There’s trouble in store for Microsoft as Jon Honeyball finds his Google services blocked

The new era of inter-company co-operation is perhaps not as comprehensive as had been thought

When Satya Nadella took over as boss of Microsoft, I heaved a big sigh of relief. The rampaging elephant on the Microsoft board, Steve Ballmer, had finally moved on. It was time for a new era, a time for respect for the customer. I'm not foolish enough to suggest that all Ballmer did was wrong there is enough material from his reign to fill multiple MBA courses at Harvard but he brought an oppressive bullishness to the business that was unpleasant and unnecessary, and certainly tainted the memories of his successes.

One of these was getting Microsoft to reach out into the retail community with the Microsoft Store. That it is a clear rip-off of the Apple Store is neither here nor there. Apple was first, and the later arrival of Microsoft was always going to be seen as copycat, but it has directly engaged with the public in a way that OEMs such as Dell, Lenovo and Samsung have never managed.

Recently, I found myself in Boston. Not the one near The Wash, the newer one in the US. This is a city that I have grown fond of over many trips, with charming architecture, interesting seafood and a worldview that's distinctly on the western border of Kensington in places.

I dropped into the Apple Store and managed to top up on a few essential overpriced adapters for various USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 devices. Then it was time for a trip over to the Microsoft Store. This is housed in the lovely Prudential Center shopping mall, where the air conditioning is a welcome respite from the heat outside.

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As you would expect, there is plenty of hardware on show to play with, and dutifully attentive assistants waiting to pounce on you if you have any questions. I wanted to play with the Surface Studio device, Microsoft's huge touchscreen all-in-one, but had to call over an assistant to ask why the mouse kept freezing for nearly a second any time I opened up a Control Panel window. The assistant seemed confused, and moved me to another Studio machine, which exhibited the exact same issue.

At this point, in an attempt to be English and gentlemanly, I struck up a conversation with the lady assistant but was disappointed to discover that she had little knowledge of the device itself. She was much more helpful about the Surface Book, and seemed genuinely disappointed that I had suffered so many firmware issues with mine, especially in the early months. They are much better now, she chirped.

On to a third Studio machine, in the hope of finding one that didn't perform the "Stutter Rap" every time I moved the mouse. This one was better it was the full Core-i7 version, the one that has a positively tumescent price of 4,249 inc VAT when specified with 2TB of storage and 32GB of RAM. But at least it worked smoothly.

Well, it did right up to the point where I fired up the ever-annoying Edge browser and trundled over to maps.google.com, because I wanted to look up the address of a local restaurant. It said the page was not found. Odd, I thought, maybe there's no internet connection? A few more test clicks showed that the internet was working just fine, but maps.google.com was missing. My curiosity was piqued when I discovered that Gmail wasn't available either.

I called the assistant over again, and asked why Gmail and Google Maps were missing in action? She informed me that they were blocked on the shop firewall. I asked why, and she said that this was company policy "because Google is a competitor". I pointed out that I could easily get to Apple's iCloud.com; she explained that they had an Apple to Microsoft trade-in offer in place. 

I was more than a little disappointed. Allowing customers to play with your hardware and software offering is important if you're to gain their trust. Especially when you're asking them to spend thousands of pounds. Blocking Google is simply pig-headed. The Surface Studio has a large, high-resolution screen if I were a serious Google user, I would want to know how well it worked on that screen before handing over my credit card.

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Someone in Microsoft has decided that this blocking is appropriate for Microsoft stores. I can only suggest that this is the sort of corrosive and inward thinking that got Microsoft into the mess it found itself in a few years ago. The sort of thinking that said it was okay for Ballmer to throw contempt on products from rivals, whether that be Apple, Linux or anything else. The sort of fervent cheer-leading favouritism that means you're utterly blind to your own failings and weak spots, and don't see disasters coming until they're staring you in the face.

I had hoped that, in the new era of clean thinking exhibited by Satya Nadella, this sort of nonsense would have been banished from Microsoft. But no, it's still alive in its retail division. Someone senior needs to have a polite word with these goons. Treat your customers with appropriate respect, or go home. The choice is yours.

This article originally appeared in PC Pro. Main image credit: Microsoft

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