Microsoft : Spurning compatibility

Users suffer when problems with proprietary technology are not worked round.

click to view

The feature

Microsoft, the US-based IT giant, uses proprietary technology to power a navigation feature that does not perform on some mobile operating systems. Microsoft’s Investor Relations home page is dominated by a horizontally scrolling image panel that promotes, and provides links to, recent company reports and webcasts. The panel is created using Silverlight, Microsoft’s equivalent to Adobe’s Flash technology. The feature is intuitive and effective on both a Mac and PC, but the scrolling mechanism does not work on an Apple iPhone. The desktop site is, however, the default option for iPhone users, even though Microsoft has a mobile version of its web site. There are no clear signposts to the mobile site on the Investor Relations pages.

The takeaway

Microsoft’s scrolling panel does not function on iPhones because Silverlight is not compatible with Apple’s mobile operating system. The fact of a major navigation feature not working with one of the most globally popular smart phones highlights the danger of using plug-in technology in a world of rising mobile internet access via a diverging range of devices. Using its website to showcase its Silverlight technology may make sense for Microsoft from a marketing perspective – but not from a usability one. Other companies – such as Siemens – have got around the problem of plug-in compatibility by providing alternative mechanisms for visitors using incompatible devices and/or by making mobile versions of their site the default option for mobile visitors. Microsoft would create a more satisfying experience for its iPhone-wielding investors and analysts if it followed suit.
First published 01 March, 2012
< Back to Tips