A Blog Helps Microsoft Get a Key Win 7 Feature Right

Posted by: Stephen Wildstrom on February 6, 2009

win7_logo_small.jpgIt’s fascinating to watch how the use of corporate blogs, when used for dialog rather than propaganda, can change the way business decisions are made, generally for the better. A good case in point is how Microsoft finally decided to fix a bone-headed design decision in Windows 7. The significance goes well beyond the technical issues involved.

One of the more important changes in Windows 7 is to give users is to give users more control over Vista’s endlessly annoying User Account Control (UAC) security feature. About a week ago, security researcher Long Zheng reported a problem: A malicious program could stealthily alter the UAC settings so that a user would not be notified of even the most dangerous system changes or program installations.

Microsoft initially reacted to the reports by arguing, rather unconvincingly, that this behavior was actually a feature and that they had no intention of changing it. In a long post on the Windows 7 Engineering blog yesterday, Microsoft Senior Vice-President Jon DeVaan why this seemingly nasty risk really wasn't much of a risk at all because Windows 7 was so good at keeping malware off the computer in the first place. Therefore, there was no need to notify a user if a program attempted to change the UAC setting.

The post drew a lot of incredulous comments. And Microsoft, to its credit, reacted quickly. In a followup post late last night, DeVaan and Windows development chief Steven Sinofsky cited the comments at some length and conceded that the critics had a good point. The security of UAC would be raised and, in particular, users would always be notified if a program attempted to change the settings.

The result will be a better Windows 7. But how the process worked is as interesting as the result. The Windows 7 Engineering blog has been a serious effort by Microsoft to explain the rationale behind key design decisions. Posts are very detailed and often a bit of a slog, especially to a non-engineer like myself. But the result is a serious dialog between Microsoft engineers and outside developers and analysts. (I don't know how heavily Microsoft filters the comments that get posted, but what appears on the blog is free of the ranting that pollutes so many blog comment threads.) This is the way things should work.

Reader Comments

Joey

February 7, 2009 1:59 AM

The typos in this column are horrendous and distracting. Does anyone read this before posting?!

TOPolk

February 10, 2009 5:16 AM

It was a good article, but I have to agree with Joey. There were a few instances of typos and words being left out that made this article slightly difficult to read.

Jean-Paul Bélud

February 10, 2009 8:28 AM

It is in fact interesting to see some influence of the open and collaborative model hitting Microsoft for its benefit ... and that of end-users !

Microsoft is already building its updates an new versions of OS and applications incorporating demands and needs from large corporate IT (the "purchasers"). They now have to take into account the non-less-important needs of end-users on a large scale (meaning not limited to focus groups for high leevl definitions and alfa/beta testers for bug reports).

And that also apply to other large SW makers ...

The cost of gathering users needs, problems and ideas is directly visible, although not so easy to define precisely (set up of a dedicated organisation to dialogue on a dedicated blog/web). On the other hands the gains are even less predictable (how great is the impact on image of a bug, of a non-user-friendly function ?), some time tricky (is hot-line traffic a cost or a profit ?). Nevertheless I have the feeling the gains should outweight the costs, because of the sort and long term risks for Microsoft.

Last thought : opening itself to the external world is probably something essential that is missing to Microsoft to succeed better now and in the future. The global economy going towards more open and collaborative models, the gap with closed wall garden businesses is growing, making more and more costly the revenue gains of the latter ones. Microsoft feels the pain (see their growing difficulties in OS, office application, web portal and engine, mobile business, servers, etc). But Apple will experience this as well: it's just a matter of time (and probably not many years).

Chris Fleck

February 10, 2009 11:13 AM

Stephen, this is a great observation. At Citrix we have increased our use of blogs to interact with our customers and community plus solicit feedback. The results have been great.
For example when I asked if we should support the iPhone, this is what we got back... 180 comments & growing ...

http://community.citrix.com/x/R4DoAQ

This is the way of the future...

jess

February 11, 2009 12:54 AM

I also had a hard time deciphering the writers typos, so I could get to the meat of the article. Editors wanted!!

Ron Cook

February 12, 2009 1:50 PM

As a college teacher, I love to share your great articles with my students, but come on! This is embarassing for Business Week. The errors in the artcile really distract from the content and question the credibility of the author. Very disappointing. Doesn't someone check these things?

Dan G

February 12, 2009 5:07 PM

I agree that the typos were very distracting. However, Ron, your criticism of the "artcile [sic]" contradicts itself. The spell check in Firefox catches that error! :-)

jeff paul

May 2, 2009 2:15 PM

Interesting post! I am a new in internet marketing. I don’t have much knowledge about it but I’m searching for good material which helps me in moving my business.

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Bloomberg Businessweek writers Peter Burrows, Cliff Edwards, Olga Kharif, Aaron Ricadela, and Douglas MacMillan, dig behind the headlines to analyze what’s really happening throughout the world of technology. Tech Beat covers everything from tech bellwethers like Apple, Google, and Intel and emerging new leaders such as Facebook to new technologies, trends, and controversies.

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