Is it time for Microsoft to 'retire' its tarnished brands?

Is it time for Microsoft to 'retire' its tarnished brands?

Summary: What do Internet Explorer, Hotmail, and Zune have in common? They're all intensely disliked by the elite tech press. So maybe they need to just disappear.

TOPICS: Microsoft

In the latest monthly statistics reported by Net Market Share, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer has around 54% of overall browser usage on PCs and Macs.

That number has held steady for several months now and is up significantly from IE’s low point of just under 52%, recorded in December 2011.

If you prefer to get your metrics from StatCounter, IE is locked in a virtual dead heat with Google Chrome for the top spot among World Wide Web visitors. The two browser families each account for between 32% and 33% of web visits from desktop operating systems.

The point is, Internet Explorer is popular and widely used. And yet, among Silicon Valley elites, it might as well be invisible. Google Chrome, with its six-week update cycles and unabashed geekiness, is the default browser of web developers, the tech press, and hipsters in general.

IE is a tarnished brand, considered old, slow, and tragically uncool. It’s the browser everyone loves to hate. It doesn’t matter that Internet Explorer 9 is a modern browser, with excellent performance and a level of security that is arguably higher than its rivals. No one in Silicon Valley would even think of running IE. It's literally a non-starter.

IE is not the only brand that was born in Redmond and now suffers from negative public perception.

There’s also Hotmail, the original free webmail service, which celebrates its 16th birthday this week. Microsoft bought the service back in 1997, when it was just over a year old. Today, hundreds of millions of people use Hotmail every month. But having as part of your primary email address suggests to the world—at least that part of the world that is bordered by San Francisco on the north and San Jose on the south—that you spend your days feeding pigeons in the park and screaming at little kids to get off your lawn.

And then there’s Zune, which has never recovered from its doomed launch—in brown, no less—against the iPod juggernaut. The Zune devices were quietly discontinued last year, but the Zune music and video service lives on. Try to tell someone that you prefer the Zune music service to iTunes and they’ll look at you as if you’re preaching the gospel of Scientology. Don’t even try.

All three products have common factors.

They were good ideas. They stumbled. And although they have recovered, the target market has never forgotten the stumble. Indeed, it has defined the product in terms of its bumbling, stumbling, darkest moments.

So, in the minds of the tech elite, Internet Explorer is defined by the hapless IE6. Hotmail is stuck in the spam-ridden mess of a decade ago. And Zune never got out of the gate.

How do you overcome those negative perceptions? Maybe you can’t.

So the Zune service is about to go away for good, to be replaced by Xbox Music and Video. That’s smart. Despite a minor glitch or two (including the billion-dollar Red Ring of Death debacle), the Xbox brand is solid gold.

Hotmail doesn’t have a ready replacement like that at hand. So rumor has it that Microsoft has a new mail brand in the works, code-named Newmail. That won’t be the final name, of course, but replacing the tarnished Hotmail label with a shiny new brand and a slick new Metro style client is a good way to put the Hotmail clunker in the rearview mirror.

And then there’s Internet Explorer. The IE brand name can’t just be tossed away. Even if you take StatCounter’s pessimistic numbers as gospel, that means a half-billion people use IE regularly. You’d be insane to try to rebrand a product with that much market share.

So what Microsoft has done with IE 9 and is continuing with IE 10 in Windows 8 is to remove the branding completely. In both the Metro and desktop versions, there are no visible signs that a web page is being rendered by Internet Explorer. The idea, I suspect, is to make web browsing as generic a function as possible, to demote the role of the browser from branded program to system service.

In Windows 8, IE 10 lacks any trace of branding. It is chromeless—an ironic description given its chief rival.

The Metro design style has been criticized for its lack of branding and for its tendency to make all apps look alike. But what if that’s a feature and not a bug? Maybe the future will be defined by basic services that do their job without cluttering the environment with menus or logos. And, not coincidentally, without creating an opportunity to hate.

It’s hard to develop a loathing for something that isn’t there. Maybe, after years of building complex branded software, Microsoft has finally learned that lesson.

Topic: Microsoft

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  • .

    since when is hotmail uncool? I've never noticed that trend, IE yes, hotmail no.
    • +1

      yes I agree with you completely.
      Ram U
    • Dunno.

      But I use @Live for my "pro" address. So far, I get treated no differently than my @gmail colleagues.
      The one and only, Cylon Centurion
  • Microsoft's biggest brand needs to be back in business - Windows.

    If there is one thing that I have noticed here in India, it is that quite a few tech users love to hate Microsoft. On the other hand, Google is percieved as a rather cool brand - Android is often promoted by network providers as Android by Google, and Google put up billboards promoting Chrome by Google in my city. I own quite a few of the Microsoft devices - Windows Phone, Zune, Xbox, (and the PC with Windows 8 release preview of course), and use IE as my primary (only) browser, and I am often questioned - Why? Hopefully things will change, but the first step is to make the Windows brand cool - that is the biggest brand Microsoft has , and hopefully the Surface will change all that. There's a lot riding on Surface (I hope Microsoft realizes that).
    • Microsoft just need to go out there and market!!!

      Microsoft just need to go out there and make headlines whether it's controversial or not.

      For instance, update IE every couple of months and market that it is faster than Chrome.
      • Microsoft needs to do a lot more than that

        As that very thing (marketing) has been their weakest link historically. Picture Gates wiggling his butt in (embarrassed) agreement. ;)

        Maybe building superior products, with a little less arm twisting, would help. [oh my, could it be that simple?]
  • Hate much?

