From evil empire to role model, Microsoft builds its claim to the high ground

microsoft build 2018 what to expect header getty
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The year was 1998. Bill Clinton was president, “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It” was a hot new beat, and Microsoft – or, should I say, Micro$oft – was embroiled in an anti-trust battle. Though the company would eventually win on appeal, the lawsuit manifest what many people already felt. Microsoft was a bully, ready to use any means necessary to squash even the smallest challenger.

Fast forward to 2018 and the script has flipped. While Google and Facebook wallow through scandals, Microsoft has kept itself wide of trouble. The company is a champion of open-source software, and a defender of customer data. It’s a dramatic reversal of fortune, and it’s one Microsoft has worked hard to deserve.

Open-source, open arms

Microsoft has long approached developers with open arms. The dominance of Windows was built on developers, who designed a wide variety of apps for the operating system and, in doing so, cemented it as the go-to OS everyone wanted to use.

In recent years, Microsoft has doubled-down on open source projects. Build 2018 saw the launch of an open-source Azure IoT Edge platform and a partnership with Github that brings multiple Azure features to that popular development platform. Those announcements came on the heels of Build 2017, where the company brought Linux to the Windows Store, and Build 2016, which announced support for Linux’s Bash command line in Windows.

The path forward is a clear, eight-lane highway, stretching to the horizon without interruption.

None of that means much if you’re not a developer. But if you are, it means Microsoft’s platforms and services are easy to use and understand, you’re given a lot of insight into how they work, and you have a lot of freedom when deciding the software, programming language, and equipment you prefer. This isn’t a new path, either; at this point, it’s the status quo. Everyone knows the company supports open-source projects and will continue to do so in the future. The path forward is a clear, eight-lane highway, stretching to the horizon without interruption.

This stands in stark contrast to Facebook, which is aggressively backpedaling in wake of Cambridge Analytica and other scandals. The company’s F8 developer conference, a week before Build, was held in an environment of fundamental distrust. A developer had just stolen data from Facebook users, forcing the company to tighten up its policies at breakneck pace. Yet despite that, Facebook had little of importance to say on the topic. Where is the social network going with its policies? How will that impact developers? How will that protect users? No one knows for sure.   

That’s why a recent poll found Facebook was the least trusted tech company operating today. Microsoft was third best, meanwhile, sitting just behind Lyft and Tesla.

A refreshing selflessness

Transparency is part of Microsoft’s redemption, but that’s not where the tale ends. The company has also benefited from its extensive charitable work. That continued at Build 2018 with the announcement of a $25 million ‘AI for accessibility’ program that seeks to help people with disabilities.

It’s just the latest in a long line of such programs. Microsoft last year talked up Project Emma, a haptic wristband designed by Microsoft researcher Haiyan Zhang to help Emma Lawton, a 33-year-old with Parkinson’s, overcome its effect on her handwriting. Alphabet, parent company of Google, is Microsoft’s only serious competition in charitable donations.

projects backed by google and microsoft are tackling parkinsons disease project emma writing

Aside from the volume of its work, Microsoft’s charity is delivered with a refreshing sense of selflessness. Sure, Google’s Project Loon has brought the internet to places crippled by disaster, and Facebook’s Safety Check makes it possible to connect with friends and loved ones during emergencies, but it’s easy to see what each company gets out of the deal. You’re the product, so anything that makes you more likely to sign up is worthwhile.

Microsoft’s entire strategy is different. You’re not the product. In fact, Microsoft isn’t particularly interested in the average, everyday consumer. The company’s instead targeting corporations, governments, and other large organizations. That makes its charitable projects feel more like, well, charity.

You’re only as good as your last scandal

There’s another important piece of the puzzle, too – perhaps the most important part. It’s not about what Satya Nadella or any other speaker at Build 2018 said. It’s about what they didn’t say.

Microsoft’s entire strategy is different. You’re not the product.

They didn’t apologize.

They didn’t have to, because Microsoft has little to apologize for. The company isn’t perfect, but it hasn’t suffered any major data breaches or privacy scandals in recent years. It offers a wide range of tools that helps you manage your data, has significantly tightened Windows security, and aggressively pursues lawsuits against the United States governments over privacy issues.

