TECHNOLOGY

The Hail-Mary Pass Called Microsoft "Blue"

Microsoft's new "Blue" strategy: Is Redmond simply doubling down on a failed strategy?
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A few months ago, I predicted that the Microsoft Surface was doomed because 1) the world doesn't need a new tablet architecture, 2) the Surface/RT strategy is tied to Windows which is architecturally unstable, and 3) Microsoft has an abysmal track record in mobile devices.

In response, a number of techies jumped all over my case because I didn't make it clear that I understood that RT can run without Windows. Many of those attacks were ad hominem, on the basis that a "sales guy" can't possibly be technically savvy. (More on this later.)

However, as I pointed out at the time, the fact that standalone RT devices exist is irrelevant because Microsoft's market differentiation strategy for Surface/RT is that consumers can have a tablet device that looks/feels like a tablet and still runs Windows.

In any case, it's clear that my prediction at the time that the Surface will be another Microsoft mobile flop looks likely to be accurate. In addition, Windows 8 is a disaster and is being held responsible for an unprecedented drop in PC sales.

You'd think that Microsoft would get a clue that its strategy isn't working, but no.  Instead, Microsoft is "doubling down" and planning to integrate Windows, Windows Phone, Office and the Xbox into a strategy called "Blue."

This is the craziest idea I've heard in a decade.

The Myth of the "Sales Guy"

Before I explain why I believe Microsoft is nuts, I want to put to bed this BS about sales guys not being technically savvy (in general) and me not being technically savvy (in particular.)

I hate to wake up some of the die-hard techies, but salespeople are usually the first commercial adopters of new technology and often far more aware of what's going on than their counterparts in engineering, or marketing for that matter.

Case in point: salespeople were the first to widely adopt cell phones, smartphones, and tablets, and it was CRM (specifically Salesforce.com) that turned the concept of "computing as a utility" (aka "cloud computing") from theory into reality.

What's more, a huge percentage of the sales community is involved in high tech solution selling both in the supply chains for consumer electronics and medical devices and in hard-core enterprise computing solutions.

Whether you like it or not, a salesperson MUST have strong technical chops to do ANY of those jobs. So it's absurd to assume that just because somebody works in sales that they don't understand technical issues.

My Experience With Microsoft

In my case,  I worked for 12 years in a development group that created an OS that did symmetrical multiprocessing. That group contained people who worked on Multics (the progenitor of Unix and Linux) and UTS/CP-V which was the original design center for Windows NT (via DEC VMS).

From 1996 to 2002 I was the analyst who covered Microsoft for Technology Business Research, which entailed writing 50 page quarterly reports on every aspect of Microsoft's business. During that time, I also wrote numerous articles on Microsoft for high-tech magazines Upside and Red Herring.

From 2003 to 2007, I was the EDA columnist for Electronic Business magazine where I also wrote numerous feature articles about the semiconductor business, many of which required an understanding of how OS design utilizes the underlying hardware.

I could give additional examples from my somewhat complicated resume, but it's really not all that important. Ad hominem attacks are puerile, a sign of somebody who can't form a logical counter-argument.

Windows Is Not the Future

Microsoft keeps on treating Windows as if it's the wave of the future. It's not. It's a legacy system based on an outdated model of operating system design. Like Microsoft's management, Windows had its heyday in the 1990′s and is now showing its age... big time.

Window's biggest problem, IMHO, is its lack of security. As I pointed out in my original post, it's an architectural flaw that it's possible to infect a Windows system simply by accessing a website.

Based upon my experience with operating system design, allowing applications to alter each other and the operating system makes secure operations impossible. The fact that there's an entire industry dedicated to plugging holes in Windows is clear evidence that something's basically wrong with the Windows environment.

Windows is also a huge pain to support. For example, the solution to fairly common problems (like getting a root kit virus) involves completely rebuilding the system. When something minor goes wrong, you are expected to edit the registry. End users digging around in the operating system... what idiot thought THAT would be a good idea?

No wonder so many IT support people love Windows--it's a guarantee that they'll remain fully employed.

Note: I reserve the right to mercilessly ridicule anyone who tries to couch my views in terms of the tired Mac vs. PC dialectic. I haven't used a Mac since 1992 and I'm not writing about Apple anyway.

Why "Blue" Is Insane

Even if Windows were the future of computing, integrating it with Windows Phone, Office and the Xbox is like trying to integrate an All Terrain Vehicle with a Swiss Army Knife, a snow globe, and a vacuum cleaner.

Nobody needs a complex timesharing operating system (which is what Windows really is) to run a smartphone or a game console. Furthermore, based on the reception of the Surface/Window hybrid, few want a tablet-like interface to Windows.

What's more, Office and Windows have become so Byzantine that adding features makes them MORE difficult to use while generating diminishing returns. And what possible value could there be in integrating them with the Xbox?

More importantly, creating any meaningful level of integration would require the groups responsible for these four very different product lines to work together in lockstep, something that all four development groups will fight tooth and nail.

I can just imagine the moans of horror in the Xbox group when "Blue" was announced. If there's anything that's likely to take the edge off Xbox, it's forcing otherwise productive engineers to screw around in endless "integration" meetings. The horror, the horror...

What Microsoft Should Do

As readers of this column know, I don't like complaining about things without providing a solution. So here's my prescription for Microsoft:

1. Fire Ballmer.

His "windows everywhere" strategy is bankrupt. He's failed at moving Microsoft past its 1990s strategy. Dump him.

2. Treat Windows as a legacy product.

Support it well, plug the security holes (as far as possible), and milk it as a cash cow. There's nothing wrong with having profitable legacy products. IBM has a dozen of 'em.

3. Exit the mobile market.

Microsoft's continuing, abject failures in mobile computing are evidenced that the company simply doesn't "get" mobile. Cut your losses and concede the market. It's over.

4. Port Office onto iOS and Android ASAP.

Rumor has it that Microsoft has pushed the iPad and Android ports of Office back to late 2014. If those ports happen at all, that is.

5. Leave the Xbox alone.

It's a successful product. The last thing it needs is to catch the "windows everywhere" disease.

Of course, the likelihood that Microsoft will pursue the strategy I've outlined above is non-existent. If I read the signs right, Microsoft is too broken at this point to do anything other than gnaw on the bones of its past glories and dream that the good ol' days will somehow magically return.

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IMAGE: courtesy of Microsoft
Last updated: Apr 18, 2013

GEOFFREY JAMES | Columnist

Geoffrey James is an author, speaker, and award-winning blogger. Originally a system architect, brand manager, and industry analyst inside two Fortune 100 companies, he's interviewed over a thousand successful executives, managers, entrepreneurs, and gurus to discover how business really works. His most recent book is "Business Without the Bullsh*t: 49 Secrets and Shortcuts that You Need to Know."

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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