Microsoft: The monohedral and the bizarre

Microsoft: The monohedral and the bizarre

Summary: It's obvious to all observers that Microsoft is in a state of transition and transformation. Ballmer has declared that now that there is 'One Microsoft.' E Pluribus Unum, dude. What's the next move?


In case you haven't noticed, Microsoft has been in a state of transition for a few years now. Their foray into open source software, their giving away of software, their new stance on competition and cooperatition; it's a whole new company. Microsoft is entering middle age. And with middle age comes the regular prostate exam and colonoscopy. Both of which involve discovery from the bottom up. Welcome to the new age of reason, Microsoft, we've been waiting for you. Grab your ankles and think pleasant thoughts.

The discovery that you're doing things wrong is painful. Microsoft has historically been just a bit behind the game in three key areas: virtualization, consumerization, and cloud computing. Now that they've caught up and surpassed other companies in technical features, it's time for the company to re-evaluate itself. Take a close look at where it is today and where it's going tomorrow.

It's kind of ironic that the catch phrase for Windows 95 was, "Where do you want to go today?", when it should have been, "Where do you want to be tomorrow?"

The realization that the world has passed you by isn't a good one. It requires restructuring, refocusing, and making some tough decisions in order to remain relevant and profitable. Some of those tough decisions always begin at the bottom and work their way skyward. This typically means layoffs for technical staff, salary adjustments, deleting bonus programs, removing redundant positions, and shifting of personnel from silos and towers to unified global strata.

I feel bad for the average Microsoft worker. I really do. Every large company experiences growing pains. But Microsoft has been experiencing more than its share for the past decade or so. I think though, that its pain is almost over. Middle age doesn't have to be full of aches, pains, and complaints. It can be a time of great and positive discovery. It can be a time of enlightenment. It can be the transitional and transformative time that Microsoft is now experiencing. 

 I think it's good that Microsoft is refocusing and reasserting itself as "One Microsoft". Microsoft was once the most powerful company on the planet led by the richest man on the planet. But that was a different time. Things have changed. Now there's cloud and big data and XaaS and consumerization. Yes, the dirtiest of all IT slanguage, consumerization. Since this blog is consumerization focused, I get the best opportunity to focus on that part of this transition. 

Why does consumerization come into play, you ask? It's very simple, you as a consumer, now have more power than ever before. Consumers can now shift a company from Fortune 500 to yesterday's news. You have to make people happy or they'll switch. Today, we have the power.

Microsoft now realizes that its power is gone, or at best is on the wane. No longer can it churn out products that we must love or lump. We can now choose. Sure we've always had a choice but never such good choices that we enjoy today.

Microsoft knew that.

And why not tighten the vise when you have one's victim's delicate parts in it? Anyone would. Although Microsoft took a good beating over doing what anyone would do. It took advantage of its top seed position, just as others have done in the past. But somehow Microsoft was a criminal for doing it too.

Now the tide has turned.

The old saying goes, "The customer is always right." And it's true. The customer is always right.

Apple has proved this. Microsoft had to learn it the hard way.

Unfortunately, the price of this lesson, and all lessons, is very high.

The consumer now drives the market, not the vendor. You probably think that the market has always been consumer-driven. You'd be wrong.

It's the same lesson that Russia learned. One choice is not enough and quality does matter. You can't give people what you want to give them and expect loyalty or happiness. You have to give people what they want.

And the all-powerful consumer is a fickle beast.

This is where it gets "weird".

Do you remember when Blackberry was the "must have" mobile phone? I do. I had one and thought it was the greatest mobile device the world had ever seen. It was ahead of its time. Then the service took a couple of big hits and the fickle consumer jumped to other technologies almost over night. Now the company struggles in the single digit market share range. FYI, Blackberry, in my opinion has addressed its issues and is well worth another look, but that's another story.

Now Microsoft has to compete with Apple, a host of mobile device vendors, and itself.

Yes, itself.

It sounds crazy but Microsoft has committed the ultimate crime: competing with itself.

Windows XP was too good and Microsoft decided to support it for too long. Vista didn't have the uptake expected because of its too soon release and a myriad of problems. Windows 7 was the savior that rescued us from Vista but still XP hung on. A lot of people still use it, while others have only begun to convert to Windows 7.

