Microsoft: The Definition of Insanity?

July 14th, 2011

One definition of insanity is constantly doing the same thing, and expecting a different result. While I might be a little presumptuous in suggesting that Microsoft — or its leadership — could be considered insane, you have to wonder about some of the company’s questionable marketing decisions.

Take the Zune music player. Microsoft double-crosses their PlaysForSure partners, builds their own custom music ecosystem to mimic Apple’s iTunes, and releases their own branded line of music players. The first one failed, the second one failed, and it kept failing for several years until Microsoft had the good sense to pull the plug.

The same can’t be said about search. Whether it’s Windows Live Search, Bing, or whatever you want to call it, Microsoft has invested a boatload of money into attempting to beat Google at their own game. Microsoft even cut a deal with Yahoo! to replace their venerable search engine with Bing.

So how’s this scheme working? Funny you should ask. You see, it appears that, in large part, Google’s market share is fairly constant within a narrow range, getting roughly two thirds of search requests. Predictably, Bing has cannibalized Yahoo!’s search, if only because the latter isn’t promoting that capability. Microsoft’s pathetic commercials and product placement tie-ins don’t appear to help, since I doubt most viewers would care if someone on their favorite TV show uses Bing to look for something.

It’s easy to say you want to “Google” something, but not so easy to say “Bing” something. In fact, it almost sounds vulgar. Bing you!

But no matter: Microsoft will continue to pump billions of dollars into search, hoping against hope that there will be a light at the end of the tunnel.

The most notorious example of repeating oneself, however, is tablets. We have a decade of promises from Microsoft that we the year in question happens to be the year of the tablet. To Microsoft, a tablet is basically a PC running Windows with a display that supports touch. Year after year, this “amazing” invention was touted as the next great thing, but customers were wanting. Yes, PC tablets made their way into some vertical markets, such as medical offices, but that’s about it. The public didn’t care.

That explains why so much skepticism surrounded the introduction of the iPad in the spring of 2010. Tablets failed. Tablets would never catch on, so what business did Apple have in building one? Besides, didn’t it strike you as nothing more than an iPod touch with a weight problem?

It doesn’t matter that Apple continues to struggle to this very day to meet demand. It doesn’t matter that the competitors have come and gone, and there are already hefty discounts on such wannabes as the Motorola Xoom. The skeptics say that Apple must some day fail.

So far as Microsoft is concerned, it doesn’t appear they even plan to try to compete. A Microsoft executive in charge of Windows Phone, Andy Lees, states: “We view a tablet as a PC.”

In other words, a tablet must run Windows, and must be able to use the regular versions of Office and other apps. It has to be indistinguishable from a regular PC, except for the touchscreen, and Microsoft is adding a bunch of touch gestures to Windows 8, which is due some time in 2012.

Now if you go through all of Microsoft’s statements about tablets from the very first day, you’ll see pretty much the same failed logic. A tablet is a PC and, says Lees, customers “want people to be able to do the sort of things they do on a PC on a tablet.”

Clearly Lees needs a reality check. If customers really wanted a tablet to be essentially a tricked out PC with a touchscreen, why is it that they ignored every attempt by Microsoft’s OEM partners to build one? Why were those tablets confined to a small number of business customers? What am I missing here?

So Microsoft’s vision for tablets in 2012 hasn’t changed one bit, other than supporting hardware containing ARM processors, similar to the ones used by mobile handset makers. The only notable difference is letting your fingers rather than a stylus do the walking for you. Sure, Windows 8 will inherent some of the look and feel of the failed Windows Phone 7, if that makes sense to you.

To sum up, Microsoft wants you to believe that their failed vision, repeated year after year, will miraculously achieve a different result next year. Talk about having blinders on.

Now this isn’t to say that Windows 8 will be a bad OS. The early demonstrations appear promising, and offering at least a slight integration between the mobile and desktop interfaces won’t hurt. Apple is certainly integrating a decent number of iOS features in Lion, and that ought to be reason for Microsoft to want to do the same thing.

