Feb 17, 2005

Inside the Deathstar

Earlier today I commented on post about Microsoft by a whipsmart, somewhat irascible guy named Hugh McLeod on his site gaping void. Hugh proposes, among other things, that Microsoft's real competition in the world isn't Apple or Linux, but rather M.I.T.

This idea may seem weird without the marketing theory back story, so to be brief, there is considerable velocity behind the idea that brands are places instead of things. (That's how MacLeod describes it here.) So, Microsoft is a place where you "go" to experience, to improve, to learn. Furthermore, Microsoft is in fact a "campus," a physical and intellectual locale, a fact aptly illustrated in the blog of Robert Scoble, who works there.

I posted this comment:
So why is it that Microsoft products are often buggy, bloated and difficult to manage? How can they put more "campus" in their software?

And Scoble replied:
Our real competition? Windows 2000.
Tim: we're working on it. If we don't make better products no one will upgrade. Windows 2000 will have won.

All the preamble leads to this: Why is it that all of the smarts and innovation MSoft engenders inside its walls doesn't seem to make it to the screen? A huge question. A loaded question--the pro and con MSoft camps are more vehemently opposed than the Blues and Reds these days. But to me it loops back to this idea that companies need to have their true passion and intent fully represented in their products. And somehow, through buggy/bloated code (so I've read--I'm not a geek), bad PR, confusing product naming/introductions, a well-deserved image as the Software Bully, etc., MSoft isn't making the grade here. And I think they can.

Maybe it's partly a matter of them concentrating on the user experience more, of simplifying the visible nuts and bolts. (I think that software should be like a swan swimming on a lake; serene and calm on the surface and paddling like mad underneath.) Maybe since their software isn't tied to elegant pieces of software like Apple they're losing out on a closer physical connection with their customers. Maybe they're just like the Dallas Cowboys of the 90's--"America's Team," who you love to hate just becaue they're Numero Uno.

Now as a long-time Mac user, I have no love for Microsoft, even though I've used Word every day of my working life, and to be honest, the program does exactly what I need it to. And I have my conspiracy theories that they purposefully make the Mac versions of their products inferior and more difficult to use. (But I'm over putting too much emotion into that silly Mac vs. PC argument. Most of the time it's a stupid pissing contest, and those went out in grade school.)

Still, it's unfortunate the company hasn't been able to communicate more of what they're really about. Some may say that their true aim is total domination, etc., but I think the people who create software do so in large part to fix a problem, to make the impossible possible; in short, to make our lives somehow easier, more vivid and more interesting.

Not a bad story, really. And if it's true, how does Microsoft go about getting the word out?


Tim Rickards said...

Testing comments once again. Man, it's getting lonely on this train.

Martin said...

Although Microsoft can go a long way towards simplifying their interface, I think they're simply trying to provide as much functionality as they possibly can.

As co-owner of a business which is a Microsoft Partner, we're constantly amazed by how much can be done with MS products (especially in a properly set-up server environment). It took us more than 2 years to fully understand just how powerful MS Exchange Server actually is. People think of it as an e-mail server, but when you start digging a little deeper, you realise just how much integration you can do with everything else in their stable. We've built an entire CRM system that runs just on Exchange, and we've just scratched the surface...

And that's the point I'm getting at - MS software (in general) does so much that it's difficult to aim the front-end at specific, swan-like tasks, simply because the audience is so wide, and I suppose priorities have to be decided on :-)

They're getting better though, at least in my opinion...

Tim Rickards said...


Therein lies the rub. I was looking at the issue mostly from the end-user perspective, not the enterprise level. I have a friend whose company uses Exchange Server, and his comments echo yours.

Apple, obviously, must make itself as adaptable as possible to be part of the enterprise story, although many, many smaller companies manage just fine with Macs.

What I find even more interesting is how many people I know who use PCs exclusively at work and have abandoned the Windows platform at home. Just too darn much work to integrate everything, even though XP contains music, video and photo apps.

From my conversations with them it all comes down to this: "It's just easier to use a Mac, and they look cooler." Lazy and superficial as that may be, it's pretty compelling. No reason why MSoft can't fix the first part of the equation.

Anonymous said...

Microsoft's image is arrogant. Apple's is smart and slick. The Apple's I've had in the past all crashed - but I learned how to fix much of what went wrong - and never felt a negative feeling. Microsoft crashes - and I have enormous negative feelings. And, I can't fix it myself. Each update screws something up that was working OK. Thank goodness for Norton GoBack recovery.


EVK4 said...

I'll admit I didn't read your whole post or even any of the comments, but your first few lines caught my interest. The reason I believe that MSFT's main competition is MIT is UNIX/Linux. Most business applications are born out of the academic world (e-commerce, productivity, ERP, etc). The academic world uses *nix. As OSX gains popularity and other desktops for the nixes are developed, these new breed of enterprise applications will be developed first on *nix than have to be ported to windows, opposite of how it's been done in the past.

Hope this is on topic.