An open letter to Mr. Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft, after OneDrive changes

Mr. Nadella, the current CEO of Microsoft, and this letter’s recipient. (Photo by “ OFFICIAL LEWEB PHOTOS” / License CC-BY 2.0)

Satya,

I had been a diehard OneDrive fan for a year. Pretty much like everybody else, I was attracted to it due to the whooping unlimited storage it had promised to Office 365 subscribers. As soon as I heard about the deal, I promptly set up an Office 365 University account. My four-year subscription included access to Office programs on two computers, as well as 60 “Skype minutes” per month. However, the real deal breaker was OneDrive. I didn’t need an Office license, and I haven’t touched Skype for years. What I really needed was cloud storage, and this was the main reason for signing up to Microsoft’s service.

Although a technicality — “unlimited” carries the self-evident meaning of “infinite” — certainly granted me the right of uploading Goliathan amounts of data to your servers, this has never been my intention. Taken as a whole, so far, my digital backups amount to a little more than half terabyte. For me, it had not been easy to handle this much data by myself, after all, it is hard to host a real data-centre at home. Yet Microsoft provided me with what seemed to be a great solution for this: instead of having a once-in-a-lifetime purchase of Office apps and use them alongside local files, why not invest on its “online and on demand” services? Why not take advantage of “the cloud”, far more powerful than any in-house alternative, to host the main version of my ever-growing pile of documents?

This is how I began to structure the future of my productivity around the Microsoft ecosystem. Immediately after the beginning of my subscription, I registered myself at (now-defunct) Preview OneDrive, the website queue for getting access to unlimited storage. As above mentioned, I didn’t really need this perk at the time — it was just preparation for a future when it would come in handy. Thankfully, wait times were still short, and I soon received an email that cheerfully claimed:

“Ask and you shall receive! We have taken you off the waiting list and your Office 365 account now has access to unlimited OneDrive storage.
We added 10 TB of OneDrive storage to your account to get you started during this initial rollout. If you reach your capacity and need additional storage, or have OneDrive questions, just email us here.”

Over the course of the following months, I have proceeded to upload to OneDrive literally everything I digitally owned. My goal was to organise myself by having the service work as a major hub of data. If there were study to be done, digital PDFs would be readily accessible whenever I was. If there were the need for collaborative working, I would share a folder with teammates so that everyone can have access to the same resources. If a family member had important stuff to share online, I would happily store their files in my account. Finally, should I ever need to have a break, I could count on OneDrive to stream my (modest) audio and video collection.

I had been able to enjoy roughly a year of reasonable cloud experience. Of course, along the way, I stumbled upon various issues — sync failures, slow upload rates, unsuccessful downloads… However, I believed the time I devoted to prepping my account would be well worth. I had already set my mind that, as soon as my University subscription came to an end, I would make the jump to a Personal one. I trusted Microsoft, a shining example of multinational corporation, with the tools that are fundamental to my study, work and entertainment. Unfortunately, I am saddened by the fact that my planning was so suddenly disrupted by the executives at Redmond. Microsoft has, without adequate forewarning, decided to change the rules of the game and offer a mere 1 TB of storage for its loyal Office 365 customers. This is part of the company’s official announcement:


OneDrive storage plans change in pursuit of productivity and collaboration (By The OneDrive Team — November 2, 2015)
We’re making changes to OneDrive storage plans for consumers and are committed to making this transition as smooth as possible.
Since we started to roll out unlimited cloud storage to Office 365 consumer subscribers, a small number of users backed up numerous PCs and stored entire movie collections and DVR recordings. In some instances, this exceeded 75 TB per user or 14,000 times the average. Instead of focusing on extreme backup scenarios, we want to remain focused on delivering high-value productivity and collaboration experiences that benefit the majority of OneDrive users.

Mr. Nadella, the company over which you preside has not even had the ability to announce its decision properly. The “OneDrive Team” believes — or, at the very least, purports to believe — that the changes are good for its clients. In an unfortunate and poor choice of words, its members say they are “in pursuit of productivity and collaboration”. Sincerely, I have absolutely no idea how cutting back users’ storage is going to make them more productive or collaborative. As a company, Microsoft should have known that its words never matter as much as its actions. So far, not a single person — not even an employee — has come forward to defend the terminology used by your marketing department. It is hard to believe in corporate speak when it is filled with euphemism and illogicality. Believe me, Satya: everyone knows the practical implications of OneDrive’s latest announcement.

It seems Microsoft’s U-turn is best explained by underlying causes. Your company claims the “abuse” of the service led to its collapse — users who stored about 75 TB of data. Even though I sympathise with the people who tried to use the most of their subscriptions, I concede that this is a troubling scenario, and it could have been addressed in many different ways. Perhaps the company could have limited subscribers’ storage to 10 TB, which, by educated guess, is far more than their average use. However, for Microsoft, it should come as no surprise that some of its customers were longing for bigger quotas. The email that welcomes people to unlimited OneDrive clearly states that ten terabytes would consist solely of an “initial rollout”. Had the company planned to deal with potential “abuse” — maybe by adopting a “fair use” clause — this massive advertising setback would never have taken place. The “abuse” argument really seems like a lame excuse.


Satya,

If we take a closer look at OneDrive’s announcement, we will likely conclude that every single sentence of it works against Microsoft’s reputation. If “abuse” was the real motivation for tearing the cloud service apart, then why were non-subscribing customers severely penalised? Is Microsoft’s server infrastructure so crippled that it must regain lots of storage space, as fast as possible? This is something rather unimaginable, yet, if this is indeed the case, then it begs the question: why did Microsoft commit to providing a service that it cannot handle? I am confident that your history as a cloud computing mogul makes you the right person for clarifying these dilemmas.

Moreover, why did your company decide to cease offering smaller (and cheaper) storage plans for OneDrive, outside the scope of Office 365? Is this an unscrupulous attempt to gather even more subscribers to its “on demand” portfolio of products? It appears that Microsoft has consigned its “cloud first” motto to the dustbin of history, while simultaneously emphasising its business strategy of pushing profit margins forward. When these things happen, we can be sure that twenty-first century customers will be upset — especially considering that Microsoft has not even proposed a significant reimbursement of the money invested in Office 365¹. In times of technological advancement and globalisation, companies must remember that their future lies in innovating, not in degrading their offers. I struggle to understand how the same company — “One Microsoft” — is able to reinvent the PC and, in the following weeks, annihilate its own cloud service provider.

Finally, Mr. Nadella, allow me to make one last point. Every single Internet service operates according to a logic of trust and reliability — especially the ones involved in cloud storage. We expect Microsoft to adhere to strict policies to ensure that our data is confidential, encrypted and inaccessible to other people, unless due to extremely unusual circumstances. Most OneDrive customers are not fine with the company’s employees roaming over their data. Also, most of us believe our files won’t be systematically removed from your servers because of corporate backtracking. How can OneDrive be trustworthy and reliable when its own team is able to pinpoint the exact components of our archives — “entire movie collections and DVR recordings” — , as well as to make a sea change just a year after overpromising?

I look forward to hearing your reply, even though an official response to this letter is highly unlikely.

Respectfully,

A baffled Microsoft customer.


Notes

¹ How can a prorated refund be enough to compensate the endless hours and Internet quotas assigned to uploading files to OneDrive?


Update (Nov. 10, 2015) — For OneDrive customers: I’ve come across a story, shared by Gregg Keizer at Network World, which provides an interesting estimate with regards to Microsoft’s financial reasons for changing OneDrive. It’s definitely worth reading: http://goo.gl/Vf3mtG.