Update: a few folks have taken me to task for calling Vista lame. For the record, I don't have an opinion about Vista as I've never seen it. I live in a small town in the mountains of northern Arizona, so I rely on the reviews of other people, like Walt Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal, Rob Pegoraro of the Washington Post and David Pogue of the New York Times. However, Mike, our local PC support guy, - no Macs for him! - just gave me his one word Vista review: "nightmare." He encourages the locals to wait a while before buying it. So whether you love Vista or if, like me, you've never seen it, the focus of my comments is on the impossibility of pegging market requirements five years out. And now back to the original post.
Critical reception of Vista is cool, at best. Yet I know Microsoft didn't set out to create a mediocre product. They have a lot of smart, passionate people who really want to create industry leading products. It is just that, on their flagship product, they haven't.
Explanations abound, with the need to preserve compatibility a popular one. Yet compatibility is problem that has been managed with a number of strategies over the years. I see a deeper problem.
Harmonic convergence In the last 25 years I've brought a lot of new computer products to market, including some multi-billion dollar ones, and some - cough, cough - less successful.
Success requires vision Engineering takes time. In that time markets evolve. Needs and desires change. Technologies emerge. Price points (usually) drop.
The key is a clear vision of the market at the time the product ships. Customer needs. Competitive products. New applications. Price levels. Distribution. And more.
Engineers can build just about anything if they have enough time and money. The problem is arriving at the market with something people want to buy.
Limits of the crystal ball A superior marketer who knows the markets, applications and technology, can forecast market requirements 24 months out with an accuracy of 90% or better. That is, if they forecast 100 requirements for April 2009, at least 90% will still be valid and no new ones added.
Push that out to 36 months though, April 2010, and accuracy plummets to about 70%, and new requirements have probably emerged. Which means the engineers have labored for three years to get a product that is only two-thirds right. Put another way, one-third of their labor and time are wasted. 70% may get a product that makes back its investment, but it won't be a home run.
Now, look out 48 months, to April 2011, and all bets are off. Whole new markets and technologies can emerge in four years. More nimble competitors may have unveiled two generations of new products. Customer needs will mature and change. You may get lucky and still hit the mark, but luck is not a plan.
Vista's 5 year development cycle is the problem Microsoft needs to get back to 24 month development cycles. There is really no choice. No one can predict what the customer hot buttons will be in 60 months, or what Google, Apple, Linux or the European Union will have done.
You set out on the journey with a backpack full of shorts, flip-flops and Hawaiian shirts, only to arrive in the midst of a raging blizzard. You don't look smart and you now have a lot of shopping to do.
I'd like to see Microsoft get its act together I think competition is a Good Thing. Hiring smart guys like Ray Ozzie is a good idea, but Nostradamus himself can't save you with 5 year development cycles. We'll know they're serious when they fix that.
Until then, mighty Microsoft will continue to bring forth mediocre products, a day late and a dollar short.
Comments welcome, but please if you can't address the substance of my argument in some rational way, save the troll-rants for someone who cares. Thanks!