Bug? What Bug?

How Microsoft keeps bugs secret until it suits them.

For as long as we can remember, an Office Service Pack has been accompanied by the revelation of previous undisclosed bugs in the software. Microsoft has an ongoing policy of keeping bugs secret from customers until they have a fix.

Here’s how it works.

  • Through support calls and customer complaints, Microsoft learns of bugs in Office.
  • Microsoft decides the bug isn’t worth fixing right away (i.e. it’s not severe, highly noticeable and not a security issue).
  • Information about the bug is hidden from customers. It’s not published in the public version of the Knowledge Base.

    • Lots of time wasting by customers as they try to work around bugs that Microsoft won’t admit to. There might be some help on Internet forums – if you’re lucky.
    • These secret bugs are kept secret for months, sometimes years.
    • Customers might call MS Support (paying for the privilege) and might be told of a workaround, if MS Support can find one in the non-public Knowledge Base.

  • Eventually some of these secret bugs will be fixed in a Service Pack and, at the same time, Microsoft might publically admit to the bug for the first time.

    • Quite often a Service Pack is released and, at the same time, a new set of KB articles appear with some details of bugs that, until then, had been kept secret.

Why do this? Microsoft doesn’t want to admit to bugs because it might hurt sales of Office, particularly among corporate customers. If IT departments knew of bugs that would affect them, the organization would refuse to purchase until the bug was fixed. It’s better for Microsoft to withhold information that will hurt sales.

Microsoft does NOT have to worry about existing users of the software. Those customers might waste many hours or even days dealing with a secret bug in Office, but that cost doesn’t impact on Microsoft so it’s of no concern. Microsoft knows that by the time they want to sell another version of Office, such bugs can be explained away, if they haven’t been forgotten already.

Microsoft Office users should not rely on the Knowledge Base since, like anything from Microsoft, it’s filtered through the need to generate more sales.  Seems obvious but we’re amazed at the many people who consider the KB to be the first and last word on Microsoft software.

Naturally Microsoft has a euphemism for these secret bugs – they are called, without any embarrassment or shame, ‘Previously unreleased fixes‘.

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