It’s a pristine record, at least compared to the company’s peers. That’s something Apple has long understood, but Facebook and Google still don’t grok. You’re only as good as your last scandal. Microsoft has suffered few. Actions, not words, are what ultimately foster trust – and Microsoft’s actions have set it apart.

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.

Computing

An inside look at Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8cx, a revolutionary laptop processor

Six years after Microsoft’s failed foray into ARM computing with Windows RT, its second effort with Always-Connected PC is now showing early signs of success. Microsoft partner Qualcomm told us how the Snapdragon 8cx might revolutionize…
Computing

Microsoft’s Chromium Edge browser may be adding your Chrome extensions

Fans sticking to Google Chrome because due to its vast extension library might be able to switch over to Microsoft's latest iteration of Edge, as a project manager confirms that the company has its eyes on Chrome extensions.
Computing

Microsoft asks Edge Insiders for help with its new browser development

If you want to be among the first to try Microsoft's new Edge browser that's built on Google's open-source Chromium rendering engine, you can sign up to be an Edge Insider. Microsoft is asking users to provide feedback.
Computing

3DMark’s Port Royal lets you benchmark ray tracing on Nvidia’s RTX cards

UL is adding another benchmarking utility to its popular 3DMark suite to help gamers measure their graphics card's ray tracing performance. You'll soon be able to measure how Nvidia's RTX 2070, 2080, and 2080 Ti stack up.
Computing

Snatch Apple’s 2017 15-inch MacBook Pro for up to $1,200 off at B&H

The latest deal at B&H is offering up 2017 15-inch Apple MacBook Pros, in space gray and silver, with Intel Core i7 quad-core CPUs, 16GB of RAM, and AMD Radeon Pro 560 GPUs with up to 2TB of SSD storage.
Computing

I tried an LTE laptop for a month, and I wasn’t really convinced

LTE laptops offer up plenty of benefits and are becoming more common. After spending one month with one in my daily life in New York City, I really wondered if it is something that consumers really need in their lives.
Emerging Tech

An A.I. cracks the internet’s squiggly letter bot test in 0.5 seconds

How do you prove that you’re a human when communicating on the internet? The answer used to be by solving a CAPTCHA puzzle. But maybe not for too much longer. Here is the reason why.
Gaming

Apple Mac users should take a bite out of these awesome games

Contrary to popular belief, there exists a bevy of popular A-list games compatible for Mac computers. Take a look at our picks for the best Mac games available for Apple fans.
Computing

Qualcomm’s dual-screen PC concept looks like two connected Surface Go tablets

In Qualcomm's video teaser, we got a glimpse of the company's vision for how a dual-screen ARM PC should work. The internet reacted to Qualcomm's video, calling the device in question merely a mashup of two Surface Go tablets.
Deals

Check out the best Green Monday deals for those last-minute gifts

Black Friday and Cyber Monday have come and gone, but that doesn't mean you've missed your chance of finding a great deal. We're talking about Green Monday, of course, and it falls on December 10.
Computing

Hololens 2 could give the Always Connected PC a new, ‘aggressive’ form

Microsoft is said to be leaning on Qualcomm to power its Hololens 2 headset. Instead of Intel CPUs, the next Hololens could use a Snapdragon 850 processor, allowing it to benefit from the always-connected features.
Computing

Chrome’s dark mode may cast its shadow over Macs by early 2019

By early 2019 Google may release a version of Chrome for Mac users that offers a Dark Mode feature to match MacOS Mojave's recent darkening.
Computing

These laptop bags will keep your notebook secure wherever you go

Choosing the right laptop bag is no easy feat -- after all, no one likes to second-guess themselves. Here are some of the best laptop bags on the market, from backpacks to sleeves, so you can get it right the first time around.
Home Theater

Step aside set-top boxes, the best streaming sticks are tiny and just as powerful

Which streaming stick reigns supreme? We pit the Chromecast and Chromecast Ultra against the Roku Premiere, Roku Streaming Stick+, and the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K to help you decide which one will be the best fit in your living room.