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Did Microsoft Expect Windows 8 to Fail?

The numbers are in and Windows 8 is predictably in Vista territory. It didn’t have to be that way, but Microsoft insisted on killing any interest for desktop users by putting its mobile experience first and shoving the desktop experience into the back of the box.

Desperate to break into the mobile marketplace before it was too late, Microsoft put its crown jewels in hock, creating a competitive app marketplace by leveraging its massive desktop user install base for app developers. It was a clever, ruthless and stupid move. It got Microsoft the app development it wanted, while completely alienating desktop developers, especially game developers like Valve, which is now pushing into Mac and Linux territory, and which with Steam, has the leverage to force producers and developers to make more non-Windows game ports, and alienating desktop users.

But Microsoft had written off Windows 8 as a desktop environment from the start. The best evidence of that is how little effort Microsoft put into promoting Windows 8 to business users, who are the core of its OS business. Most end users get their OS with a new computer, without making any decision about it. Business users however make a decision to go with one platform or another and make everything compatible with that. And because of that business users are hard to sell on new OS’. With Windows Vista, Microsoft failed to sell business users. With Windows 8 it didn’t even bother.

Windows 8 continued Microsoft’s drift into becoming another Sony. With its game console business, its game publishing business and OS commercials that focus more on the low end casual user, Microsoft seems determined to reinvent itself as something closer to a company that sells personal entertainment appliances that happen to run its software, then a very successful software company.

But the PC isn’t dead. Sony is. And Apple is quickly tumbling. And Microsoft is wasting its goodwill and trashing its core business to imitate a company that is on the way out.

Microsoft’s Big Mobile Gamble

Microsoft has missed more mobile opportunities than any other company. Microsoft had more opportunities than any other company to get on the ground floor. Windows Media Player was widely used and could have functioned as its own version of iTunes. All it needed to do was design and deploy an MP3 player. But by the time that Microsoft got on the ball, it produced a better media player at a time when Apple had already moved on to smartphones. Now Microsoft is frantically playing catchup with smartphones and tablets and its only tool is its comfortable operating system monopoly.

Windows 8 is Microsoft’s big gamble. The company is leveraging its core product and gambling on being able to use it as leverage to muscle into the mobile marketplace. It’s what Microsoft tried and failed to do with the internet by tying Internet Explorer to Windows and using it as a gateway to MSN and its own web services. That plan failed badly leaving Microsoft with only a temporary Internet Explorer monopoly. Its plan to use Windows 8 to bring app developers on board and expand its mobile presence using its desktop presence may be an even worse idea. But it might also work.

Microsoft is late to the party once again. It has to compete with Apple and Google. Apple has the hardware and Google has the web services. Microsoft isn’t all that good at either one, but it’s trying to use its enormous cash reserves to catch up. But that didn’t work before. And by cutting the Windows 8 upgrade price to 40 bucks Redmond is endangering its core business cash flow and trying to push a product that will alienate core users to try and establish itself in the mobile marketplace.

The big questions are all about product. Even if Windows 8 is another Vista, if Microsoft Surface and the Windows 8 phone catch on, it won’t matter. And if users accept Windows 8, but Microsoft’s smartphone and tablet entries are another dud, it won’t be that much worse off than it was before.

But if Windows 8 is hated by users and Microsoft Surface and the Windows 8 phone don’t make a splash, then Microsoft is truly screwed.

Who Cares if Microsoft has a Tablet?

Drawing out these hypefests by leaking a little bit of information at a time works because tech websites need pageviews and that leads them to participate in the game by passing on the teasers until the big event happens… and then nothing.

windows 8 tablet

It’s like Rubik’s Cube… but with Apps

Remember when we were supposed to be excited about iOS6? iOS6 came and nothing happened. A Microsoft Tablet is even more of a non-event.

Microsoft has an operating system that’s meant to run on tablets. That is a lot more important than Microsoft putting out its own tablet. Google put out its own phone and that bombed. Microsoft has more hardware experience than Google and its tablet will be more Zune and XBox, but it’s not going to be an iPad killer. It will be competitive in the audio and video department. It may even be integrated with the XBox for more of a fused gaming experience. And that’s that.

A gaming and entertainment tablet. Microsoft’s version of Kindle Fire. And that’s the best case scenario. Imagine the Zune bigger and that’s what you get. Tied to XBox Live accounts. And it’s a stupid idea.

Microsoft is trying to establish Windows 8 as the Tablet OS in a confused marketplace. The way not to do that is to then butt in with your own branded tablet. And Microsoft has a history of doing this. It could have had its own iTunes, but it sabotaged that to launch the Zune. Now it’s sending mixed signals to hardware companies that might license Windows 8, that it’s going to compete with them directly. And why shouldn’t they light out for Android after that?