    I see not a single valid point to support your stance that hotmail/IE as brands, should die. I am not talking as a fanboy but rather as a person who wants some logic behind a certain comment.

    I have been using hotmail and gmail together for years now. I find them both equally good. Infact, there are some nifty features of hotmail that makes the webmail experience smoother. Sweep, right click menu are few of them. Sure powerusers would prefer gmail for all the tweaks but that doesnt mean people wont like hotmail. 300+ million of unique users totally negate your point that people hate it.

    Now i know you said tech users. I am not sure how big a percentage of web users do they constitute. but certainly what 5%-10% of users doesnt like cant be tagged as disliked and destined to die.

    you said no one in silicon valley would think of using IE 9. how sure are you about that? IE is fast. It certainly is not memory hogging or slow like its previous versions. People need to change their mentality about monster called IE and try it to believe it. taking a cheap shot at such brands is not a cool way to go.

    Maybe if you can add some solid proof to your reasoning, then we can consider this article worthy of reading which otherwise is waste of time.
    • agree

      Strange article by Ed, it doesn't seems his well-reasoned style.
  • While we are at this

    Microsoft should also put to rest the "Windows" brand.
    This is the one single, most disliked Microsoft brand. In particular, Microsoft made great mistake to name their new mobile OS "Windows" -- especially as it has nothing to do with both the current code base and the current paradigms (or so they want us to believe).

    Also, Microsoft will do best if they start copying everyone, Apple in particular.

    You can never be perceived as good enough, when you have been an "me too" company for so few decades.

    Microsoft has the resources to innovate and has some really neat ideas --- but they jeopardize it all, by attempting to copy others.
    • Copy or not copy?

      On one hand, you say that "Microsoft will do best if they start copying everyone, Apple in particular"; on the other hand, you say that "they jeopardize it all, by attempting to copy others."

      I think that they've been fairly innovative, at least insofar as they've done their own thing, with Windows 8. I don't know how well it would have gone if it had been another carbon copy of iOS, so they can be original when it suits them.
      Third of Five
      • windows 8

        The WinRT concept was Microsoft's great change. It seems they viewed it this way for a while, but then suddenly turned back to "Windows" and the current Windows 8 concept is to bolt WinRT (the new OS) and Win32 (the old OS) together. This is going to happen even in the "WinRT only" Windows RT.

        Microsoft should have chosen new basename for their OS, anything, but "Windows".
        Then, they could once again make the world mad and wanting it, and waiting and waiting (and paying in mean time) over and over again.
        But, naming it again "Windows" made any of this impossible and will come back to haunt them.

        PS: I indeed meant "not copy". The new site doesn't allow edits, unfortunately.
    • No offense...Fanbois

      Microsoft is not catfighting like Sammy and Apple about 'familar' looks between their devices every day. Microsoft created their own interface, a cool one in fact, that differ them from the others. As a brand with 90% market share, it's a TEENY-TINY early to call Windows a failure.

      Who said 'it just works' while the iPhones explode on planes?

      Nokia (Microsoft partner) paid $50 to ALL Lumia costumers for a blue screen glitch on SOME phones while U PAY to give iPhones the RIGHT to be insured.

      Who was what... THREE MONTHS late to fix up a leak on their system, while still bragging about their OS being immune to viruses, WHILE 500 000 'Maccas' received the SAME virus???

      Microsoft can be blamed for past failures like Vista, but that does not mean u bully them like they are failures, what have U AND I done to compare with them??
      • AOL 93

        If you call copying AOL 93 as being "cool" then i guess you must like Win 8. I've yet to meet an actual customer that liked Win 8, in fact most have been running out and buying their Win 7 machines now so they won't have to take the new OS.

        And as far as Lumia I'm sure they'll be on Woot! for giveaway prices soon enough, between Apple owning the high end and Google owning everything else there really isn't room for a WinPhone, especially when the only reason people buy Windows is to run Windows programs that of course won't run on ARM.

        As for what U and I have done? about not blow over 15 billion on failed ventures this past decade? Zune, kin, killing the profitable playsforsure for the pathetic Zune market, rushing the X360 out with a 2 billion dollar flaw, there is a reason why Forbes listed Ballmer as the worst CEO, and that is because a monkey throwing darts at the stock page would have made more money for MSFT than a decade of Steve Ballmer.
        PC builder
      • You point

        @ BCwindows8

        What was your point?
    • Well who is not copying in the industry.

      Copying is strong term. Let us call borrowed. Your beloved Apple borrowed many things from others. Of course Google is known as Copying machine altogether. I am not saying they are not innovative, rather they borrow things from others and optimize them for their cause.
      Ram U
    • Really?

      Put to rest the brand that accounts for the vast majority of the OS market? Great idea...
      • Why not

        The following illustrates best the dilemma Microsoft is facing:

        “New brothel, same old whores”
    • Is this a joke?

      People love Windows 7 even more than they love Windows XP.

      And while there are some that people love to hate (eg. Windows ME, Windows Vista), they have subsequently been replaced by much laudable successors.
  • Is it time for Microsoft to 'retire' its tarnished brands?

    No, that is insane. The brands aren't tarnished if they have millions of users using their products and services. Just because some Silicon Valley elites don't like it doesn't mean the rest of the world doesn't. As long as Microsoft is still getting their market share from these services there is no need retire or re-brand.
    Loverock Davidson-
  • Hmmm.....Fresh paint on a junk car does not make it new.

    I don't believe changing the branding will make any difference. Improving the software and the user's experience will do far more.