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Microsoft's 4 most disappointing products and services

Microsoft logo at Ignite
Microsoft logo at Ignite (Image credit: Windows Central)

The Microsoft ecosystem feels a bit shaky these days. Across mobile, PCs, Xbox, communication, and entertainment services, aspects of the Microsoft "life" have either become totally outpaced by rivals or have been shut down.

At one point, it felt like Microsoft was on the cusp of delivering a computing ecosystem that could support every aspect of your digital life. Those days are probably in the past.

Microsoft has a ton of great products, including Surface, Xbox, and Office. However, it also has a diaspora of poorly-nurtured acquisitions, neglected services, and in some cases, just weak investments. Here are some of the most notable examples.

Skype

Skype desktop (left) vs. Skype UWP (right)

Skype's legacy will likely be a lesson in total mismanagement, as rival apps and services strip out and disassemble practically any reason to open this increasingly weak program.

Skype's legacy will likely be a lesson in total mismanagement.

Skype used to be a leader and innovator in internet communication, arguably delivering the world's first stable video calling service for consumers. Skype is a household name and a huge brand, known across the world. In recent years, however, its relevance has been diminished.

From Facebook's Messenger and WhatsApp, to Snapchat, Google Hangouts, and Discord, several communication services have grown to beat Skype at its own game. The Skype team has been painfully slow to react, and it has gotten to the point where even Microsoft's lightweight GroupMe IM app provides a better messaging experience.

Skype on Android and iOS is miserably slow compared to rival services. Skype's features and designs are maddeningly inconsistent to the point of total incoherency across desktop, UWP, and phones. Part of the problem with Skype stems from its outdated messaging, which is still miserably slow to update when moving from platform to platform.

Discord in particular has risen to prominence not only as a competent cross-platform messaging and calling solution but also as a tool for building communities, complete with a huge ecosystem of bots and other plugins. Oh, and of course, it's way faster than Skype.

That being said, Skype generally still holds the crown for video calling reliability. It also offers cheap global phone calls, which are highly useful for some territories. But these facts won't save it forever. Skype is one service that really needs a total overhaul.

Movies & TV

For the most part, I'm pretty happy with Movies & TV. The service works well on Windows 10 and Xbox One, and after a series of updates, it has quite a functional and attractive interface. The issues I have with Movies & TV stem from poor investments.

A bit of extra love could elevate Movies & TV from being a "me-too" media service.

With Windows 10 Mobile effectively dead, there's no way for those jumping ship to Android and iOS to access their Movies & TV content, as Microsoft hasn't yet bothered to provide an app. This strikes me as particularly odd since the Groove Music Android and iOS apps were fairly decent.

What's worse is the way content is handled. Despite the 4K push Microsoft is doing with the Xbox One X, Movies & TV is sorely lacking when it comes to 4K content, especially outside of the US. Movies & TV also isn't part of Disney's Movies Anywhere consortium for cross-platform licensing, although we've heard that Redmond is in discussions to join.

A bit of extra love could elevate Movies & TV from being a "me-too" media service to something that could serve Microsoft users everywhere.

Cortana

Harman/Kardon's Invoke speaker is the only dedicated Cortana speaker, and it's US-only. (Image credit: Windows Central)

I've written fairly extensively about how bad Cortana is outside of the US, but the situation continues to be a miserable affair. Frankly, it's not great if you're inside the US either.

Cortana in the UK hasn't seen a meaningful update in years, and users in other territories have suffered worse. Cortana also isn't available in several English-speaking territories, despite being available in the U.S. and UK, which just seems lazy.

Cortana has a pathetic IoT ecosystem when compared to Amazon's Alexa and others. And while the situation is improving, particularly in the US, it might already be too late for Cortana to gain meaningful mindshare.

If Microsoft truly wants to position itself as an A.I. and cloud company, it needs to do something to improve the "face" of that ecosystem. At the moment, Cortana is little more than an embarrassment.

Windows 10 Microsoft Store

Microsoft Store (Image credit: Matt Brown | Windows Central)

Here's another one I've written fairly extensively about, and we can only hope that following the recent reorganization of Windows that the situation will improve.

