really bad instrumental tracks that match. The code that actually analyzes your audio input is probably interesting, but the software implementation that follows absolutely sucks. Joel Watson of Hijinks Ensue postulates that their key demographics for this program are seven-year-olds and people that are terrified of computers. For your entertainment:

If that’s not enough to convince you, below is Microsoft’s actual commercial that they made to advertise their wonderful new life-changing software. Now if only we all lived in really, really bad musicals…

I’m pretty sure if I tried to present a marketing idea in the form of a song, my (theoretical) employer would just fire me. The worst part about this is that it wasn’t meant to be ironic, or a parody, or funny in any way whatsoever. Videogum had this to say about the commercial: “It’s like Microsoft found some kind of home-schooling Christian commune in the woods and hired them to make their commercial.” Yeah, I’d say that’s pretty accurate. Microsoft Research claims responsibility for this atrocity at the beginning of the commercial, as though it were something to be proud of. I’m not sure where they did the market research that told them that A) this product was a good idea, and they should make it; and B) that this commercial would be the most effective way to market said product. Maybe it was at that same home-schooling Christian commune…

Microsoft is one big sack of dumb. GFWL is, in its current incarnation, more malware than software. This is almost as bad as the crippling junk that AOL used to unload onto your computer without asking. Songsmith isn’t quite as bad, because commercial aside, it doesn’t actively lower your quality of life. If you actually want to use it though, you should be flogged. Songsmith reminds me of all that was bad about software in the 1990s. It has limited function, no inherent usefulness, and a high Annoying Quotient (I think that’s how I’ll measure Microsoft products from now on).

Here’s what needs to be done in order to fix Microsoft:

  1. Make One Live: In theory, Microsoft’s Live programs have the potential to be improved and actually integrate well. The basic Microsoft Live is essentially a mediocre social networking platform, and XBox Live is actually good, but GFWL just sucks right now. It should be destroyed until they’ve figured out how to successfully incorporate all three Live services into one.
  2. Off With Its Head: Songsmith needs to get the axe, immediately. Microsoft should make it a priority to erase every mention of it on the internet. Delete all the videos, the webpages, and bribe people like me to forget about it. Then act like it never existed.
  3. Cut The Crap: Whoever is working in Microsoft Research right now needs to be fired immediately or moved to their PR department, because all they know how to do is churn out BS.
  4. Pull An Alcoholics Anonymous: Microsoft needs to admit they’ve got a problem. As hard as it is, they’ve done it before – Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has conceded that there were problems with Vista, and that they should’ve done a better job. The solution?
  5. Reboot: The level of quality in Microsoft’s products is inconsistent, as are the few good ideas that they actually have. It’s clear that whoever the so-called “creative minds” are at Microsoft are woefully out of touch. They need to fire any and everyone who isn’t up to par and cut anybody that thinks getting TPS reports in on time is more important than making quality software. After that, go to the top schools in the nation and starting making job offers to the best and brightest – find out where Apple and Google do their hiring, because it’s obviously working. Using some of their cash reserves to woo the creative, the hip, and the brilliant would be a better investment in Microsoft’s future than anything else they could do.

January 29, 2009 - Posted by | Tech | , , , , , , , ,


  1. […] if (vbc) = ‘hidden’; = ‘#fff’ }); }); today Microsoft: A Study in Disaster trackback from post […At the end of the day, or perhaps more appropriately at the close of […]

    Pingback by Microsoft Songsmith Video | January 30, 2009 | Reply

  2. GFWL does support cross-platform play with Xbox Live. Shadowrun, UAW:EA and Lost Planet Colonies all support multiplayer with Xbox players.

    Also, I would invite you to join us at the Games for Windows forums, to get to know what we as a community actually try to accomplish, and why GFWL is important to PC gaming.

    (GFWL community member)

    Comment by CoolingGibbon | February 1, 2009 | Reply

    • With all due respect, your comment only further emphasizes my point. The support of three games, out of the dozens, if not hundreds, of titles available for both PC and Xbox 360, shows a distinct lack of commitment on the part of Microsoft. If they wanted to make GFWL work, Microsoft could have (and should have) made support for crazy-popular games like the Halo trilogy, COD4, and Team Fortress 2 a top priority. That being said, I’m editing my post to reflect the info in your comment. Thanks for stopping by!

      Comment by Brian | February 1, 2009 | Reply

  3. Hi Brian,
    I absolutely agree with you GFWL needs more hard-hitting titles. Things are definitely improving (Batman Arkham just got added to the LIVE library), and I’m sure it will be more widespread soon enough. Thanks for the suggestions!


    Comment by CoolingGibbon | March 5, 2009 | Reply

  4. […] All Fairness: Games For Windows Live First of all, let me start off by saying that I haven’t been too kind to Games For Windows Live in the past. Among other things, I’ve said that nobody is even aware of its existence, that it’s […]

    Pingback by In All Fairness: Games For Windows Live « Tech + Lifestyle: Enhance Your World | April 17, 2009 | Reply

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