Microstiff - Microsoft Outings of the Third Kind

Friday, October 13, 2006

Microsoft – In the Zone: “The Comfort Zone of the Mediocre”

Feeling a little down lately, Bubby? Leaving work each day wondering how the code you wrote today fits into the whole scheme of things tomorrow? Anxious for a challenge but, looking around, you just don’t see one? Wondering if your company is self-imploding?

Not to worry, Softies. There’s a name for this condition. It’s called the "Microsoft Comfort Zone of the Mediocre". Now, before you throw a hissy fit, I’m not necessarily talking about you, Bubala . I’m talking about your company: Microsoft.

Want a way out of all this and still get to keep your Softie stripes? Listen up!

First, you must accept one simple mantra. You’ve heard it before, it’s trite but, like “One Day at a Time”, it can have a tremendous impact upon the future of your company (or any company, for that matter). It goes like this:

“Lead, Follow or Get Out of the Way”

That's right, “Lead, Follow or Get Out of the Way!” By lead, I mean Innovate - combine your creativity with action; by Follow, I mean copy - use price, features or synergy as your differentiator; by Get Out of the Way I mean “go do something else. Recap: Be a good Innovator, be a better copycat or just GTF out!

If you can feel that surge of leader/innovator blood coursing through your veins, by God, go do it! If you want to follow, well then be the best damn follower you can be! And, hey, when in doubt, do both, if you can. But, do one or the other or both or...get out!

Now, as a company, your products and services must be designed in the same way: Either innovatively or with some price, feature and/or in some synergistic combination with other products and/or services to provide an advantage...a buying proposition. Makes sense, yes? You either have to be first mover or build a better mousetrap, right? If not, the third choice will be made for you and you will...well...become irrelevant. See yah! Bye, bye, so long, farewell!

So, why do I apply this to you and your $35 billion-in-the-bank-$1-billion+revenue-per- month-company? Because, I believe you Softies are blindly entering an era where you are neither innovating nor building a better mousetrap and, if you don’t have the courage to change, in time, you will all become irrelevant. I say, “In time” because…it takes a while to burn up $35 billion. Tsk.

Let’s Look at Microsoft and Innovation (Tsk!)

There are no significant examples of Microsoft as innovator, both past and present. However, it should be mentioned that, when Bill Gates (1590 on SATs, estimated 170 IQ) licensed QDOS -- Quick and Dirty (prophetic?) Operating System, a version of CP/M licensed from Seattle Computer Products – in 1980, to IBM, the company that started the PC revolution and, shortly thereafter, MS-DOS to Compaq and offshore clones, he was, in effect demonstrating some of the elements of leadership, if not innovation, by capitalizing on that fortuitous sequence of events.

More Interesting History

With the PC explosion coming from IBM/Compaq, Microsoft cobbled together Windows 1.0 in 1981 using a derivative of Xerox while Apple did same. Since then, Apple’s GUI has been clearly easier to use and prettier to view, it’s just that Microsoft had all those PCs on which to put/force theirs. Windows 3.0 sold 10 million copies from 1990 to 1992 and the money came pouring in!

OK, Softies you know it and I know it; every single one of Microsoft’s products and technologies is copied or developed from prior art. If you don’t believe me, see David Wheeler's assessment here. And, it’s been this way throughout the years. It could be said that, “Microsoft doesn’t innovate, it captures.” So, it’s clear, Microsoft, that you can’t or won’t innovate. The question now becomes: What’s left to capture?

What’s Left to Capture

Used to be Microsoft would buy up the only game in town, add a few bells, fewer whistles and shove it down our throats – Windows. Or, they would buy the 2nd best game in town; do the same and steamroll the competition – MS Word.

And, let’s remember, these were programs; finite and bounded by their features, the “desktop”, as it were. No esoteric marketing schemas involved, no mashups and advertising models for geeks to figure out; just write some code and go home.

It’s not clear that this “desktop capture and rewrap mojo” is even working anymore. One such “program” of recent kidnapping, Great Plains Accounting, has had its name changed twice, been buried in lackluster marketing and sent its original CEO hightailing it back to Fargo. (I am a Great Plains Certified Accounting Application Specialist and, to me, this is a travesty!)

