Microsoft is now the world's most valuable company — and it's less trustworthy than ever

Microsoft recently achieved the 'enviable' position of edging out Apple as the world's most valuable company. Wall Street is happy, investors are ecstatic, and Microsoft's bean counters are patting themselves on the back for a job well done. Unfortunately for the Redmond-based company, not everyone has leaped onto the celebratory bandwagon. There are a segment of consumers, Microsoft enthusiasts to be exact, who have or are contemplating jumping ship on Microsoft's ecosystem of products and services. Admittedly, given the success of Office 365, Azure and other growing segments the impact would likely be minimal. Microsoft knows this, has likely measured the cost and quite frankly probably doesn't care all that much.

The road to Microsoft's current industry-esteemed position is littered with the collateral damage of betrayed consumers, abandoned products, multiple shifts in direction, botched updates, overly aggressive update practices, and notoriously poor communication. Microsoft enthusiasts bore the brunt of what seems to be the company's inability to commit to a given course for the long-term as products and services are slashed from Microsoft's roadmap.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has been accused of catering to Wall Street at the expense of advancing strategies that would benefit the company if they were given the opportunity to grow roots. Of course, armchair CEOs and analysts have little knowledge of the true inner workings and variables that a CEO of a multibillion-dollar company must contend with in a highly competitive, fast-paced and dynamic global market. Still, the impact of burned bridges and betrayed trust is not a trivial matter. And Microsoft's road to becoming the world's most valuable company has left a lot of broken trust in its wake.

Imperfect Windows 10

For a company that endured years under the Department of Justice's microscope for monopoly concerns and unethical practices, Microsoft's aggressive push of Windows 10 has raised many eyebrows.

The company's ambitious 2015 goal of one billion Windows 10 installs in two years drove the company to employ questionable tactics to "encourage" users to upgrade. The annoying taskbar alert that would not go away plagued many users and provoked questions on how to remove it. Not everyone wanted to upgrade to Windows 10 as bad as Microsoft wanted them to. Anecdotally, I have a 7-inch Windows 8.1 tablet upon which the touch experience would have been negatively impacted had I clicked the "ok" on that Windows 10 Upgrade demand reminder.

I got off easy compared to some others, however. There were troubling reports that Microsoft actually "forced" some users to update to Windows 10 without their express consent. I doubt Microsoft now being the world's most valuable company softens the enduring impact that breach of trust had on those users.

Consumer conundrum

My Surface Pro 2017 sits beside my Lumia 1020, which I still use.

My Surface Pro 2017 sits beside my Lumia 1020, which I still use.

A consumer's ecosystem choice is a financial, emotional, time and psychological investment. Though the alliances we forge with companies and the lines we draw between our positions and the boundaries of other ecosystems may seem ridiculous in the grand scheme of things, they are real nonetheless. So when consumers chose Microsoft's ecosystem and embraced its take on wearables with the Microsoft Band, phone with Windows phones, music with Groove and much more, the impact of Microsoft throwing in numerous towels on these and other consumer products hurt on many levels.

The implicit trust relationship demanded that Microsoft, from the perspective of consumers, owed it to them to fight for the products and services they took a chance on (for Microsoft) when there were other proven options. If a user could invest a few hundred dollars in a range of products and champion them, then the feeling of many (valid or not) was that a multibillion-dollar company could fight for its own products and for those who embraced them. The harsh reality, however, is that the feelings of a minority representation of consumers didn't factor into the company's strategy or balance sheet goals.

Those feelings were, to an extent, acknowledged as valid. Nadella admitted regret for abandoning users to chase the "next shiny thing" but the damage had been done. His promise to make phones if no one else did amounted to hollow words that paralleled the abandoned investments in Zune, Groove and other projects. Though dropping those products burned some users it did move Microsoft closer to its most valuable company position. So there's that.

Cortana digital assistant disaster

In 2014, Microsoft excited Windows Phone users with the introduction of Cortana, which was billed as the world's most personal digital assistant. With an openness to third-party apps, time, location and people-based reminders, text and verbal interaction and its association with an esteemed gaming brand, Cortana was differentiated from entrenched rivals Siri and Google Now.

