Microsoft is in Better Shape Than One Might Think

Microsoft has been having an identity crisis. Ever since Apple released the original iPad, Microsoft believed that their vision for business would set a preferred course. And then the company discovered that the whole world had changed. Can Microsoft adapt and survive? It depends on your perspective.


I haven't rushed to write about Microsoft and Nokia because I don't think one can encapsulate the complexity of this acquisition in a quick editorial other than to stir the pot. And by stir the pot, I mean that writers who don't like Microsoft and want the company to fail are saying that no one can turn this ship around, and Microsoft is doomed to steady decline. There is no room for a third smartphone or ecosystem.

Writers who like Microsoft are saying that this will be a much needed infusion of mobility focus. The idea is that personal electronics have become so capable that Microsoft has to end its old ways of, generally, just creating software and adopt the Alan Kay advice:

People [companies] who are really serious about software should make their own hardware.

The issue isn't whether Microsoft has fallen badly behind or whether they're too big to change. Large companies can change and play catchup if they have the right leadership. What I think matters is whether the new CEO and his troops can conjure up the will to change in the face of what is basically a corporate emergency: all hands on deck.

Recently, a great writer, Elmore Leonard, passed away. In honor of him, Mashable published his 10 rules of writing. Number 10 is: "Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip."

It made me think of Microsoft. The company needs to just stop shipping products that no one wants to buy. That suggests that its new CEO will have to kill the Surface Tablets, just like Steve Jobs brutally slashed entire product lines when he came back to Apple in 1997.

Few people want to buy a tablet that has a keyboard and runs Windows.

That's not to say that Windows is dead on the PC. There are still millions of business customers who need what Windows offers on a PC. The number is dwindling, but that only matters if Microsoft never builds stepping stones to the future, as Apple did.

When I think about Microsoft now, I see a company that has some advantages. Microsoft...

  • Understands cloud and web services better than Apple.
  • (Finally) Got religion when it comes to OS security.
  • Has done well protecting its intellectual property in patent lawsuits.
  • Has a search service that was built for the right reasons.
  • Understands the needs of business and government. It just needs to drop the aura of being such a doofus company with a doofus CEO in our modern times.
  • Will inherit a great set of communication patents from Nokia.
  • Is planning to replace an ineffective CEO.
  • Now has an influx of Nokia employees who understand mobility -- if only they can be unleashed.

I am not sure that Stephen Elop is the right person to lead Microsoft, but I was strongly swayed towards him after I read his "Burning Platform" memo written in 2011. You should read it. I'll wait ...

If Mr. Elop brings that kind of energy and urgency to Microsoft, things will get better. If he can destroy the institutional attitude that agenda tops awesome products, that's a start. If he can teach the company to compete with itself, that's also a start. Of course, no one can say for sure that he, or any other CEO, can turn the company around. However, the seeds are there. A wisely executed plan to make mobile phones that people really want to own could substantially increase market share.

The best article I read this week about Microsoft was not from a traditional tech news publication. It was from The New Yorker. "Why Microsoft Had to Buy a Phone Company." It's a great read and sets the stage for the future. It suggests what could be under the best of circumstances.

The first thing Steve Jobs did when he returned to Apple in 1997 was to savagely axe every project and every product that wasn't making money. And then he started building a product that people really wanted to own, that they lusted for. The original iMac.

That wouldn't be a bad plan at all.


Tech News Debris for the Week of September 2

The fact that there are so many strong opinions about cord-cutting means that the TV industry is ripe for disruption. Those who have a platform and a voice rip the TV industry on all fronts, but average Americans know that they have neither the technical savvy or will to cut the cord and still satisfy everyone in the household.

This essay by Rocco Pendola sums up the situation. "Cord Cutting is for Freaks, Not Most Americans." The habits, finances and technical abilities of the average American household is what perpetuates the insanities. For Apple and TV, it's not just product design and content agreements that matter; it's cultivating the right target market segment.

Tim Cook doesn't listen to people who criticize him. He just keeps doing his job, and doing it well. And good writers just have to keep writing these kinds of articles to keep readers informed about him. "Several Reasons To Respect Apple's Tim Cook."

Are you intrigued by the Galaxy Gear smartwatch? Did you know that Apple already built one in 2010? Here you go: "Confused by the Galaxy Gear? Apple released a better, cheaper watch in 2010." After you read this article, you may figure out something important. No one is going to pay $199 for a brand new iPhone 5S, subsidized under contract, and then turn around and pay $300 cash for an iWatch. Unless…here are some interesting thoughts by Jason Schwarz, on "3 Essential Elements for Apple's iWatch Success."

Finally, you've been claiming that 4K TV is years away because there's no content and the TVs are too expensive. Sony is, in fact, aggressively nibbling away at those problems. "Sony Launches 4K Service." Prediction: by Christmas of 2014, a 55-inch 4K TV will sell for $2,500, players will be $399, and there will be thousands of movies available. Broadcast is another matter and will be locked into 1080p for a long time.


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