Although the situation should improve as Progressive Web Apps (PWA) mature, the situation as pertains to Universal Windows Platform (UWP) apps is pretty sad. Most apps in the Store are either poorly made, abandonware, or simply ported via Centennial, missing out on a lot of core Windows 10 features. The situation has certainly been getting better, though, with Spotify arriving on the platform, and some indie apps like Kodi and paint.net.

Things aren't much better on the game side either, with few PC games hitting the platform. The games that are there are pretty awesome, however, with many supporting Xbox Play Anywhere cross-platform play and purchasing.

It's also another service that lacks global reach.

Getting into a multiplayer game via titles installed in the Windows 10 app store is a painful experience when compared to Xbox. Users have also reported issues when it comes to downloading large games on launch day for years, although the experience seems to have improved.

It's also another service that lacks global reach. The US store carries ebooks and more licenses for movies and TV shows than the rest of the world, whose users are again treated as secondary by Microsoft.

Finally, the whole app just needs more polish. App library management is a chore. The search function is temperamental at best. And it's simply poor to browse, offering only basic information at a glance.

Things can only get better ... right?

There are plenty of other Microsoft products and services I have gripes with but most of them are minor issues. I'm also disappointed that the company shuttered Groove, killed Windows 10 Mobile, and ended Kinect, but all of that is in the past now.

Despite all of this and what you may have heard, Microsoft isn't leaving consumers behind (at least, not yet), and the company has made moves to improve the situations outlined above. Windows management has been reorganized across the board, Cortana has a new project leader, and Microsoft just announced a $5 billion investment in IoT. Skype also recently picked up its own Insider program, which should lead to more feedback-led development.

Microsoft is a huge company, and turning the beast around is often a long, arduous task. It remains to be seen whether the products listed above truly improve, but there's plenty of reason to be optimistic.

Over to you

What products and services from Microsoft are you most disappointed in? Do you agree with my take on the ones mentioned here? Let me know in the comments.

Jez Corden is a Senior Editor for Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!