And now there's Windows 8. Corporate uptake of Windows 8 might never happen. Once the Windows 7 conversions are fully realized, businesses might wait until Windows 10 to consider another major cutover. So, in the meantime, what does Microsoft do with Windows 8 or Windows 9?

One answer is to change support policy. Provide full support for an operating system for five years and extended support for two more. Seven years is long enough with one operating system. No company should be held over the fire for a decade or more for a product that should have been replaced years ago.

The alternative is for Microsoft to only create a new operating system every seven years, charge more for it, charge more for support or change its model completely to one of support tiers.

It might work something like this:

  • Microsoft builds new operating systems every seven years and offers ten years of support, which gives companies that three year transition period they often need.
  • Microsoft gives away its operating system software or charge a subscription for use. Crazy I know but wait, there's more.
  • Setup tiered support for individuals, SMBs, and Enterprises that allows companies to pay for support on an annual or on a per incident basis.
  • Only provide updates and patches for those who subscribe. Of course, certain critical patches would have to be made public to address major security issues with applications but not the operating system itself.
  • Provide its own Microsoft-branded virtual desktops and servers to companies and individuals via subscription. All patching and updates would be handled from the data center and not left to the individual user or company.

I rather like the idea of subscribing to a desktop that I can use from anywhere and at anytime I choose. And the idea of a virtual infrastructure that's owned and supported by Microsoft appeals to me as well.

Microsoft must change its business model to meet the new consumer paradigm. Allow me to use a Microsoft desktop and servers from any device. Microsoft owns their own cloud that I subscribe to. I like it. Bizarre, yes. One Microsoft, definitely.

What do you think about Microsoft' restructuring? Do you think that they're playing catchup or is there something bigger brewing? Talk back and let me know.

MS Cloud background image used with permission from Meghan D. Cox. I placed the MS logo on top of the original image.

Topics: Microsoft, Consumerization


Kenneth 'Ken' Hess is a full-time Windows and Linux system administrator with 20 years of experience with Mac, Linux, UNIX, and Windows systems in large multi-data center environments.

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  • Rearranging the chairs

    Fun to watch MS Flounder in a death spiral.

    I'm planning the party for when they become as irrelevent as Novell. I figure it will be in the next 10 years.
    • Yes

      Things at Microsoft are going better than they have been in the last decade. People like you who only read popular tech news unfortunately think they are doomed because of a mixed reception of windows 8, and the Xbox policy gaffe. Unfortunately this couldn't be further from the truth. The future of MS just doesn't revolve around the same concepts as it did 10 years ago, and some people can't seem to figure that out. They have made some questionable decisions of late, yes, but to say they are going to fail as a company is a laughable statement.
      • It was in the last decade that Vista and Windows 8 came out !!!

        This is the decade of Windows Vista and Windows 8. This was also the decade in which the mobile computing took off! Both those factors, lack of customer input and lack of foresight in knowing how powerful the internet has become has stalled Microsoft's ability to build relevant software in todays high tech market. Microsoft is a company of a bygone era.
        Tim Jordan
    • It must hurt to say that without beliving it

      but hey, you've said that for what, the past 8 years, and all MS does is make more billions in profits every year.

      We've already had our party the day your posts became as irrelevent as Novell.

      I think it was your second day on ZDnet, if I remember correctly.
      William Farrel
      • Microsoft invests its profits poorly

        MSFT is selling at $35/share for like forever now. That is because Microsoft invests its profits so poorly that they loose them all and share prices remain the same. Profits are good if you can invest those profits wisely and Microsoft has had a poor record in its investments.
        Tim Jordan
        • It seems you also make the poor decisions

          otherwise you wouldn't waste time here. Of course I am also wasting my time here definitely. But your rage against the companies you don't like is blinding you completely.
          Ram U
        • Ignorant People

          Microsoft is a vampire company, they buy up other projects and suck the patents and life out. Yahoo does the same. It can't only last too long... And if you have competition from a self idea creating company the stake in your heart wont be too far away.

