Microsoft will never be Apple, and they should stop trying

Chris Sells
October 9, 2012 —  (Page 1 of 3)
When I left Microsoft at the end of 2011, they had just launched the developer version of Windows 8 at the BUILD conference after building anticipation for months using flashy teases and deep secrecy. And the secrecy was real; I remember getting daily reminders of the civil, criminal and economic penalties for leaking even the smallest detail of what we were building. There were even rumors of some unlucky employee who got fired for stepping a little over the line, his head on a pike to serve as a warning to others (metaphorically speaking, of course). The goal here seemed clear: take a page from the Steve Jobs consumer playbook, saving all of the thrills for the stage.

This was quite a departure from the behavior eight years earlier when I’d first joined Microsoft and the halls were decorated with signs saying “Enterprise! Enterprise! Enterprise!” to remind us who our most important customers were. At that point, Microsoft owned the consumer desktop with Windows and Office everywhere, so to continue to expand its revenues, it needed to take over as big-iron Unix boxes were losing favor.

At the time, the main competitor was a grassroots upstart: Linux and open-source software. Because of the focus and the clear competitor, Windows Server turned into a monster at the box office, winning both critical acclaim and audience approval. In the process of turning itself from a consumer company to an enterprise company, Microsoft learned how to be open, solid and trustworthy—all things that enterprises need when choosing technologies they’re betting their businesses on.

When Microsoft left the consumer PC space behind, it took comfort in the fact that it owned more than 90% of the desktop market share. And it still does. The problem is, while Microsoft was away chasing the enterprise, Apple changed the game. Now it’s about phones and tablets, where Microsoft has tried and failed to make traction for years.

The way Microsoft is currently trying to do it is by imitating Apple with secrecy, flash and thrills, all of the things that it has spent the last decade weaning out of its culture; enterprises hate those qualities. Unfortunately, while Microsoft is trying to be the next Apple to regain the traction it lost in the consumer space, Apple is busy increasing its foothold into the enterprise.

Related Search Term(s): Apple, Microsoft

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10/24/2012 11:17:32 PM EST

Well, continuing to do what they were doing (losing consumers hand over fist to Apple) wasn't really an option either. In some ways, for example giving their products names that are both catchy and make it easy to differentiate, I wish Microsoft had followed Apple a little more closely. Surface was their only good naming choice this cycle, with "Windows RT" and renaming Metro to "Windows Store" being among the poorest choices in naming history. The mistake Microsoft seems to be making now is completely ignoring the desktop. Maybe there is a super-secret project going on to bring XAML/C++/native code to desktop app devs, but I'm not holding my breath.

United StatesEric Hill

12/03/2012 01:47:39 PM EST

Well said. Microsoft has a tendency to copy the competition's product rather than innovating and then coming from behind to dominate. Examples are Microsoft Office, Microsoft Windows OS and others. It now cannot do it quickly enough on things like Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8 (a day late and a dollar short IMHO.) It is now trying to copy their competition's product development and delivery approaches. Microsoft needs new leadership and to redefine itself better rather than just copying the competition as it has. Just because something worked 20 years ago does not mean it works now. When I see Microsoft, I smell toast. I am not sure if it is Microsoft itself or just that it is making toast.

United StatesZoldello

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