166 Comments
  • You forgot Windows Mobile. Which should be number one!
  • That was no disappointment, it was the withdrawing of windows mobile that was the problem. What's been missed is surely the awful book that Ol' Nads published... was it called 'The Post-Consumer Business Plan' or something?
  • It's not a current product..
  • Surely they must have some stocks of that book somewhere they're trying to palm off for 50p or something? They can't have sold them all. Or are you thinking they pulled an Atari and took a trip to the desert? Best product idea - WC should start selling Ol' Nads posters with a dart board design overlaid on them and a WC branded pack of 'arrows'. I bet that'd outsell many MS products.
  • I would say Kinect was #1. Can you imagine what it would be like today had they invested in it and had someone with two brain cells at Microsoft who had some vision? It could have been Alexa.
  • Again, a case of product good, MS disappointing. The product is fine. That's why we care so much, the products are great so it hurts all the more when MS beggars it all up yet again. Kinect+WMR would have been exceptional. If MS were like Amstrad and just kicked out disappointing products all the time we'd not give a fig.
  • Kinect was revolutionary. Sometimes truly groundbreaking advances do not equal successful products. then someone else comes, like Apple or Sony or whoever and takes credit for the idea. But Kinect was a milestone for entertainment. BTW, now that you mention it, there's some people out there that made a driver that lets you use a Kinect as a full body scan camera that serves as an additional input for VR. Then you get both handheld controllers and full body capture. Legs and all! It's actually really good. Check it out, it's somewhere in the Reddit WMR threads. Something like Driver4VR.
  • Revolutionary products don't have implementation issues. It might have been a great idea, but in reality it sucked.
  • Ok. Bleached this is where you are wrong! The Kinect was a great idea and it didn't suck and never did. I still use mine everyday. Everyday! Also, tell that to the lady in Florida who created the fidget spinners. She couldn't implement it because she didn't have the backing and didn't know how to sell it herself. So after damn near 20 years of owning the patent she was in dire financial straight and didn't pay the annual 200 to maintain her patent. Once that happened all the companies she tried to sell her idea to took the patent to make millions. So when you can't implement your vision it can certainly fail. Even though your product might be awesome! Which the Kinect is!
  • Microsoft has the financial backing. They should have made great software/games for the connect to show how to implement it. They need to do the same with MR. Where are the blockbuster games for it?
  • That just goes to show how badly managed Microsoft was and sometimes is. They should have zero excuses.
  • The Kinect was cool technology but I don't think it ever recovered from the botched marketing and consumer culture rejecting it outright. To this day, when someone mentions Kinect I don't think of a revolutionary way to interact in virtual reality or control a voice assistant, I think of "PICKIN UP MAH BLASTER PUT IT ON MAH SIDE I'M JUMPIN IN MY FALCON WOOKIE AT MAH SIDE I'M HAN SOLO! I'M HAN SOLO! I'M HAN SOLO!"
  • Sorry Windows Mobile is great, they need to come out with a surface phone
  • Supposedly they are. It combines all of Microsoft's biggest failures into a single product, plus it folds in half!
  • Finally. My ZuneHD has been begging me for the chance of getting its retirement, and a brand new Portable Windows-based device is just what I've been itching for.
  • Nah, dopey Nadella will can it.
  • Lol, ha ha
  • Windows mobile was mentioned as a has been. This article focuses on products that are still active
  • The store is terrible. No wishlists. No way to backup AAA game downloads. Constant updates to no effect. No dedicated 24 hour support. Cryptic hexadecimal error messages...
  • Wish list... I've been asking for that since December 2010.
  • And they say they listen to feedback. Wish list was the most basic feature one could expect from an app store but never understood how difficult it was to deliver. This is the state of Microsoft. Various projects seriously need major overhaul in leadership for eg skype.
  • I not sure they listen to Feedback as Subtitle in Movies & TV app still break in SCU even after configuring in Settings since Creators Update. Sigh.
  • I would not knpw about the Store because I see no reason to go there.
  • That's the problem, isn't it?
    You just don't know when the Store app will open, or you'll see a hexadecimal error of some sort, or if it will fail mid-install and you have to click "Try Again".
    And they say they want you to use the Store for everything: as someone who has for years been in control of my PC, I don't trust the Store to install Adobe Photoshop *somewhere* for me. It's just too basic. If Microsoft were serious they would have combined the traditional Windows Installer with Store and created something like the app repository on Linux, complete with proper installation configuration by the user and a consistent download manager that can be trusted to resume the download when something goes wrong. You just can't trust that embarrassment of an app to do anything properly.
  • What's worse is that they could've just brought in something chocolatey and give it a nice UI frontend. But nooo, have this mangled thing that will fail to launch half the time
  • Very bad.
  • Yes, I do agree with you. I don't use any of the products and services you mentioned.
  • You don't use the MS store at all? Even for MS provided apps? Wow, impressive.
  • I use x86/x64 programs on desktop Windows. I have no use for inferior Store apps that lack features.
