I’ve been a Microsoft product user for exactly 20 years, ever since DOS 4.2 ruled the world and using a Mouse was optional. I still remember most of the DOS commands, and even though Windows 3.1 grew quick on me, there were just certain things that I could do better in the command prompt than in any other environment.
Throughout the years, I’ve been reluctant to leave Windows, even if I use a Mac. The only reason I accepted to buy my first Mac, was when I learned about how well Windows ran on it through Boot Camp. Back when I sort-of switched, it was the only way to get the sturdy aluminum computer I wanted, which could edit video well by using Final Cut on OS X, and would give me the Windows version of Excel that is simply impossible to beat in ease of use and functionality.
That said, I’ll admit I sometimes worry about Microsoft’s direction in the last decade. The Microsoft I remember in the Bill Gates era was focused in taking good ideas to a level where nobody could ever beat them. They weren’t after following anybody, and they would take no prisoners when others tried to catch-up at least a bit. Under Ballmer’s regime, a lot has changed sadly. Gates was focused in making his technological dreams true in the products they invented, and they were so good that they dominated the 90s when it came to technology. Ballmer is sadly not a driving force of change, and he’s spent the last decade copying what others do to make a profit, and not necessarily making any of his technological dreams an innovation to follow.
I know many of you will argue with me that Microsoft sells more Windows PCs than any other competitor, but that’s precisely where the point is wrong. We’d need to separate the word Windows and PC to get it right. See, it’s a mathematical certainty that Microsoft will sell more Windows licenses if they have the driving force of many other companies building the PCs they run on. At times when computers are becoming more ubiquitous, it’s also another reason for their success, but that doesn’t mean that they are growing at the same level as their competitors are with either new customers, or old deserters.
Take Nokia for example. They are still one of the top phone manufacturers in the world. They’ll continue growing as people continue to adopt phones and the population grows around the world. The problem is that their market share continues to drop, even in times when the size of the market keeps naturally growing. The main reason why they’re loosing so much money quarter over quarter is specifically because new customers don’t aspire any of their products, and old ones are moving away. Nokia was too slow to adapt to the disruption that was caused by Android and iOS, and their new partner of choice is another company that has notoriously become slow in acting in this time of change.
That’s right, Microsoft has lost its cool, and none of their latest attempts prove that they really understand what’s going on around them. Just two years ago they were the most valuable technology company in the world, and now Apple owns the title by almost twice what Microsoft is worth. How could this happen? While there are many answers to that question, I’d like to focus on the things I think Microsoft should change in order to be the company we were all proud of a decade ago:
You’re Microsoft for Christ’s sake! Stop trying to copy everybody else. Everybody has spent years copying you and now the tables have turned. Apple pulls the iPod, you push the Zune, Apple pulls the iPhone, you push Windows Phone 7, Apple pulls the iPad, you push the Surface, Google does search, you push Bing, etc, etc. I don’t think Microsoft has noticed that they’ve failed at growing in every single market they’ve tried to copy in the last decade. What happened to the Microsoft that invented the Pocket PC and buried the Palm Pilot? That same company that almost turned Apple into a squashed orange? Success only exists in innovating and not in replicating.
The fact of the matter is, Microsoft won’t win if they continue trying to be another player in somebody else’s game. They need to re-invent the game. Just recently we heard Steve Ballmer again talking about how they will no longer leave Apple alone in any market they pioneer. What I don’t understand is why he didn’t turn the tables and say “We’re about to innovate with a couple of products that will have Apple on their knees behind us”. Sadly, the answer to that is most likely something I don’t even want to hear, but in a nutshell, that’s the CEO that Microsoft needs. Microsoft needs to return to their roots, and all it takes, is to be themselves.
Stop announcing stuff too early
It’s no secret that Microsoft just buried their own Windows Phone 7.5 sales with the announcement of Windows Phone 8. They haven’t really taken-off yet, and already they cheat their first loyal customers out. Don’t get me wrong, I love Mango as a fruit and as my favorite operating system, but nobody wants to buy it now that they know what its future will be. Apple has come to the point where they announce a product and start selling it the same day or two weeks later. Google has just proven to be just as cool by announcing the Nexus 7 two weeks before they started selling it.
Microsoft takes 8 months on average between the time they announce a product and how long it takes them to start selling it. I’m not exaggerating with that figure either. The reason why announcing things early is a problem is of common sense to many, but I’ll give you an example: Did you know that the idea of a split software keyboard on a tablet came from the first versions of Windows 8 that Microsoft previewed more than a year ago? Do you think it’s fair that Microsoft is still three months away from selling their first Windows 8 license, and Apple was able to push that split keyboard idea just two months after Microsoft demoed it on iOS 5 last Fall?
I could give you many other proven cases of how iOS and Android have both benefited from Microsoft ideas that were too late to make it to the market, but I know you get where we’re coming from.
Don’t get me wrong, the Metro UI is one of my favorite ways to interact with a smartphone, but for all the reasons a lot of people haven’t adopted it in the two years since Windows Phone 7 launched. See, Metro reminds me of the DOS prompt days with a black screen and matte text that I so dearly loved, but it seems that Microsoft has forgotten that their first hit product was not DOS, but Windows 95.
The average consumer seems to prefer skeuomorphs instead of digitally authentic user interfaces. It’s much easier for a person to understand that a folder is a folder, if it’s drawn to look like a real folder, than if I have to explain what that green box with the white drawing stands for. I’m not saying that Microsoft should change the UI paradigm; I just wish we had a choice. I for one would stick to what Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8 will look like, but I know a lot of people would love the option for custom wallpapers, and for live tiles to look more like a real tile and not something that only us in the 90s geek computer squad enjoyed. The whole Hub system in Windows Phone 7 is genius, and it proves that wallpapers are capable of working without slowing down the device. The beauty behind the Zune hub is just an example of why I wish it was ported to the rest of the OS.
Betting the company on just one thing that has not yet proven success is kind of a time bomb. It’s not the Microsoft I remember where I could theme Windows in many ways ever since Windows 98. I loved switching everything on my Windows Mobile devices as well, and I wish to have those same liberties in any future versions of Microsoft products.
The bottom line
Microsoft needs to stop measuring their success by how much money they’re making. It feels like a sort of rip-off that we’re sold a product just for our money and not for how they want to solve any of our needs. We need the old Microsoft back, where risks were the order of the day and where giving users an open system that was full of options was what we most loved about it.
I have nothing against Steve Ballmer, on the contrary. He’s a great guy, no doubt. Sadly Microsoft needs an idea man and not a business administrator. If it’s not Bill Gates, it could be any of us reading this article right now, but whatever they do, they need their Mojo back.
How would you recommend that Microsoft regains their glory? Be sure to share your thoughts in the comments down bellow.