Server speed often the biggest issue – and Microsoft is now a ‘Cloud’ company?

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On the whole, I really enjoy using Windows 10 Mobile, which is why AAWP continues to exist and be updated. However, it’s not all roses, and there’s one thing I’ve never publicly complained about. Until now. One of the biggest frustrations I have with the operating system has nothing to do with the OS at all and more to do with Microsoft making a complete pigs ear of the software on their servers. Let me explain…

How many times have you seen any of these scenarios:

  • You open the Store client, you open up ‘Downloads and Updates’. There’s a pause. Three seconds later, ‘Recent activity’ starts to get populated. You tap on ‘Get updates’… and wait some more. Perhaps 30 seconds later some updates appear. You tap on the download control and… wait some more. Eventually there’s a message about getting license information, then the download starts and even a small 10MB application can often take tens of seconds to arrive and install.
     
  • Still in the Store client, you tap on a new application or game that looks promising. You get the title and… wait a couple of seconds… a brief description. Wait a few more seconds…. look, there are some screenshot thumbnails. You’re trying to swipe further down, to see user reviews. The UI doesn’t let you, because it hasn’t got the data yet. Finally, after fifteen seconds, you have everything you need.
     
  • You open OneDrive and open a folder that you’ve been in hundreds of times before. Yet the thumbnails for each item don’t seem to have cached and you then have to wait 10 or 20 seconds before you can see (for example) which image is which.
     
  • You’re in Photos, trying to find an image (perhaps auto-added on another phone?) and you swipe down a number of screen-fulls. You’re faced with a grid of grey squares and have to wait five seconds before the thumbnails appear. No, the image you want isn’t there. So you swipe down another screen-full and rinse and repeat. Five seconds each time, it all adds up.
     
  • You head into Feedback Hub, intending to give Microsoft feedback (such as ‘Your servers are too slow!’) and tap on ‘Feedback’ in the hamburger menu, to see what’s trending. Fifteen seconds go by, while you stare at spinning dot animations. Fifteen. 
     
  • In any online application running under Windows 10 Mobile, seeing dots flying across the screen, and then flying some more…. and then more dots spinning around. Never a progress bar, to give you hope, just dot animations that are open ended…

Now the examples above apply on even the fastest phone hardware. We’re talking Snapdragon 810, 820 chipsets with plenty of RAM… and there’s no WAY that the simple operations above should take more than a fraction of a second. These chipsets are (here) programmed with a 32-bit OS and measure their speed in GigaHertz. That’s thousands of millions of operations PER SECOND. And then factor in multiple cores. So why are our Windows 10 Mobile phones being so slow?

As implied, the inefficiencies are in the cloud, on Microsoft’s servers. We’re not talking a lot of data here – much of the examples above only involve kilobytes worth of information. Multiply this up with metadata and formatting and there’s more than plain text, I agree. But the chipsets here are capable of handling and rendering all the information in a fraction of a second.

We’re not talking connectivity issues here either. I normally test these phones within a metre of a 200Mbps connection with 5GHz Wifi. There’s bandwidth coming out of every port in sight.

My contention here is that, for a cloud-first, services-based company (under Nadella – sigh), Microsoft has been doing a spectacularly (and consistently) bad job of managing the load on its servers. This should be the one thing they do best in 2017 – have server farms that can respond to millions of queries per second, from round the world, and deliver data smoothly.

Servers

Google, Microsoft’s big rival, seems to know how to do it – Google Drive, the Play Store, Google Photos, are all much quicker on Android, even on low or mid-range phones, than my Windows 10 Mobile flagships. 

And that’s frustrating. Which is why I’m surprised that more people haven’t complained about Microsoft server speed and efficiency before.

Heck, this can’t be rocket science – surely whole books have been written on distributing network load and providing fast response times… on all platforms. What about you – can I get a seconder on all this? Do you think Microsoft’s servers have been a factor in the perceived slowness of their operating systems generally?