So, there’s no more desktop fun to be had, Softies. If you haven’t already, begin your grieving…NOW.

The Handwriting’s On “The Cloud”

It’s not comfortable too far away from that desktop, is it? It’s only natural to want to stay there, tethered to that Microsoft-grown walled garden, using Windows, Office and Windows-compatible programs written by companies who respect you, fear you and perhaps loathe you. Ouch! (Well, not you, your company. There’s a kind of schizophrenia, isn’t there? You work for a company that bullies the rest of the world and yet…you’re not a bully. Oh, the irony!)

Anyway, I digress. Recap: Nothing left to capture. Desktop’s becoming irrelevant. C’mon, admit it! It’s why you took 5 years to build Vista, only to have the world tell you, “Pretty good job, Softie, but…no features! You’re still in shock and denial regarding the demise of the desktop. It’s only natural.

It’s why you tied a yellow ribbon ‘round the old oak Word, Excel and whatever. To keep the dream alive! We don’t blame you for that. We just hear what you don’t…the music…from the cloud. Turn around. It’s time to face the music. It’s coming from the Cloud.

“Ooo, Eee, Get Offa My Cloud”

Softies, there’s no more desktop to capture…it’s all slowly, painfully - for Microsoft, perhaps - moving to the cloud…the Internet. And, Microsoft hasn’t convinced its stockholders that it can move along with it. Cloud’s a place where some programs reside away from the desk; a place where programs other than Microsoft’s can be used. Gulp! A place where information is paid for by subscriptions (Gulp! Gulp!) and advertisements (Gulp! Gulp! Gulp!)

You mean, “Cloud’s got other players, big and small who know the lay of the clouds better than I do? You mean, I don’t own the cloud and all the things that go on there? You mean I might have to play nicely? You mean, I gotta learn about subscriptions and advertising real fast ‘cuz that’s the way they do things on the cloud? You mean, since I’m not an innovator, I’ve got to dress up my current offerings for the cloud using price, features or synergy as a differentiator? Why, we've got Ray Ozzie to do that. Whew!"

Not so fast, Microsoft! What about the business proposition? And what about content; sex appeal, desirability as it were? All you really know is “features” and how to buy them.

"You mean you're talking a whole system, away from the desktop with monthly income just a…dribbling in?" (Gulp! Barf!)”

Yes, I am afraid we are.

Wait, There’s Still Hope!

Recap: Cloud’s here to stay; you got lotsa money, no experience. What’s a body to do?

One Good Solution: Be the Best Follower You Can Be

Recap: You’re not an Innovator/Leader. Cloud’s a calling.

  1. Ray Ozzie – Copy some unique Cloud solutions.
  2. Grieve the Desktop but milk it dry!
  3. Hire Cloud Expert, Fast! – Nobody there knows the cloud, the biz proposition, the ad models, subscriptions, buzz, web site appeal, and more. Cloud expert needs to be a “been there, done that” person with great cloud clout and great cloud charisma. Position on level with Ray Ozzie if not…dare I say…CEO!
  4. Since cloud is about sharing, learn to share (not you, Softies! Your bosses and the corporate culture). As you learn to share, you’ll be penalized greatly for arrogant, bully behavior, especially when everyone is more equal than before.
  5. As you see the fun in sharing you’ll see the fun in being good; less evil. One can only hope!

One Best Solution: Be the Best Follower You Can Be and Gradually Innovate

Recap: You not an Innovator/Leader. Cloud’s a calling.

  1. All of the “Good Solution” above plus:
  2. Establish an Innovation core in your organization that transcends departments and divisions that fosters Innovative solutions to cloud problems and…less evil. One can only hope!

What Makes Softies Unique

  1. You have been chosen to work for a very successful company with unmatched power to do good…or not.
  2. You are very talented, quite educated and deserve to work for a company that has the power to utilize all of your talents and promote your growth. Microsoft may just evolve into that company. You decide.
  3. You have a unique opportunity to be a part of something very exciting (if Microsoft listens to others) or to languish in the Comfort Zone of the Mediocre (judging from past experience).

Carpe Futuro, Softies!

Mini-Microsoft: Random October Bits

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