But when it comes to tablets, Microsoft hasn’t learned the expensive lessons of history. No doubt if it doesn’t happen in Windows 8, there’s always Windows 9.

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6 Responses to “Microsoft: The Definition of Insanity?”

  1. DaveD says:

    Microsoft is incapable in coming up with original, commercially-successful products. As long as the Windows-Office money gravy is ongoing, Microsoft has shown to be willing to waste money trying to mimic others’ successful products. If it ever comes that day when that money train stops running, Microsoft will be in a panic mode.

    I recalled Intel attempts to crack the 4 GHz barrier with the Pentium 4 without going supernova. Intel has the smarts to switch to a more efficient Pentium M micro-architecture and successfully taking it into its current multi-core design. Apple had thermal issues with the PowerPC G5 and was able to jump into Intel’s arms which was moving rapidly with the new soon to be multi-core micro-architecture.

    It is quite hard to envision Microsoft making bold decisions.

  2. Joseph Futral says:

    It’s all just language. MS’s only mistake is articulating this strategic thinking. MS came to prominence via the enterprise, which values this kind of talk. Whether MS calls a tablet a big phone or a small PC will actually be meaningless if interoperability is achieved.

    Apple came to its recent prominence via the consumer who doesn’t care about this kind of talk. Apple made its productivity software available and usable on tablets and phones via iOS and looks to be migrating OS X towards a convergence with iOS, of sorts, so functionally Apple seems to agree. They just aren’t verbally articulating any of this philosophy because, well, the consumer doesn’t care.

    It boils down to what they sell. Apple sells products. MS sells business and enterprise philosophies. Few people purchased a Windows machine for personal use based on thinking it was a good fit. They purchased a Windows machine for the home because that is what they used at work.

    Now Apple has turned that on its head and the enterprise is being influenced by what people use personally, not the other way around as MS achieved. That is what MS is missing or in denial about. They think they are a personal consumer brand based purely on having a presence in the personal consumer space. The consumer market is driving now, not the enterprise market.


  3. Kaleberg says:

    Good comments. I’ve nothing to add, but I hate to waste a compliment.

  4. Viswakarma says:

    Microsoft came into prominence by back-stabbing Apple (Mac) and IBM (OS/2). It never had any originality or class!!!

  5. Blad_Rnr says:


    Some of what you say is true, but there sure are a lot of iPhones and iPads making their way into the enterprise…when Apple didn’t push them. Microsoft needs a product that sells itself. No one is going to buy a tablet with Microsoft’s OS in 2012 if it isn’t something revolutionary. Geesh, I can open a Word file on an iPad with Pages. It’s not rocket science. Besides, MSFT won’t be on any tablets at all if they don’t have thousands of applications for it. Hence the rise of the iPad in the enterprise. The developers are already making custom apps for companies on the iPhone and iPad.

    So tell me again where that leaves Microsoft?

    • Joseph Futral says:

      @Blad_Rnr, “Some of what you say is true, but there sure are a lot of iPhones and iPads making their way into the enterprise…when Apple didn’t push them.”,

      Right. That’s what I meant by Apple turning things on its head these days. Those devices made it into the enterprise from the bottom up; because normal people were using them and wanting them. (It also didn’t hurt that the CEOs wanted them, too.) No more IT departments dictating approved device lists.

      Old school, the enterprise (read:IT departments) told the users what they could use. New school, users/consumers (and that includes the guys in the boardroom and executive officers other than the CIO)! are dictating to the enterprise what they want to use. Its a tough time to be an old school IT department head. FCP “pros” think they are having it rough? Talk to these guys.

      “Besides, MSFT won’t be on any tablets at all if they don’t have thousands of applications for it.”

      That’s probably one of the reasons they want to frame the tablet as a PC. They already have a market leading software base. But if they use WP7 for their tablets (which may or may not need specially developed software, I’m not sure) they are in the position of playing catch up in software market size.


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