Five Free Tips for Microsoft's Board

I've had enough. I've flat out just had enough. Microsoft has been stumbling from one disaster to another since Bill Gates stepped aside as CEO, and it's time for the company's board of directors to make some changes.

Being the handy-dandy-armchair-quarterback that is part of my job, I thought I'd put together some tips for that board, and I'm doing so free of charge. Let it be known that I am as magnanimous as I am humble.

1 - A Keyboard?

We all know what a stunning success the iPad has been. The darn thing has completely upset the PC apple cart (see what I did there?), and it rewrote a ton of rules in the process.

I know you're freaked out by that, Microsoft, and I know that you feel you have to be as reactionary to Apple's tablet phenom as you are to everything else that other companies do first. I can't help but notice, however, that you think that your years-late response's best feature is a detachable keyboard.

So, listen: if you look at the success of the iPad and your takeaway is that what everybody really wants is a keyboard, you're doing it wrong. All wrong. In fact, you should fire everyone involved in that decision except the man or woman who was brave enough to say "Ummm...this is &@^#%."

You should promote them.

2 - Who's Your Market?

I have a simple question: what's your target market in these Surface commercials? I ask because I find most Surface ads confusing. "The Movement," the first big one, and "Surface Vibe" (both embedded at the bottom of this column) focus on dancing.

Young people dancing.

Why? The first commercial was bad enough, but Surface Vibe is just stupid. You've got all these young people in a large company setting dancing. So is this ad aimed at business folks? if so, do you think that business people are going to identify with this young man?

Microsoft Surface Ad

Business Folk Gettin' Down with Surface

The kid wears a suit as well as I wear skinny jeans. More importantly, he doesn't even come close to fitting the setting. Business people won't like him, while young people know better than to think this guy could actually be in the business world.

And while I'm at it, there's some sloppy, sloppy editing in this commercial. It's nitpicking, but it just screams at me every time I see this piece of crap commercial.

The first example is a woman who's sitting against the wall in one shot and in the next shot she's sitting at the table. Continuity folks, it's a thing.

The second instance is more egregious (to me). We have one guy doing these amazing spins on top of the big huge conference table. We cut from that exhibition to the main guy coming out of a spin. It's cut like it's supposed to be contiguous, but it's clearly different people wearing different clothes.

Surface Ad

One Does Not Lead to the Other

It's just sloppy, and it shows a lack of respect for your audience.

So while your firing people, Microsoft's board, fire the ad agency that envisioned this campaign and produced the video, and fire the people who greenlighted it at your company.

3 - Angry Schoolgirls

What is up with those angry, angry schoolgirls in "The Movement" commercial? I mean, they're angry.

Surface Ad

From Microsoft's "The Movement" Surface Commercial

Why are they so mad? Is it because they're being forced to use Surface tablii? Or maybe because they're having to dance in a Surface commercial? I'd be mad, too.

Seriously, I don't get the point of this imagery. It's confusing. Above and beyond the weirdness of the dancing as mentioned above, how do these angry children convey anything useful about the Surface?

They don't.

The funny thing is that the only good Windows 8 commercial is the Sony "Express Yourself" commercial with the little girl painting the picture of her dad on the big huge Sony tablet.

4 - Windows 8 & The Interface Formerly Known as Metro

Let's get to the heart of things. Windows 8 is a catastrophe. After Windows 7 largely made up for the Vista abomination, Microsoft stumbled on to Windows 8, and this is a big problem.

The people in charge at Microsoft confused their desire to keep Windows relevant in a world of tablets with the way consumers want to actually use those tablets. Coming back to the keyboard lesson above, anyone who would look at the iPad and come away with the notion that people really want their tablets to be desktops and their desktops to be tablets should not be trusted to make decisions.

Microsoft is a company that has always run scared. Always. Even when it was on top. When Bill Gates was in charge, that fright was expressed as ruthless business decisions and a laser focus on products. But Bill gates is a combination product guy and strategist, and that combination really worked for Microsoft (if not for us, the consumer).

Today, Microsoft is run by Steve Ballmer, a marketing guy with no product vision. And when that marketing guy started running scared of tablets, the resulting product, Windows 8, got it all wrong. It tries to offer a tablet experience by keeping one foot firmly cemented in the world of desktop computing, and that's just plain stupid.

Apple showed quite clearly that people would embrace tablets that offer an experience that is designed for tablets, that allow them to consume content in a way that is uniquely tablet in nature.

Microsoft's takeaway? Make a tablet with no apps and another tablet with that runs Windows software. Marry both of them to a keyboard and a stylus, and saddle the desktop version of Windows with the tablet interface, too.

It's just all wrong, every step of the way.

5 - Steve Ballmer Has Got to Go

Do you remember when Steve Jobs talked about how bad it is to put a marketing guy or a bean counter in charge of a product company? Ignoring the fact that he then put an operations guy in charge of his own company, he was right.

Microsoft needs a product guy with vision, and that means Steve Ballmer has got to go. Bless his heart, he has to go. I know he loves Microsoft and would do anything for the company, but in my opinion, the best thing he could do would be help his company's board of directors find a replacement and ensure a stable transition. If you don't, you're going to have something like this on your hands.

Jon Rubenstein, for instance. He could be great for Microsoft. Scott Forstall? Now that would be interesting, but we'll save that for another column.

But put a product guy in charge of your company, someone with vision, and do it soon. I know your company is making plenty of money, but things are only going to get worse unless you are content earning patent royalties on sales of Android devices.

The two commercials in their entirety (for extra irony, the multimedia technology that never took off, Silverlight,  is required):