Microsoft’s confusing web sites

Scott Barnes draws attention to this study which compares the usability of the Apple vs the Microsoft web sites.

Some things are bad for so long that you stop complaining about them. This is one of them. Let’s acknowledge though that there are mitigating factors:

  • Microsoft is a huge organisation, has a vast number of products, and creating a coherent web presence that covers everything is a monumental task.
  • The goals and technical abilities of visitors to Microsoft’s web properties vary enormously.
  • Staying up-to-date is a challenge.

Against that though, Microsoft is in the IT business and supplies both web design and web server technology; it regularly talks up the importance of “user experience” and must be aware that potential users will judge to some extent by what they find.

I use “web sites” in the plural because there are many Microsoft web sites. Perhaps there should be one; but as the referenced study observes, there are numerous different designs. There are different domains too, such as Silverlight.net, ASP.Net and so on.

Take my experience this morning for example. My question: how many processors are supported by Windows Small Business Server 2008? My Google search got me to here, an overview showing the two editions, Standard and Premium. I clicked Compare Features and got to here, which says I have to visit the Server 2008 web site to find out more about the “Server 2008 product technologies”. I click the link, and now I am looking at info on Server 2008 R2 – only I know already that SBS is based on the original Server 2008, not the R2 version. It’s not clear where to go next, other than back to Google.

Some general observations, after clicking around various SBS sites (I had some other questions too):

  • It’s hard to get past the marketing blather to clear information
  • Too many links lead to menu pages with further links – sometimes it feels like an endless loop
  • I found lots of information in the future tense, clearly prepared before launch and not updated
  • Regionalisation is poor. You can start on the UK site but end up with pricing and availability information applicable only to the US
  • There’s a Technet site as well as a general site and the differentiation is not clear. I suppose the general site is meant to be more business/marketing focused, but there’s plenty of overlap
  • In general pages are too busy with each one offering a splurge of choices
  • Some things are just inherently confusing – like the CAL policy, which has four different types of CAL (user and device in combination with standard and premium) that can be mixed and matched: you can use standard CALs with SBS Premium if they are not used with “Premium features”. Whoever dreamt that up has never worked in a small business.

Clearly this is not a simple problem to solve. At the same time, it is hard to understand why it is so bad. It is a large company problem: maybe too much bureaucracy, conflicting kingdoms, little budget following initial launch, everyone knows it is a problem but nobody knows who should be fixing it, that kind of thing.

Incidentally, I think the processor limit is actually the same in SBS 2008 Standard as in Server 2008 Standard R2, and this chart shows it to be 4 sockets. In other words, you can have up to four physical processors and still benefit from multiple cores. Probably.

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