Windows is still a success because Microsoft doesn’t make a high profile PC. If it did, Dell would suddenly find reasons to promote Linux. This isn’t idle talk either. Microsoft does make the XBox and it has been shortchanging the Windows Games marketplace over that.

Windows 8’s Metro Apps have already pushed game companies in other directions. Valve is building a console and expanding hard into Mac and Linux. But that’s small potatoes since Microsoft has alienated desktop users to launch Windows 8 on tablets. If it alienates the companies it needs to make its tablet happen, it will be the most self-destructive move by a company since Sony tanked the PS3 to win the Blu-Ray battle.


Google vs Bing

Since the new rollout, Bing looks better than ever. And it even seems more responsive and more functional than Google. It looks like a next generation search engine should.

google privacyWill that help it? Maybe. Google has too much of a lead and too many users habituated to going to Google something. Microsoft has pulled out all the stops to change that. Bing has fewer letters and is easier to remember than Google. It’s friendlier and less cluttered. Does that make it better?

Going by personal experience, when my old Blogsome host went down, I switched over here. Google still has my old Blogsome site in the index even though it and the host have been gone for months. Bing has the new site and no mention of the old one.

Google may have the bigger index, but my impression is that Bing’s index is cleaner.


What the Death of the Zune Tells Us About Microsoft

The death of the Zune is not the major story that some outlets are spinning it as. A standalone portable device focused on being a Music/Video player had no future in a marketplace trending toward smartphones. Even Apple knew that. The iTouch is still around, but at some point Apple will probably stop making them. Only Samsung has bothered to make a high profile Android portable player.

The real story isn’t the death of the Zune, but its creation and what it says about Microsoft. The Zune, like Bing, was another example of a good piece of technology coming too late to the ball game. As a media player, the Zune was better than anything Apple had to offer. HD Radio gave it an added bonus. But it had little third party support and its concept was already outdated. The marketplace was app driven, the Zune had few apps. Mobile devices were as much about finding your way around, playing games and checking Facebook, as about playing music. The Zune was great at playing music, it was bad at everything else because it wasn’t designed for those things.

Microsoft has shown that it can turn out good hardware and even good software. But it’s slow and behind the trends. It has the money to copy something popular and improve it, but it’s still a step behind and it’s left with a nicer version of yesterday’s technology for yesterday’s user habits. That’s what the Zune was. It was an iPod killer years too late to matter.

That’s not a great record, but compare it to a trendy tech company like Google, which keeps turning out much worse versions of popular services. Bing may still lag, but it’s not the joke that Google Plus or Google Buzz or Google Wave are, which can only be compared to Microsoft Passport in their intrusiveness, usability and uselessness.

XBox 360 was where Microsoft scored, because it didn’t have a savvy market leader to stomp on it. Sony and Nintendo couldn’t be written off, but they were no Google or Apple. Microsoft could take them on and did. The XBox 360, like the Zune or Bing, was just good enough. It wasn’t a great piece of technology, but it wasn’t going up against great technology or visionary alternatives. The closest to that was the Wii and Microsoft has made sure to jump on any alternative control technology since, so that never happens to it again.

The Zune failed, but it didn’t fail because it was bad, it failed because Apple was pushing too far and too fast ahead to be beaten that way. The day that Apple and Google slow down, is the day that Redmond can catch them with another XBox 360. And as Google splutters, that day might not be too far off

Microsoft’s Moment

Microsoft is either on its last legs or on the verge of seizing the future by the throat. It all depends on who you ask. It’s easy to dwell on its legion of failures. A company which could have had iTunes, Android, the iPad and the iPhone is still clumsily playing catchup and asking customers to take another look at yet another mobile product that they’re not interested in anymore. Its biggest non-legacy asset is still the XBox. But Microsoft is trying, still plowing money into one thing or another. And occasionally there are signs showing that it gets it. Windows 8 will either allow it to muscle its way into the mobile marketplace or turn into another major dud. But even if it does it still has the cash flow and the determination not to give up. Some companies are smart and graceful, Microsoft has always been the bull. It may miss its moment but it will keep on pushing forward.

Microsoft Sees Chrome as the Competition

Firefox is still the dominant non-IE browser, its market share may even surpass IE, so why is Microsoft ignoring Firefox to focus on Chrome, which despite Google’s heavy backing has a much smaller browser market share than Firefox does?

Microsoft’s touting of IE9 and IE10 features focuses on its speed acceleration versus Chrome. Firefox goes unmentioned. And Microsoft’s hyper development and release schedule for IE9 mirrors the rapid speed at which Chrome goes through new version, not Firefox’s glacial speed of updates. And it’s subtle, but IE9 shows Chrome influence.

