Reboot

This is my open letter to Redmond, my Jerry Maguire, if you will. I’ve been a huge Microsoft fan and advocate for the past 15 years, and I’ve seen their product line evolve from the early days of DOS, through various incarnations of Windows and Office, and now onward to software+services. I’ve taught  people to use countless Microsoft products, and I continue to use Microsoft products and services on a daily basis. I’m not a hardcore programmer, but I can find my way around Visual Studio well enough to do some casual coding (is there such a thing?) once in a while. If you’ve read my Windows Live Spaces blog lately (you’re probably there now), you know that I’ve also adopted Windows Live in a big way as my social networking platform of choice. I run multiple Windows Media Centers in my home, and I carry a Smartphone powered by Windows Mobile. Unless Bill Gates, Ray Ozzie, and Steve Ballmer need a fourth for a round of golf sometime, I’m not sure how I can be much more saturated in Microsoft than I am at present.

Along the way, I’ve endured the Microsoft Home series of early 90’s software titles (including Cinemania and even the much-maligned Bob), the early days of MSN, played a few of the better Microsoft Games (the Midtown/Motocross Madness and Age of Empires series still rank among the best, period), and managed to acclimate to the “fluent” interface of Office 2007. I was the first kid on my block to sport a Microsoft Natural ergonomic keyboard and mouse, and I’m not ashamed to say that I bought a Sidewinder joystick. Hell, I even thought the Gates/Seinfeld ads were cute.

It may be bordering on pathological, but the fact is if there’s a Microsoft tool for the job, then I’m automatically inclined to give it a try, even if it’s not quite the best-of-breed. You might say I’ve been programmed (pathetic pun intended, sadly).

That said, my eyes are wide open to the competition out there. Time and again, Microsoft’s reputation has come under assault by the barbarians at the gate. Apple continues to chip away at their dominance of the desktop OS market. Firefox is the cool browser that all of the hip kids use these days. Google and Yahoo! kill them in the search arena. Facebook has it all over them in the social networking milieu. And while a Windows Mobile phone used to be the epitome of mobile geekdom, today it frankly pales in comparison to Blackberry, iPhone (which I’ve taken to calling the “Jesus phone”), or even most standard-issue media phones. It’s getting tough to be a die-hard Microsoft evangelist when the masses already have way cooler shit than you do.

What’s the issue? It could be that Microsoft’s scope has grown too much, and the organization has become spread too thinly. You’ve heard the expression, “Jack of all trades, master of none.” I saw it happen when I worked with Gateway; when they started dabbling with home electronics, Internet services, and accessories, instead of just focusing on selling great computers, it all went to crap.

Maybe Microsoft just has a reputation problem. If the “Mojave Experiment” ads showed us anything, it’s that lots of people are sheep who just follow the herd because it’s cool to hate Vista, and by proxy, Microsoft (or maybe it’s the other way ‘round). There’s also the perception that only complete newbies, old folks, and Europeans would actually use something as clunky as MSN/Windows Live to drive their online experience. I’m not sure exactly why that’s supposed to be insulting, but it probably is nonetheless.

Perhaps their products just aren’t what they used to be, but it’s more likely they’ve just become top-heavy beasts that are loaded with way too many extraneous features that average people don’t know about or care about. The bottom line is that while Microsoft Office programs can do a lot of different things, the tasks that should be simple and straightforward just aren’t. People care less about having a monolithic program that does it all; they’d rather use several tools, provided that those tools are simple and consistent.

Regardless, Microsoft finds themselves in the same old quagmire again and again. If they tinker with the established standard too much, then it’s a fail. If the next version doesn’t do everything that the previous version did and then some, then it’s a fail. If they add too much bloat, then it’s a fail. If they don’t build customization and user choice into absolutely every aspect of the product, then it’s a fail (and a possible target for legal action, as in Opera’s current case regarding Internet Explorer). If it’s not as sleek and sexy as a Mac and simultaneously as light as Twitter, then it’s a fail. How is any company supposed to measure success against such extreme demands? Put simply, start over. Press CTRL + ALT + DEL and reboot.

A reset would allow Microsoft 2.0 to emerge as a leaner, meaner organization with “startup” mentality. They could build smaller-scope products that function the way the yearning masses actually want. Cut the clutter and confusion about multiple platforms. Move everything to the cloud, including the OS, and damn the consequences. Weave social networking and collaboration into the foundation of every application. Build simpler, lightweight applications that each do one simple and distinct task, but do it so well that each becomes the de facto standard for newbies and power users alike. Finally create that all-in-one device that one-ups the iPhone. Build a search engine that turns Google into yesterday’s news. Do it for cheap, maybe even free (for consumers at least, they can continue to fleece businesses all they want). In short, make Microsoft cool again, and call it Microsoft “One.” One platform, one service, one Microsoft for us all.

– Greg

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15 thoughts on “Reboot

  1. Microsoft One sounds like Diet Microsoft (as in Coke Zero). Anyway, these things go in cycles. I think Google and Apple will be up next to be the whipping boys.

  2. I too am *sort of* a MS fan. But I don’t exactly want everything "in the cloud". "Me in control" is the way I like it. Actually, I’d rather MS just focus on the OS…but I doubt that will happen.

  3. Thing is – as we’ve seen with Live and Hotmail – they never seem able to say "That’s it. Finished!" There’s this constant ‘improving the product’ thing, possibly because so many come on pages like this to whine or give a ‘written assault’. Poor Microsoft!

