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Double-edged feedback sword nicks Microsoft over OneDrive

Gregg Keizer | Nov. 24, 2014
Since Microsoft changed how OneDrive synchronizes files in the latest preview of Windows 10, testers have been trying to convince the Redmond, Wash. firm to backtrack and restore what they perceive as the cloud-based storage service's best feature.

Others dredged up Windows 8 as an example of what happens when Microsoft does not pay attention to customer feedback.

"Please learn from the Windows 8 experience that you should listen to your users," advised smonky. "Don't do a Sinofsky and placate us with PR drivel. Bring back this feature."

Smonky was referring to Steven Sinofsky, the executive who led Windows 8 development. Sinofsky, who was ousted from the company shortly after the OS's October 2012 launch, had been denounced by both customers and analysts for not listening to critics who, long before Windows 8's release, panned its two-in-one user interface (UI) and blasted the decision to dump the venerable Start menu.

But feedback can cut both ways, argued Wes Miller, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft. Users are happy when they get to suggest changes, but angry when they're not heeded, a problem that can put a developer in a no-win situation.

"If you ask for feedback, you're going to get it," said Miller in a recent interview. "You'll get 'Yeah, you're doing this right' or 'What were you people thinking?' But feedback is a double-edged sword. You have to be careful to balance feedback with what you want or need to do with a product."

User feedback, in other words, cannot be the only driver of a product's direction.

In this case, that's not only because of the usual conflicting messages received from users and the sheer number of opinions, but also because of the composition of the group providing Windows 10 feedback.

"If you ask highly-technical people for their opinions, you'll get answers that only highly-technical people want. These are not necessarily the best voices to listen to," Miller said, referring to the Insider Program's composition and the fact that average users are likely very much under-represented.

Miller, who worked at Microsoft during the development of Windows XP, continued. "Feedback is a cacophony, and sometimes not useful," he admitted.

The you're-ignoring-our-feedback issue isn't new to Microsoft, or any large software developer that solicits customer opinions.

"This has been the usual problem for years," said Miller, citing changes such as cleaning up the task bar in Windows XP and adding the oft-lambasted "ribbon" to Office 2007. "Microsoft tries to simplify things, but those changes often don't work for highly-vocal users."

Even so, Miller was in the Windows 10 testers' camp: He was puzzled by the OneDrive change and wanted the original functionality restored. "I'm kind of perplexed by their move. I'm not sure what their thinking was," Miller said. "But they need to come up with a solution that also makes sense for Windows tablets."

Scores of users who commented on the restore-OneDrive thread had pointed out that, with unlimited OneDrive storage space, they were unable to synchronize more than a fraction of what was in the cloud to their tablets or Surface Pro devices, which sport as little as 64GB of on-device space.


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