Sadly, those advantages were squandered away as regional restrictions and other limitations hampered her evolution. Google Assistant is arguably now the world's most personal digital assistant. Amazon's Alexa is virtually a household name. And Samsung's Bixby with its platform agnostic Viv integration is positioning to be that "anywhere" assistant Cortana was supposed to be.

Cortana meanwhile is no longer headlined as a digital assistant as Microsoft has realigned her as digitally assistive. Consumers who trusted Microsoft's hype concerning what Cortana would be have been slapped, yet again, with the reality that Microsoft has a hard time following through.

Find your files, and Edge be gone

One would think that the world's leading software company with its decades of experience pushing an industry-leading operating system could issue an OS update that doesn't destroy user personal files. Sadly, Microsoft fumbled the October 2018 Update which led to that very outcome. The confusion around how Insider's reports of the issue were mistaken for another issue explained what happened. Still, such a blunder may be a lasting mark on users confidence in Microsoft's competence.

Microsoft's homegrown Edge internet browser was touted as the company's modern take on a browser beyond is troubled Internet Explorer. After just three years, Edge's rendering engine is being retired in favor of Chromium.

This may be the best strategy for Microsoft, but in the context of its history of throwing in the towel and betraying commitments after brief or half-hearted efforts, even this potential good move is overshadowed by a bitter past.

Trustworthy?

Microsoft Logo

Microsoft Logo (Image credit: Windows Central)

Despite the burnt bridges, Microsoft's business is doing better than ever. This is no consolation to the early adopters, enthusiasts and product evangelists that helped Microsoft along the way. Their efforts and irrecoverable investments of time and money have been rewarded with Microsoft's unspoken acknowledgment that they were among the collateral damage along Microsoft's journey to becoming the world's most valuable company.

Microsoft's history has caused many former enthusiasts to conclude Microsoft cannot be trusted. If that negative history begins to have a broader market impact, Microsoft's esteemed "world's most valuable company" status can be affected.

Jason L Ward is a columnist at Windows Central. He provides unique big picture analysis of the complex world of Microsoft. Jason takes the small clues and gives you an insightful big picture perspective through storytelling that you won't find *anywhere* else. Seriously, this dude thinks outside the box. Follow him on Twitter at @JLTechWord. He's doing the "write" thing!

