Microsoft, In Search Of Itself

Forget combining your search business with that of Yahoo, for now. Let investors agitate for a sale at Friday’s Yahoo shareholder meeting.

Forget combining your search business with that of Yahoo, for now. Let investors agitate for a sale at Friday’s Yahoo shareholder meeting. Microsoft: speed up your search for your self.

Microsoft makes more money than scores of nations in the world by selling that world on whatever the latest version of its Windows operating system is and the Office suite that runs on it.

But Microsoft still can’t make a compelling case for Vista. And when it comes to providing applications on the Web, the pieces of its Office suite remain conspicuously absent.

Sure, it’s getting aggressive in countering criticism, calling, for instance, Forrester Research ‘schizophrenic’ about its research on the acceptance of Vista in the corporate world.

And it’s trying to change the thinking among individual users, aka consumers, about Vista by (a) putting $500 million into advertising campaigns touting its benefits and (b) conducting the so-called Mojave Experiment, where users are shown an alleged new operating system from the company, get blown away by it, and then are told what they have seen is in fact Vista.

But can you see what they have seen to allegedly change their minds?

Not if you go to the Mojave Experiment video.

Try to find a clip among the 55 panels where you actually can see what the focus group user is shown. Instead, you get five carefully crafted clips at the bottom right of the screen showing, at a high level, some distinctive features, such as parental controls and the recording of TV shows.

You're not sure what they're seeing but you're pretty sure the average buyer is not going to get the kind of handholding and direct demonstrations that these users get (see clip 55 on “instant search.”) Maybe that'll happen, if PC retailers start setting up more demo stations, a la an Apple Store.

If the clips are enough to make you start thinking about checking out Vista, Microsoft takes you on your search over to its Windows Vista website.

There you can watch a semi-amusing commercial about “sharing memories as they happen” and you get to read how Microsoft defines whatever the leap forward is about Vista.

And you can get a few definitions of what is distinctive in Microsoft’s mind about Windows Vista:

You live life beyond your PC. So do we._We live a lot of life on our PCs — working, planning, playing, and connecting. But we live a whole lot more of life elsewhere. That's why Windows is on mobile phones and on the web. So the power and familiarity of Windows is available in more places and in more ways — closer to where you live your life.

Or:

You live life with your PC. So do we._We live a lot of life with our PCs. So it's important that using a PC is safe, easy, and enjoyable. That's what Windows Vista is about — increasing the security, ease, and pleasure of using a PC. It's Windows — closer to where you live your life.

There’s a decent checklist showing how you can “enjoy more, worry less” with Vista and the combination of Windows Vista, Windows Mobile and Windows Live.

But the striking thing – still – about Windows Live is what’s missing. After years of talking about “software as a service,’’ trying to create buzz about using Microsoft software everywhere and anywhere you go, you can’t create, pull up or share Excel spreadsheets, PowerPoint presentations or Word documents from a Windows Live menu. Don't make people think of going over to Google Docs. Make sure they stay with you, from whatever machine they happen to be using. Heck, even if you get them to use Office Live, you can store, share and download documents. Not create or modify them, using a Web browser alone.

If the aim of this campaign is really to “talk about things you can do with your PC that you could never do before,’’ it’d also be helpful to be able to do the things you’re used to doing on your own PC, without having to carry it around, for instance.

The best pitch for Vista can’t be to just enjoy more and worry less, than the last go-round.

If you’re Microsoft, you ought to be defining why your operating systems -- combined with your (Office) apps -- are better than anything else out there.

The Mojave Experiment -- which comes roughly a year and a half after the launch of Vista -- says to “stay tuned.” Okay, but you’d think if Microsoft was really on top of its core business, ahead of the game and knew what really sets the use of Vista apart, it would be able to articulate it to anyone at any time by now.

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