Microsoft: The monohedral and the bizarre

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?
Written by Ken Hess, Contributor

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.

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