  • I haven't installed any Store apps either. And I don't even use the already installed Mail and Calendar. Just looking at their UI I can sense how ignorant interns have cobbled these apps together. The best one is Settings and even that hangs when you want to do something a little bit more adventurous, like adding a network TV to Windows. Is anyone "loving Windows" yet?
  • I don't use the Mail or Calendar apps either. I use Outlook 2016.
  • Many people don't even bother with the store. Heck some might not even know it even exist.
  • No one uses those. Microsoft actually just killed most of them and the development team. UWP is dead.
  • Right now significant portions of Windows are UWP, and if nothing unexpected happens, Windows will be UWP from the next version. While I guess that Windows currently doesn't have some bright perspective calling it dead is pretty much exaggeration. So UWP will technically live for fairly long time, now Microsoft may pull some of its consumer UWP apps as part of its general strategy.
  • Microsoft is already backtracking on UWP developers and also on WoA. It is all over, in classic Microsoft fashion it is just a matter of time before they announce development has ended and they are "no longer the focus". https://mspoweruser.com/microsoft-distances-their-always-connected-pc-in... https://mspoweruser.com/microsoft-is-winding-down-development-of-windows...
  • Core parts of Windows are UWP - see Edge, Settings, Start Menu. The entire shell is being rebuilt as UWP piece by piece.
  • You forgot mix radio, groove, zune aka all music streaming services. Not that they were disappointing(they were the opposite) but in the end, Microsoft neglected them
  • The biggest disappointment is MANAGEMENT. Zune, Mobile, Grove, Nokia, band to an extent, and more were all awesome products. MANAGEMENT SCREWED IT UP!
  • So true. The Ms board needs to fire Nadella now!
  • He doesn't set the policy. He executes it. Maybe they need to fire themselves.
  • Can anyone tell me an app/program that is actually good/or improving over the years? I can name Outlook, Word and Excel, but even that innovation seems to slow down outside of UI improvements. I mean literally every other app/program only gets worse or has better competitors. Every Windows 10 app, including mail and calendar is a joke. Microsoft has nothing outside of Cloud that is a success or that is not about to extinct. Nadella's willpower to make anything succeed is so low that nothing will succeed.
  • Something that works well is the OneDrive auto back up of pictures I take with my Android phone. Works in the background. Lots of old lost pictures from old phones that never got backed up or transferred so that's an improvement.
  • Still not as good or seamless integration as Google drive and Google Photos.
  • How is it not as good at backing up photos, they both happen in the background. And of course Google photo is more integrated, it's on its native platform. And are you referring to like the ease in viewing photos or something else?
  • Not even in the same league as Google Photos. Microsoft products are only good if you don't take the competition into consideration. They cannot compete.
  • Actually, it works just fine. Especially, if you have used OneDrive for years and everything digital you have is backed up there. I can access things just fine with it. It may not be Google photos or drive, but I can't really comment on how good it is or isn't, because I don't use Google services on my Note 8, if I can avoid it. I prefer MS products, because it is what I've used for years. The only thing I find frustrating is the lack of a Movies and TV app on Android.
  • "Just fine" is NOT what we're looking for. And they are not "just fine" either.
  • That is what I said. Microsoft photos or whatever is fine, but Google photos is amazing.
  • Steam WMR drivers are getting great support and attention. I'm kinda reaching if I try mentioning anything else.
  • OneNote rocks. PowerPoint is the unsung hero everybody ignores and takes for granted, but it's still pretty top notch compared to any competitor. And it's not a product, but Windows Ink is pretty awesome.
  • I've been using OneNote since 2008, I love it.
  • I'm sure it does but I never learned how to use because I just didn't have the patience to read lengthy explanations from Microsoft employees who can barely speak or write English. This is a real problem across the entire Microsoft interface and if it is not sorted soon , I guarantee you in 10 years time there will be no Microsoft. Not in English, anyway
  • You've never learned how to use one note? There's not much to learn there, it's pretty intuitive... I've never had to read a single explanation or tutorial.
  • That's the thing about OneNote: just start typing notes somewhere.
    I have a feeling anyone having issues with OneNote can't handle the fact that there is no "save" button somewhere.
    People need a change of perspective on how this particular class of programs work. They are made to mimic a notebook and that's it. Just choose a section and start typing and don't worry. Everything works out great.
  • Microsoft users aren't used to Microsoft products "just working". Normally you have to be looking out for the "gotcha moment".
  • crise, speaking of email mismanagement, let's not forget about Live Mail 2012.
    They made it too good? So they had to find a way to break it?
    I still miss seeing my Calendar items in the right column (which now ads instead). So Sad....
  • Xbox, Outlook.com, OneNote, Power BI, VSTS, Visual Studio, Vs Code, SQL Server, and everything in Azure. All improving every month like clockwork.
  • I like the mail and calendar app, what's wrong with it? And it has definitely improved a lot over different updates.
  • If the Mail and Calendar look good to you then there are no bad apps in your world. I'd love to live in your world.
