Covering Microsoft is giving me whiplash lately.
After the last few years of watching certain parts of the company march forward, with a "we know best" attitude, the new Microsoft is bending to the will of the masses.
This new "responding to community feedback," or "principled but not stubborn" or whatever new Microsoft motto you want to insert here isn't the same old "we listen to our customers" rhetoric. This is Microsoft reacting in record time (for the company) to negative feedback and public perception and actually taking "corrective" action.
I use quotes around "corrective," because I know a number of my readers are vehemently opposed to these recent course changes, though the majority of potential customers seemingly are not. I notice on Twitter, especially, that those who hated to see Microsoft add back a Start Button to Windows 8.1 are largely the same group who are furious that Microsoft is removing the used game and Internet connectivity requirements that it rolled out a few weeks ago as part of its Xbox One launch. (On June 19, Microsoft officials went public with plans to undo the DRM and used game policies which got a number of gamers riled.)
The thinking among some Microsoft fans seems to be this: Microsoft is innovating with things like its new Windows 8 UI and its "always on" console requirements. The company should continue to forge ahead, and not listen to critics, this group argues.
That kind of logic worked in the days when Microsoft was one of the rulers of the tech roost with its Windows monopoly fueling the growth for the rest of the company. But Microsoft in 1993 or even 2003 was a very different company from Microsoft today. Windows is now the third largest (out of five) business in the company. Microsoft has still been largely unable to grow its three percent phone marketshare and tiny tablet share against some much larger competitors. The company is dependent on the success of its newer businesses, like Xbox, to stay competitive.
At the same time, Microsoft needs to continue to curry favor with its sizeable installed base. Microsoft wants to keep Windows users in the fold. That's why there's going to be a Start Button in Windows 8.1. New users might not want or need it, but others do. Some users really cared about the new cloud-enabled gaming and game-sharing technologies promised for Xbox One. But more than a few of Microsoft's loyal Xbox users were vocal about their disdain for the "phone-home" DRM and seemingly anti-used-game policies that the new console also required. Next week at Build, Microsoft execs have said they plan to try to undo some of the perceptive damage done in recent years to relationships with Microsoft's .Net community with the company's developer platform and tools.
Call these things 180s. Call them U-turns. It doesn't really matter. The real story is Microsoft is actually listening and responding. And that's a positive for current and potential new Microsoft customers, in my book.