111 Comments
  • Good article, and the "shady" tactics aren't limited to the consumer. Businesses are also fed up with their obtuse, and often punitive, licensing models which no one, including MS licensing reps, can adequately explain. Probably because they change at least every year. Talk to 3 different people and you'll get 3 different answers. Add in their cloudy product roadmaps with infuriating decisions, (for example, removing multi-instancing of SQL Reporting Services in 2017 for no good technical reason), their indifferent support which can't/won't do anything their scripts don't tell them, and it's a brewing storm that may not affect them anytime soon, but a reckoning is coming.
  • There is indeed a storm brewing which may be averted if Microsoft focuses on UWP and fixes touch on W10. I can't say will be averted as there are so many insane number factors at play here. The next generation of employees for companies are growing up in households with ZERO windows devices. Their experiences are ios and android or solely ios or solely android. That storm is coming and the impending shift is coming. There is a reason why Microsoft has engaged in these practises - the CEO doesn't have to look at the two previous CEOs and founders and say he failed their legacy - let's not forget they own a great amount of stock. As long the stock prices rise - there aren't going to be many tough questions at the present time. What most people don't know - the financial sector is not the arbiter of morality - because of simple mathematics. Cost reduction in the supply chain means higher profits and sadly the wage bill is the one element that gets driven down always. Here is a recent example.
    https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2018/dec/06/revealed-disn...
  • Microsoft is gonna abandon Surface within the next five years.
  • What happened, "Surface Scribe"? You saw how lame you've been now the entire time you were talking bs in lame excitement?
  • What's "lame" about thinking a device that MS is IN FACT developing, insider tips are confirming, and an extremely trustworthy news site says is coming out? I only lost faith after the device was pushed back, PWAs seem stagnant, and especially the news that yet another MS project is technically getting abandoned. I don't feel bad for "dreaming" about Andromeda, I don't regret anything, I still want a pocketable "Andromeda" PC, and I hope MS proves me wrong. And, I still think Scribe is a great name.... The only thing lame here is your petty, irrelevant, @ss trying to check me; Thinking you're making some valid point, when you have nothing.. Please. Try again.
  • Biggest problem is what you allude to. MS allows rumours to run, gets folks excited and then releases .... NOTHING.
  • Wrong. It makes them money, so it's here to stay 😁 And don't bother with douchebags like this oraora guy, it's not worth it 😃
  • Quite surprising... The most valuable company thing, not the untrustworthy thing. It's been pretty clear for a while that the consumer isn't that important to Microsoft.
  • I agree, but The Cloud...
  • And I think this kind of proves the consumer is irrelevant.
  • This article is spot on. When I read about Edge being retired, I wanted to see it in the light we are "supposed" to, which is that Microsoft has become a company which is willing to make risky moves to cut dead weight and move forward; and in the context of Edge, I don't really care (actually, I don't really care about any of it any more, which is the point of the article). What I really see the Edge cut as, however, is the next point in the graph of products Microsoft has mismanaged and then abandoned. I was all-in on the Microsoft ecosystem as a strong alternative to Apple and Google, into either of which I had no interest in investing. I had the Band, several phones: WM 7, 8, 8.1, 10; I even forgave them when they didn't upgrade my Lumia 900 to WM 8 when it came out months before the next mobile OS. I got my family on their phones as well, Windows 8.1 tablet, used Cortana, Bing, etc all with an eye toward the grand promise of convergence; a vision which should have transcended their unfinished products and poor communication. Then the products were abandoned one-by-one, and with it seemingly the very vision they espoused. My dollars wasted, my good will stretched to the breaking point. Microsoft became the worst of both Apple and Google. Apple's high-price margins with Google's privacy nightmare. No thank you. Now my whole household is Linux. I don't do anything Microsoft. All of my files are moved from OneDrive. I don't even use Microsoft Office any longer. They burned too many bridges, and I simply can't trust their "vision for the future", because they abandon them too often. I don't think I'm the only one. And I don't see it ending well for Microsoft. Unless the free-market ceases to exist and Microsoft is enshrined by the powers that be into some mandated role, their abuse of consumers will come back to haunt them one day.
  • Technically, they are not retiring Edge. They are replacing the rendering engine, etc. I use Edge on my Android phone. It just works, unlike on Windows 10. I often come across a video that won't load in Edge, so I have to fire up Chrome. The issues with Edge in Windows are due to the rendering engine. This solves that problem. They can still keep all the unique features that they already have. I definitely see this as a positive.
  • Point taken, but only in a sense. They wanted Edge to become more than a browser. PDF reader, Ebook reader, the foundation for sets, etc. The likelihood of all of this being ported is very low. Daniel R says they're "looking into porting those features"...yup... The point isn't Edge at all. It's going to become an inferior version of Chrome, we get it, that's fine. But what about the broader plan for Edge? They had a GREAT PDF reader in the "reader" app before abandoning it to push Edge, which was a terrible replacement. So they risked customer good-will to push use of a product, and then 1 year later they repurpose the product that they pushed on me only one year ago by removing a better dedicated app. That's the point here. Sure, they will contribute their touch focus to Chromium, which will be really great to help ChromeOS take the next step as a serviceable Windows replacement. But what about those few (if anyone did) who wanted to invested in ebooks that are only readable in Edge? What about those who need a good touch-friendly PDF reader? And even more to the point: is anything Microsoft says is going to happen, or not happen, with this transition actually going to take place. They may, they may not, but one thing is for sure: no one knows, because Microsoft will say whatever they feel they need to, regardless of whether or not it has any bearing in reality.