  • Hopefully you didn't like them too much, Microsoft just killed that team.
  • I am not sure if you are talking about Microsoft apps or other apps, but my app Speech Central was updated more than once a month for all those years in average and still usually picks up a new feature in a month. Maybe somewhat slower pace than before but sill updated fairly frequently.
  • Just to emphasize how bad Cortana is outside the US. Ask Cortana for an alarm set for noon in french. She will recognize noon, write down noon on screen yet the user ends up with an alarm for midnight. It's been 2 years since I reported this bug. Also when I ask for the weather outside, I get the results for Los Angeles. I'm not american and live on the east coast.
  • What happens if you ask to set an alarm for midnight in French? Does it set one for noon?
  • The universe implodes. In French.
  • She will set it for midnight. One time only.
  • Doesn't time stand still in France? Sounds like user error to me. 😉
  • Add to that Xbox.
    Terrible UI, ads everywhere, Microsoft's own products segregated by market, poor Xbox One game catalogue (needs to resort to tricks like BCs)...
  • That's a you problem
  • Clearly Raylz works for MS customer support. That sounds like Ol' Nads' company vision to me.
  • It's called an opinion.
    Somethings far too advanced for your brain to compute, apparently.
  • I agree with this, the Xbox One UI. is terrible. The Xbox 360 is far easier to navigate. Just the other night, I needed to delete a game off my Xbox one external drive, I had to use google to figure out how to do it.
  • See, they had to make everything UWP with a single design language for all platforms, and it just doesn't work with controllers.
    This is what I've been saying about having the same app design everywhere: developers get lazy and it shows in overall UX deterioration.
  • Couldn't disagree more. I think my Xbox has a great library of games and I have no issues with the new UI. Also, BC games are a bonus that I have taken advantage of on many occasions. But I do think the MS Band should have been on this list...
  • Completely agree. Xbox One has been ***** this gen. It is a write off this gen. They have never recovered from that God awful Xbox One announcement.
  • Agreed.
    The 360 was a power house, this gen is a disaster by comparison. Only the rabid fanboys disagree.
    Xbox is now a train wreck.
  • I always though Cortana was good when I used W10M. Then I switched to Android and tried Google Now. Google blows Cortana out of the water and then stomps on it.
  • Oneday, Skype UWP received emoji support. On W10M, it's much more comfo to use them instead of the Skype built ones (stickers?). Then subsequent releases later, they're gone. They won't show up. Also Skype UWP is still too slow. And sometimes, it doesn't show all messages received. On W10M, while being incredibly slow, it is more reliable.
  • I am disappointed in OneDrive right now. My wife has an iPhone 6 Plus. The photo sync doesn't work unless you go in and force the upload. I thought it was just her phone, but the same problem on my daughter's iPad. It is terrible. I may be forced to manually back up the photos/videos through iTunes, which is not a good option. Never had a problem with OneDrive on my Windows phones or my Android. Maybe this is an iOS thing, but Microsoft needs to figure this out before people stop using the service altogether.
  • I disagree with All of you 😝
  • Movies & TV
  • Microsoft is a "me too" company.
  • Yeah, they are so "me too" that they launched an IPad Pro device with a keyboard and a pen, and now they're planning to switch Macbooks to ARM. Oh, wait.
  • Yes-- Skype. Thank you! As a former Windows Mobile user (which I loved), Skype with its horrible SMS (dis)functionality was the Devil's spawn. Simply awful, ugly, busy, and useless.
  • Microsoft: An ideas company with no follow through. No idea how to tap consumer mindshare. Skype? Great idea. Bad product.
    vs. Hangouts, WhatsApp, GroupMe, FB Messenger, etc. Cortana? Great idea. Bad product (for most of planet Earth).
    vs. Siri, G-Assistant, Alexa, hell...Bixby even. ( I still love you, Cortie.) UWP? Great idea. No forward momentum.
    vs. Chromebooks now run Android apps. And I will predict that Mac OSX will run iOS apps too (to a degree) once they switch to their own processors. Continuum? Great idea. Uh...where'd it go?
    vs. Dex? OK, so nobody is really making any progress here. Hololens? Game changer...except that it hasn't.
    vs. Oculus, Gear, Vive, all in consumer mindshare. Holowho? This list just keeps going. Band, Groove, Movies&TV, People, etc., etc. The worst part is, I drank the Kool-Aid. I love all these things and wish they were more known/improved.
  • @kingtigre You pretty much summarized the problem. Everything with potential gets no support and pathetic marketing, and then it just falls off, or another company finds a way to do it better.
    Skype was basically the first popular video chatting app in my network of friends, family, and colleagues. It's a shame that hardly anyone I know uses it as their 1st option anymore. It's almost as if it became less user friendly compared to other mobile messaging/video chat apps. I still prefer it for video quality, but FB Messenger is a user friendly alternative, with more people I know having FB messenger on their phone. It's also easier to find contacts through FB Messenger as well.
  • Agreed. It is really unfortunate because most of these products started really strong. Then got worse over time. Almost like too many chefs in the kitchen or something. I can't really explain it.
  • Continuum. It's the future. It should be advertised non stop. Plastered on every MS web page. There should be an ad featuring Minecraft and some user playing on a W10M phone then docking on a monitor to continue playing on a big screen. Like Nintendo Switch gamers do now. <-- baffled and upset.