What game do you suppose Microsoft is playing? When was the last time it came out with a totally new, innovative product that has taken the world by storm? It seems to have become a regular event for competitors like Apple, yet despite having become innovation ‘followers’ Microsoft continues to generate massive income from software and operating systems, but for how long?
In what appears to be a parody of the New Testament, Steve Jobs with his loyal but diminutive band of evangelists and his new order keeps coming up against the might of Rome in the form of Microsoft and emperor-elect, Steve Ballmer. In the last twenty years the empire has been living on the past glories of Windows, Office and Exchange. Little has changed, a few new features here and some new packaging there, but basically, the same old stuff. The fact that almost every business in the known world has adopted these products as a pseudo standard means that everyone else that wants to benefit from the empire must conform to it. For those wanting to bring in a new order the path is long and treacherous.
Forgetting the parable for one minute it seems that questions are finally being asked of Microsoft. Not by its shareholders, who revel in the companies success, but by mainstream journalists who are starting to question why the public keeps putting up with the release of sometimes sub-standard and outdated products.
A recent article in BusinessWeek questions why Microsoft persists with Windows Mobile when it is apparent that it’s has been surpassed by almost all other smartphone operating systems in the market. The reason is quite simple, they simply don’t have an alternatve. Whilst Microsoft persists on patching a basically flawed and bloated core system, designed to run PCs, its competitors have written brand new operating systems from scratch. These take advantage, not only of the latest programming languages but also of the latest advances in handsets. Apple got it right from day one, Palm’s new Pre OS is brilliant, Nokia has developed a new OS but still advances the cause of Symbian, RIM stole the mobile email market with BlackBerry and Google developed Android from scratch in less time than it takes emperor Ballmer to give an oration to an industry event, and with far less gesticulation.
When I asked a Mobile Windows executive why his company, with its massive resources, had not put aside a few hundred programmers to develop a new mobile OS from scratch his response was, “who says we haven’t?” Well, that was over a year ago and there is no tangible evidence that this has happened. Instead, we see pre-release videos on YouTube of Windows Mobile 6.5 which looks very much like its predecessor but with larger icons so you can use a finger instead of a stylus. Wow, that’s innovative! I wonder of they’ll call it Vista Mobile?
If BusinessWeek is correct, then there is strong evidence to suggest that mobile phone buyers are going out of their way to avoid Windows powered handsets. Unlike corporate mandates that PCs must be powered by Windows and run Office, smartphones from others have all the features and connectivity corporates want. Manufacturers like Samsung and LG seem to go out of their way to mask their presentation layers so that the underlying Windows Mobile platform is not evident. When these suppliers advertise their wares the Microsoft logo, which used to be prominent, is now miniscule but probably still has to appear because of legal requirements set by the empire.
Come on Microsoft, surely you can give us a new operating system for mobiles that is lean and efficient. And while you are at it, how about a PC OS as efficient as Linux or Leopard and a set of tools that do basic word processing and spreadsheets without having to wade through thousands of generally unwanted, complex features. Give us an operating system and an Office suite that costs less than $100 and please stop charging us for unwanted upgrades that are not really upgrades but usually comprise of security fixes and prettier screens. The market you have been exploiting for years is becoming much more sophisticated and is starting to see through the smokescreen, or should I say Cloud?