On paper and in theory, Microsoft is a single corporation, with something like 80,000 employees worldwide. In the real world, it's actually a collection of dozens, maybe even hundreds, of small companies that appear to act without a lot of central supervision.
That is the only possible explanation for how the same company could do something totally amazing on the same day that it makes headlines with a ridiculously boneheaded move.
Good Microsoft unveiled Live Mesh today. A kind Microsoft employee hooked me up with an invite to the beta program, and I have it running here on my main desktop PC and my notebook. After spending only a couple hours using it, I'm in awe of its performance and usability in allowing me to move between local files and cloud-based storage without even being aware of it. I'm really forcing myself to temper some of that initial enthusiasm so that I can learn how this stuff works and get a sense of where the platform is headed. But I can't help but feel excited about some of the ways this technology can change the way I work.
Unfortunately, Bad Microsoft decided to make an appearance this week as well, if this report from Ars Technica is accurate:
MSN Entertainment and Video Services general manager Rob Bennett sent out an e-mail this afternoon to customers, advising them to make any and all authorizations or deauthorizations before August 31. "As of August 31, 2008, we will no longer be able to support the retrieval of license keys for the songs you purchased from MSN Music or the authorization of additional computers," reads the e-mail seen by Ars. "You will need to obtain a license key for each of your songs downloaded from MSN Music on any new computer, and you must do so before August 31, 2008. If you attempt to transfer your songs to additional computers after August 31, 2008, those songs will not successfully play."
How many tracks did Microsoft sell through this service? Apple has sold 4 billion tracks at 99 cents each. MSN Music probably had 1 percent of ITMS' market share, maybe less. At that rate we're talking probably 40 million tracks, almost certainly not hundreds of millions. So why not make a gesture in the direction of those customers, one that doesn't involve the middle finger? Why not publish instructions on how to burn those downloaded DRM-laden tracks to CD, where they would be safe from deactivation servers? And then why not offer some compensation to those who made purchases at the MSN Music store? How much goodwill and good news coverage could the company buy for 10 or 20 million dollars? Even at Microsoft that's more than chump change, but it's a bargain compared to the amount of ill will they managed to generate in one day by offering nothing. Nada. Zero, zip, zilch.
And that bottom line doesn't count the number of prospective Microsoft customers who are lost before they ever spend a dollar. Ray Ozzie's memo on mesh computing talks about the “power of choice” and “connected entertainment”:
[E]ach individual will be afforded a media-centric or gaming-centric web presence through which they can express their tastes/interests/affinities and interact with others through linking, sharing, ranking and tagging of music, video, photos, games, and more. This vision is being realized today through the Zune Social for media and Xbox LIVE for gaming. Services such as the MSN.com home page, MSN Mobile, MSN Video, Zune Marketplace and software such as Windows Mobile, Microsoft Mediaroom and Windows Media Center will be progressively transformed by this connected entertainment vision.
What a great opportunity Good Microsoft had today. They could have contacted their MSN Music customers, who have already proven they're interested in this “connected entertainment” stuff that Ozzie is writing about, and offered them early entree into the Live Mesh service. They could have rewarded those customers for their past loyalty by offering them something of value. But instead of inviting those customers onto the bus, they pushed them under it. Way to go, Bad Microsoft.
Over the past year, I've seen encouraging signs of a Microsoft that is capable of learning from its mistakes and enforcing accountability. It's a shame the folks at Bad Microsoft keep creating so many opportunities for the folks at Good Microsoft to learn so many painful lessons.