          Microsoft survives by patents, Office, gamers, and many ignorant people.
        • MSFT was $23-27 forever

          $30-35 is a treat. It's gone up quite a bit in the last 6-12 months
    • Re: become as irrelevent as Novell

      It is about time for your party then.
  • Bring back the start menu

    No start menu, no deal.
  • Modern (Metro) UI, Ballmer's pride, and consumer rage are the big problems

    You say the new microsoft understands the consumer is running things, but they don't. When Vista was received badly, Microsoft took such a bad hit in PR because they waited too late before going back and patching VISTA for those early adopters and instead moved forward with something more consumer friendly early adopters would have to buy. Now Windows 8 is out and they're making the same mistake. We all know in the end consumers are going to make Microsoft make an interface that is equally friendly with or without touch that doesn't force use of the MS cloud. But Microsoft will burn all bridges with consumers and never admit they overstepped until everyone is furious at them... then make us buy something that does what Win8 should have done right along.
  • Microsoft again copying Apple...

    Mr Ballmer, I knew Steve Jobs, Steve Jobs was a friend of mine. You sir, are no Steve Jobs.
    • Funny that you would paraphrase that

      Given Kennedy's past that has come to light, I'm sure Dan Quale is QUITE happy he's no "Jack Kennedy".

      Given Steve Job's past, I'm certain Ballmer's QUITE happy he's no Steve Jobs.
      William Farrel
      • Re: Ballmer's QUITE happy he's no Steve Jobs

        And so are we.
  • The customer is NOT always right

    The customer alwas wants things their way. if you did that, you'd go out of business. Creating custom modular computers left all these PC makers almost no margin. Customers want everything for free and don't want to be bothered with ads. Ask a customer if they want Google without any ads and they will not only say yes, but demand it.

    Apple doesn't serve customers. Apple markets the hell out of their products and people think they want it. Watch any TV show on TV right now.. and I mean ANY TV show, and you'll see Apple products used by every "good" guy and other products by bad guys. Why? Because Apple is paying all these TV shows to put their products on the screen. people see them, they mindless think they are awesome, and want to be just like the people on TV. Need proof? Just ask yourself why Apple puts their products in every TV show if it doesn't work.

    I remember my mom fighting to buy my sister a Cabbage Patch doll and paying three times the price to get it. How right was she?
    A Gray
    • The customer my not know exactly what they are right about

      but they do know what it feels like to get more than they have come to expect. And this is mostly what you get with Apple products. There is a certain kind of intangible joy you get with that.
    • Actually, Apple doesn't pay those shows to use their products.

      What they do is to supply these shows with all the free Apple products they would want or need, but like any show, with stipulations that they can't do anything "bad" with the Apple products, like having a terrorist use an iPhone to detonate a bomb.

      Now, if the show buys their own hardware, all they have to do is cover the trademarked Apple logo and they can whatever they please.
      William Farrel
    • Some people committed suicide over the Cabbage Patch doll

      Well, I for one am glad your mom got your sister that doll. Some people committed suicide over the Cabbage Patch doll and I am glad your sister isn't one of them but of course she wasn't, ypur mom had the foresight to buy her one. God bless your mom.
      Tim Jordan
    • Where the consumer is right

      The consumer has the right to demand value when they spend their money. When a company thinks that it deserves to be paid for more than it is giving then it does not deserve the sale.

      It's always irked me when you get a decent deal on a program but then when it comes time to upgrade they ask for 70%-80% the cost of the full product for a marginal upgrade. I am sure that there is some kind of marketing strategy behind the fact that they must somehow make more money by having me upgrade every other version or less instead of what I would willingly do (purchase every version) if the price were fair.

      There was a time when I threw money around like it was free. Perhaps there are many that still do this. However, I now demand value.
  • Windows is no longer the only way to access applications...

    In Win 3x, 9x, XP and W7 days, you *needed* windows to access anything more than a web page. Now with Cloud, HTML 5, etc. Any 'consumption' device can access web enabled applications. People are no longer locked in to *needing* MS to do their work. They no longer *need* their client machines (in many cases) and now they don't even need their server systems.
    Microsoft can't bully it's customers and partners and dictate upgrade cycles, prices and terms like they used to. The game has changed and, if they don't find new, compelling ways to deliver value, they'll be left behind.
    Windows 8 / 9 / 10 don't matter if you are no longer running Windows applications - so why should companies upgrade? And what club can Microsoft use to force them to upgrade? Abandon the OS? Abandon support? No problem - we'll move to the cloud and retire your products all together.
    That's what's happening now. This is why PCs aren't selling, and why Microsoft is now a 'Devices and Services' company and not a Windows company