Microsoft and the “New Coke” Syndrome

April 27th, 2012

Do you remember back in 1985 when some lame brained executives at Coca Cola decided that the soft drink’s famous recipe had to change? As you know, the unfortunate case of the “New Coke” is regarded as one of the greatest marketing failures of the 20th century. It didn’t take long before we had a “Classic” Coke that was basically the recipe we all knew and loved — well at least those who didn’t prefer Pepsi all along.

Now before I go on, it’s fair to say that major product changes aren’t always failures. Dominos, the pizza chain, redid the recipes and succeeded, largely because the original pies were never very good. People bought Dominos pizzas for convenience, not because they tasted so great. The result? The chain’s revenues went way up.

When it comes to our little technology corner of the world, some suggest Apple reinvents the wheel every so often, and that may be true with the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad, but the Mac of 2012 has an interface that still contains the core elements of the 1984 Macintosh. The fundaments of the point and click interface are still present and accounted for in OS X Mountain Lion, even if the the artwork has been modernized, and touch-related features have been added. What his means is that a Mac user from 1984, somehow taken on a voyage through time to 2012, should be able to become accustomed to today’s Mac rather quickly.

Indeed, Apple expects to keep the Mac separate from the iOS device, such as the iPhone and iPad, although some features and apps will be essentially the same on all three. That is, except for the requirements of a touch-based interface on the mobile gear, compared to the traditional keyboard and mouse on a regular Mac.

This is the reason why Tim Cook declared that Microsoft’s approach with Windows 8, delivering the same operating system on a traditional PC and an ARM-based tablet, is the equivalent of merging a refrigerator with a toaster. And, yes, it appears that Microsoft doesn’t see that distinction. They see the Mac becoming a bigger success, and Apple prospering in the mobile space. So why not give customers the same basic experience on both — hence Windows 8? If Apple takes you part way, Microsoft will take you all the way with Windows 8. Is that too much of a good thing? Or is it a good thing?

Now Microsoft is nothing if not persistent. The Metro interface of Windows 8 is not so far removed from the interface on the failed Zune music player. If you’re familiar with Windows Phone, you’re also familiar with Metro, although it’s also true that Windows Phone hasn’t quite been the raging success Microsoft hoped for.

So here we have Microsoft taking an interface designed for a smartphone, one that really hasn’t taken hold of the market, and grafting it on top of aging desktop OS for better or worse. Does that make any sense to you? To me, it would be akin to the management at Coca Cola taking New Coke recipe, after that embarrassing failure, and adding it to all their other food-related products, hoping that if it’s offered everywhere, people will learn to like it.

But with Microsoft, if people don’t like Windows 8, other than disabling the theme, where would they go? Would they switch to a Mac? Well, I suppose Apple wouldn’t mind, except that such a move would require buying new software, or sidegrading from existing apps if the publishers have such a program. It’s not the obvious solution for businesses, particularly those struggling to stay in business during a difficult economic climate. The cheapest solution might be sticking with Windows 7, or even XP, as many still do.

Besides, I’m surprised Microsoft hasn’t considered the lessons of history. Aside from the inability of Metro to catch on so far, how can they possibly forget their previous attempt to make Windows seem warm and fuzzy, with a pathetic cartoon-like interface known as Bob? That was one monumental failure.

Now I suppose it is possible that, after the failures of Metro on other products, Microsoft may have built the silk purse from the sow’s ear with Windows 8. Perhaps the concept of an endless paper interface, chains and chains of square and rectangular tiles that fall off the ends of the display, will appeal to a large number of traditional Windows users, and thus will attract a huge number of upgrade orders. Maybe it won’t be the New Coke syndrome all over again.

But count me skeptical. Microsoft is already struggling to get business customers to ditch Windows XP and upgrade to Windows 7, and Windows 7 is actually a pretty decent operating system. Certainly it is far more secure than XP, and it’s not as if customers have to learn new skills, aside from ditching that dreadful ribbon. But Metro means the end of the Start menu and other Windows conventions. It’s not as if customers were necessarily disdainful of the old way of doing things, and you’d think Microsoft would want to make it easy for users to upgrade. Change for change’s sake doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

Or maybe I’m wrong to be skeptical. Maybe Windows 8 will be the barn burner Microsoft hopes it’ll be. But that might be due more to sheer luck more than anything else if that happens.

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5 Responses to “Microsoft and the “New Coke” Syndrome”

  1. DaveD says:

    As I continue to see it, it’s Windows 8 (the “Meh” edition).

    Why put a mobility face on a desktop PC? The obvious answer is there is no reason to. My guess is that Microsoft wants to tell the world that Windows for the desktop is still a must-have. But the PC market has plateaued, mobility is where things are happening and Microsoft is so-o-o late to the game. Microsoft is at the crossroads.

    Will the Windows users upgrade? The obvious answer-question is why. What would be gained by it? Both Windows 7 and XP service pack 2 are good enough. I see XP to continue to have a strong presence for a long time. It is not difficult to see another Vista appearing on the horizon.

  2. Peter says:

    So here we have Microsoft taking an interface designed for a smartphone, one that really hasn’t taken hold of the market, and grafting it on top of aging desktop OS for better or worse. Does that make any sense to you?

    Depends on the hardware it’s running on.

    I’ll admit that putting Metro on 3 27″ displays seems kind of silly. But let’s also be honest here–the future is in smaller devices. On a 7″ or 10″ tablet, it makes better sense. And there will be far more people using 10″ tablets than 27″ displays.

    I’ll also point out that you, once again, are falling into the market-share trap. Remember that Windows outsells Mac OS X by a significant margin. I would say it’s Mac OS X that really hasn’t taken hold of the market. Perhaps that’s why Apple is desperately grafting iOS onto Mac OS X with things like LaunchPad, full screen apps, gestures, etc. “See? It works like a great big iPad!”

    • @Peter, You underestimate Apple’s reach. The Mac has outgrown the PC in terms of market share growth for several years. When it comes to personal computers in the price ranges where Apple gear is available, their market share is extremely high. But most PCs sold these days are real cheap, and that’s a playground in which Apple rarely participates, except for the Mac mini. And even the mini isn’t as cheap as some basic PC gear.

      Grafting iOS elements onto OS X makes sense, because Apple wants to deliver a consistent customer experience across platforms. But the PC is yesterday’s news, and the Mac will never grow as fast as the iPhone or iPad. That ship has sailed. That’s also why Microsoft is so desperately trying to move into the mobile space, but their efforts so far have been unsuccessful.


  3. AdamC says:

    Yes Gene, you nailed it, MS is the one desperately grafting their desktop and mobile OS together like throw turd on the wall hoping at least one piece will stick.

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