Some of this is about corporate rivalry. Microsoft sees Google as a major rival, the Mozilla Foundation looks more like an eccentric blip. Creating a corporate strategy to take on the Mozilla foundation looks silly, but fighting Google makes more sense. Chrome is also more of a multiplatform challenger and Microsoft rightly views it as the opening of a much larger wedge.

But Microsoft isn’t alone in seeing Chrome as the future and Firefox as the old IE. And they have a case to make. Firefox has gotten bulkier over the versions. Chrome isn’t really faster, but it is flashier. Chrome takes a different approach to browsing, with its underemphasis of the browser, and that’s a bigger threat to Microsoft than anything else.

The Browser Times Are Changing

So Chrome has finally broken the 10 percent mark. Google promoting it on every page it owns wouldn’t hurt. Especially when between its search empire and YouTube, Google also commands a huge percentage of the traffic. Microsoft’s own market share is down to 56 percent. Around double Firefox’s 22 percent market share. Opera has increased a little, but not as much as it deserves.

The news isn’t all that good. Chrome isn’t a good browser, it’s just a well promoted one. The only good thing you can say about Chrome is that it’s light, though it has its own memory issues, and easy to flip through. It beats clunkers like IE and Safari, and it feels lighter than Firefox, which is turning into the new IE. That plus the marketing elevates Chrome up in the competition.

Firefox really needs to come up with a winner in 4.0 and they’re taking the time to do it. But can Mozilla turn this around? Firefox was important because it was the first browser to really put IE in the corner. IE9 is Microsoft’s latest attempt to learn from its mistakes, but IE9 is still clunky. Just less clunky than its predecessors. The browser that really gets it is Opera, but it’s also the least used of the big 5.

Is Microsoft Dead Yet?

In the wake of that infamous Information Week article, let’s take a rational look at the situation. It’s trendy to declare Microsoft dead, but the Beast from Redmond isn’t there yet. Or anywhere near it.

Yes Microsoft has failed to gain on the mobile front, but it has the PC locked down and it has the entire XBox platform, which is slowly starting to look like the winner in the hard core gaming demographic. Microsoft failed to take down the iPhone when it had the chance, and Android is becoming the one to beat, but counting Microsoft out is stupid. The Windows 7 phone probably won’t be a game changer, but Microsoft has the money and the resources to stay in the game. And it can survive without the mobile marketplace.

On the computer, Windows 7 has been a big winner and Office is still going strong, despite open source competition like Open Office. It is fumbling the browser battle badly, but it’s not clear what Microsoft ever gained from having a dominant browser share. The big money is in search, and while Microsoft can’t win there either, it’s sitting comfortably in the Number 2 spot. Bing is still a money hole, but being number 2 means waiting around for Google to fail. And that’s not an impossibility.

Microsoft is number 1 in the PC and soon to be in the console. And it has the resources to be number 2 in search and mobile technologies. Which means it’s a little too early to count out Redmond just yet.

Prematurely Burying Microsoft

Microsoft has been behind the game for a while and it’s considered almost irrelevant in some circles, but no, it’s a long way from dead

“I believe that Microsoft as we know it may not be around in another decade–maybe not even in five years.”

Barring an alien invasion, Microsoft will be around in 5 and 10 years. 20 years is a possibility. 5 years is not. Unless you foresee everyone jettisoning PC’s in the next 5 years.

Most significantly, Microsoft waived the white flag on social media when it pulled the plug on Windows Live Journal, dumping the blogging platform’s users onto the open source WordPress system.

Wait… wait. In the age of Facebook and Twitter, Microsoft giving up on a blog platform that no one cared about is significant? Yahoo did the same thing. Google has a blogging platform only because it bought one.

But that’s just whistling past the graveyard, spouting a tune written from backward-looking data not particularly useful for gauging the impact that hugely disruptive new products like tablets and smartphones and even tablet-smartphone hybrids are about to have on Microsoft’s place in IT. Market research group NPD recently found that 13% of iPad users bought the Apple OS-based device instead of a Windows PC.

Anyone who actually thinks an iPad can replace a PC is completely ignorant about what an iPad can actually do. An iPad is a supplementary device. It’s not a PC replacement. If the survey said that people bought the iPad instead of a notebook, there might be a point here. All this survey says is that more than 10 percent of iPad buyers are idiots. Probably a too conservative figure.

It’s not that the mobile marketplace isn’t going to have a big impact on Microsoft, but so long as businesses are office based and people primarily use PC’s in their homes, Microsoft isn’t just going to go away. Because it still controls the core platform. Smartphones are nice, but you can only do so much on them. Tablets are cute, but there’s also only so much you can do on them. The idea that the tablet will wipe away the PC is like believing that the notebook computer, which unlike the iPad actually could do much of what a PC does, would do it.

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