  4. I know exactly what you mean Greg, I mean I also get the feeling that MS are spreading themselve too thinly. Im a big MS fan too (despite owning a Mac) and Im always trying to promote the use of Windows over Mac OSX- even when Im at a gig with my Macbook Pro running XP and people say "do you prefer windows then?" I always reply with something like "Both are good and both are really bad at the same time. There things windows can do that mac can’t and things which mac can do which windows can’t". The only reason for Apple’s ‘cool’ persona is because of the iPod. People started buying the computers when they were advertised on iToons because all the kids had ipods since they were cool. It was a sly move by Apple, they knew if people would want something to match their iPod. I reckon MS needs to get rid of its software giant image and start looking like a more careing, friendly company. So yeah, they need to become cool again, but I doubt they can since theres such a stigma attached to Vista. Maybe this will be broken with windows 7- its amazingly got support from most of the major software and hardware companies as well as from the European Union with the new ‘modular windows’ idea.

  5. yea I get tired of hearing the gripes about anything MS. some people just love to hate on microsoft. I’ve benn a fan for 19 years

  6. @Curtis: As one of my Network pals said earlier today – people don’t look for the cause of whatever might go wrong. Instead, they just assume "Microsoft did it" blame them and give the most caustic comments I’ve ever seen. Don’t know why they put up with it, quite honestly.

  7. Download the latest Ubuntu release and enable the Compiz (Beryl) desktop and you’ll understand what’s wrong with Windows. Microsoft revolutionized the computer industry and brought PCs to the mainstream by making them easy to use and providing cutting-edge features; when is the last time you’ve said that about a Windows release? I agree with you about moving everything to the cloud; SAAS is the way to go for all their products. I originally hated the idea, but now who cares if MS Word runs from the Internet? The OS kernel should be WIN32_LEAN_AND_MEAN, stripped of all the fluff. It should be super-fast with only the kernel, drivers and basic icons. Features and software should be run as services or, when necessary, installed ON-DEMAND. I’m a minimalist when it comes to the OS; give me what I have to have only, and let me choose the optional things. Oh yeah, and the OS should be FREE.

  8. Hallelujah, brother Jefe! I had Ubuntu running on a spare machine for a while, and I loved it. It wasn’t quite up to standards to run Beryl very well, but I’ve seen some HD videos of it in action, and holy crap is it ever slick. You’re absolutely right that all OSes pack in too much functionality – isn’t the primary function of the OS resource management? We need to get back to that "lean and mean" mentality. In short, give me tools to manage my hardware and software, and let me plug in everything else as I need it. PS: Nice to see you lurkin’ round WL, Jefe. Look me up on Facebook, too.

  9. Not sure I want everything "in the cloud" but as long as it runs properly – why not? (but that maybe the problem – making it run properly, ALL the time!) but I agree with your blog………"Perhaps their products just aren’t what they used to be, but it’s more likely they’ve just become top-heavy beasts that are loaded with way too many extraneous features that average people don’t know about or care about. The bottom line is that while Microsoft Office programs can do a lot of different things, the tasks that should be simple and straightforward just aren’t. People care less about having a monolithic program that does it all; they’d rather use several tools, provided that those tools are simple and consistent."I use the google chrome browser, because it’s so simple, not loaded with tool bars, and my old and much used PC runs it faster than IE8. But I don’t hate IE8 either. There is so much as a casual user on ANY OS that I don’t need and haven’t even opened since the day it was loaded. Smaller more user friendly OS. with optional extras, would suit me better!

  10. I agree with you on the bing thing Greg. I think bing is good, but ultimately just a tidier looking google. Okay it’s in beta, so maybe the engine will improve on release.In my opinion, Microsoft always seem one step behind in the search wars. I’m led to understand they’re expected to put well over 80 million dollars into the marketing of it. I think they should probably save their cash and invest in people with a little more vision. It’s seems sometimes they have their own heads in "the cloud" to who their target market is.

  11. Is Bing the first step toward this vision? Out of the gate, it seems like a pretty slick alternative to Google search. It even got a very tentative endorsement from Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak. Just when I start getting really excited about Microsoft’s prospects, I start learning about Google Wave, and once again, I’m like "dang, why didn’t Microsoft think of that?"

  12. I have a Microsoft machine. The whole thing rests on the Vista OS. Pardon me for being blunt but hey, I want everything else to work with it. I may not get conflicts that way. So, my browser, (with all the extras) photo software (where I can!) and anything else I can get, I want Microsoft to be "in charge" of. Just wish I could have WMP do everything that iTunes does, like being able to print my playlist from the main window and I’d be "made". Some things, I have to use other software coz Microsoft don’t "do that yet"! Otherwise, it’s them for me. Oh, by the way – Vista is the best OS I’ve ever used. Win7 has something to reach for, there. Pathalogical? Don’t be silly! You wouldn’t get smeone saying that about Apple, or Linux. They have to have stuff programmed for their computers. I want what’s best for mine. I thank you. (Takes a bow!)

  13. Yeah. I’ll go with that Greg. I’m just concerned that Microsoft think they can market it as a good alternative without it actually being that. I hope it is though, it would complete Live very nicely.

  14. @Jen. Microsoft write excellent software, they always have, and if you’ve got the cash to spend on the various pieces from then, I think you’re always on a winner.For a small school in Africa though or low income users, a low costs low spec machine with Unbuntu and a full office suite and all the trimmings is a great alternative to just using pirated software with no support, at no cost.Can I just point out though, that everything has to be programmed for an operating system, even vista, it’s just an urban myth there is no software for linux and apple, or an AS400. It just down to what you in the market for.I say long live Windows yes, and also every other indepedent supplier and opensource developer wishing to improve the user experience.

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