How Microsoft's 'silent majority' hurts Windows

Anonymized behavior is allegedly driving the changes to Windows' UI hated by users. Are users that conflicted, or is Microsoft getting it wrong?

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It's easy to blame those users for shutting themselves out of the very process Microsoft provides for allowing their actions to speak for themselves. I'm more inclined to blame Microsoft for 1) not taking into account how those users have good reasons to exclude themselves (some people don't want that stuff harvested, anonymously or not) and 2) not compensating for such self-exclusion in the way their stats are harvested.

The reasons why people do things are not reported by telemetry. Or at the very least, I'm not getting the impression Microsoft uses its telemetry data to figure out such details. I use the Start menu that much less because I'm pinning more of my commonly accessed apps to the Windows 7 taskbar -- but that doesn't mean I want the Start menu to die a miserable death from underuse.

Harvesting game-changing telemetry from Windows 7 creates another biased sample. There are still plenty of users on Windows XP, and the differences between XP and Vista/7 are far less jarring than the differences between XP and Windows 8.

There are lies, damned lies, and telemetry. In other words, telemetry can all too easily become just another set of stats that in the wrong hands can be used to justify any sort of decision -- doubly so when the sample is skewed toward the silent majority.

Letting telemetry speak louder than the users themselves is a mistake. If people say they hate something, really hate it, think hard about which of their toes you have stepped on. If you look at the way I use a PC and conclude I'm behaving "inefficiently," you may only be half right. Efficiency is about more than just the number of clicks or keystrokes needed to do something. It's also about comfort and familiarity, which don't manifest in telemetry alone.

Microsoft believes that by relying on its silent majority of users to tell it how to shape Windows, it's doing that much better a job of listening to its users overall. It's not. Telemetry has only given it raw information, which Micrososft has used in the service of making Windows into whatever it already believes Windows should be. That makes the real "silent majority" here not Windows users, but Microsoft itself.

This story, "How Microsoft's 'silent majority' hurts Windows," was originally published at Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow on Twitter.

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