Windows 8 loses Previous Version; Microsoft forgets about business users again

Microsoft decided to remove the “Restore Previous Versions” functionality from Windows 8 because “Previous Versions were rarely used and negatively impacted the overall Windows performance” (http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/windows/desktop/hh848072(v=vs.85).aspx)

Note the bolded “were rarely used” – this is Microsoft’s true justification for feature removal, and it is highly flawed for two (and a half) main reasons:

  1. File recovery technologies are supposed to be rarely used. Think about it.
    (The feature as implemented was not exactly intuitive for non-technical users.)
  2. It may not be true – Microsoft made assumptions about all Windows users from the subset of users who participate in the Customer Experience Improvement Program

 

How often should you have to restore?

People rarely need to restore files from backup – this is the nature of the industry. If people are using recovery technologies frequently, either the users are doing something wrong or the software is faulty. Nonetheless, mistakes happen. A file gets accidentally deleted, or saved with catastrophic changes. Or overwritten, infected or corrupted…

Disasters – logical or otherwise – are rare. Most people running Windows don’t bother to configure a recovery solution before disaster strikes. Previous Versions was almost like an “Undo” for file operations that was there, out of the box. It was a very low impact way of providing logical file recovery – as opposed to traditional backups that require massive resources (I/O, compression CPU, time, planning, external storage….). If you didn’t do backups, you at least had something.

Additionally, using the feature required an understanding of folder hierarchy that many users lack. That is, if you accidentally deleted a file in C:\Users\bob\My Documents, you had to browse to C:\Users\bob, right-click on My Documents and select Restore Previous Versions. The trouble is, My Documents is part of a Library in Windows 7, and you cannot browse to the parent folder of a library. Since (again arguably) must accidentally messed up files are in the Documents folder, many if not most users weren’t able to get to the right place to restore their documents.

So the workflow / interface was not useable by the average users. Fix the interface, don’t remove the feature.

 

CEIP and rash generalizations

Microsoft lately has been using telemetry data from the Customer Experience Improvement Program (CEIP) to decide which features are used, and which are not. This data is truly invaluable in giving them insight on the usability of their products in the real world, (and I don’t mean to downplay the value of this data) but it must be used responsibly from a statistical perspective.

If everybody always participated in the CEIP then the data from it would be complete and truly representative of all users. This is not the case, however. Many businesses, as well as privacy-minded individuals choose to disable or block the phone-home functionality of Microsoft’s products. This includes the CEIP, as well as Error Reporting and even Product Activation.

I wouldn’t event try to guess at the actual statistics, but I am confident that Previous Versions were used more frequently by people on workstations with CEIP disabled – Power users, IT professionals and corporate users. And I bet that is a lot.

We’ve seen this before – Remember the ribbon in Office 2007? I read an article where Microsoft proudly stated that according to their telemetry data, very few people customized the toolbars in Office 2003, so they made the ribbon non-customizable to make life easier for “most users”. Guess what happened? Enough people hated it that they had to fix it in the next version – you can customize the ribbon in Office 2010.

The telemetry was wrong.

 

But even if it was right, Microsoft needs to keep something in mind: There are a LOT more standard users than there are IT professionals, but IT professionals are the driving force behind their business.

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