  • I disagree with the comment that Edge will become a "inferior version of Chrome", that would denote that any other browser is inferior to Chrome. Chrome is bloated and its not just its rendering engine. Plus Chrome is spyware for Google. Frankly I think you get the best of both worlds with a non-Google browser based on Blink.
  • Once again point taken, but only in a sense. Yes, Chrome is bloated and definitely spyware, but there is a reason people keep using it instead of other Chromium-based browsers like Opera or Brave. Opera has tried to integrate Chrome extensions through an extension of their own, but it doesn't always work. Chrome apps don't work at all. And those things are pretty fantastic to have in a browser. Brave is, of course, privacy focused and so an entirely different animal all together. So Edge is going to attempt to claim some browser stake on the basis of their ecosystem. It will likely primarily be realized on Android through the Microsoft launcher and all of its integrated features, but to what end? Pages render better/faster. I can get that in Opera, Chrome or Firefox. Send tabs from browser to browser. I can get that in Opera, Chrome or Firefox. Not in the google ecosystem? Same three. So it will be a portal to bing. Maybe integrate the Windows 10 timeline feature. Will any of this actually make it superior to Chrome as a product? I suppose time will tell. You have noticed I am quite jaded by Microsoft, and have no faith in their ecosystem, or the management thereof...which kind of echos the point of the article. And that is why I have commented. To echo the point of the article. Thanks for the couterpoint though. Have a great day!
  • My biggest issue with Edge is how the favorites work, I can't get to them like I could in IE. I would prefer to be able to pull them in from a Favorites location and then have them be available in OneDrive or something similar. Other than that, I don't have a lot of issues with the current Edge.
  • You are simply wrong. Webdevs like me are tired of being forced to downgrade their pages for Edge compatibility. Simple as that. It's easy to make Firefox work, Opera, but not Edge.
  • The problem with Edge is EdgeHTML? I don't buy that. Most browser users don't have a clue what engine their favorite browser is based on, and don't care. Microsoft's latest pivot (on Edge) is not going to change anything in that regard. There will not be a massive uptake of the new Edge from current Chrome users just because they use the same rendering engine.
  • Because EdgeHTML is tied to Windows they can't update it fast enough. Chromium allows them to innovate faster.
  • And to roll it out in more than one platform.
  • I completely agree with toph36, and my experience backs it up. Edge on Android: no problems. Edge on Windows: I gave up on it long ago, because too many sites simply don't work on it--but they do on Brave and Opera with no issue, both of which use a forked version of Chrome's rendering engine. It doesn't matter how well EdgeHTML follows the official standards, because in practice the WWW follows the standards according to how Chromium/Blink interprets them. I've been calling for exactly this change for a couple years now, and as far as I'm concerned it is about time.
  • "Technically, they are not retiring Edge." According to articles by Dan and Zac, it sounds like Edge is technically being retired. It is being rebuilt from the ground up. It will be outside the Windows OS. The only thing the same is the name.
  • The rendering engine is being retired. Also, having it outside Windows is a good thing IMHO.
  • I totally agree. You took these words right out of my mouth.
  • Just replying to the section about too many things being abandoned by Microsoft... But you know it's interesting, since I switched to android and began keeping up with AC I notice the exact same kind of comments there with Google. I'm not mentioning this to say that because Google does it that makes it ok or better, but that I think we as humans tend to focus on the bad more often and the grass always seems greener on the other side.
  • You're right about this. Hangouts, now Allo, etc. But even though this whole article is about Edge, there is a huge difference between abandoning software and abandoning hardware. The only reason Edge matters at all is because by changing it in the way they are, it seems as though they may be abandoning their larger vision of what Edge should be (ebooks, PDF reader, Windows Sets, etc) The abandonment feelings many in the MS ecosystem have revolve primarily around hardware abandonment, well before expected ends of life cycles. This is what has alienated people primarily.
  • First:Chrome can read PDFs and MS is just going to make it better.
    Second:There is no reason why the new Edge won't read ebooks eventually if it's not at release. Same with Windows sets. All of Edge features are going to be there at release or eventually. Difference is that we are not going to have to wait for Windows update as it's going to be its own app and get faster updates now that it is its own app just as Chrome does. What I do wonder if it's going to use the store or a custom download system like Chrome does, seeing as it's gonna be release for Win 7 and Mac
  • While I too have been burned with investing in Lumia phones, the Band, etc... I think we all need to put up or shut up. If you don't have skin in the game (a.k.a), a substantial portion of your own money/assets and livelihood on the line, then stop arm-chair quarterbacking. Business is risk. The bigger the business, the bigger the risk. You have to take on risk for the chance of