Microsoft Weather Report

Winds of change, cloudy futures and evolving business models

Out beyond that azure blue sky there’s a storm brewing. Change is hard; lot's of conflicting currents and storms of controversy. Microsoft is in the grip of some conflicting currents I'm sure.  This came home to me the other day as I interviewed two guys who founded a software development and cloud services company. The Sales VP gave me his card and the CTO gave me his card. And as I looked at them side by side I noticed the sales guy's card had the logos of both Microsoft and Google prominently displayed. The CTO's card had only one logo displayed - Google. 

When I asked about this the conversation that followed highlighted some key points I’ve heard from people a lot lately. The Sales VP is Russ Young and the CTO is Ed Laczynski and their company is LTech. They’ve been in business for 8 years doing software development, Web 2.0 work and now cloud computing work. They’re focusing on what they believe is the next big growth opportunity and they’re selecting the vendors they want to align themselves with. Russ and Ed are literally putting their money where their mouths are; this isn’t just idle chatter around the lunch table. The times they are a-changing (again), and strong winds are blowing in Google’s direction.

Russ the sales guy said that up till now it’s been much easier to sell Microsoft solutions. Calling on prospects who asked about cloud computing and Google solutions meant spending lots of time educating people but not closing deals or making sales. Now that’s changing. Ed the CTO said the elegance and the clear cloud focus of Google’s technology makes them the obvious choice for the future. He said Microsoft is trying to play the cloud game but also attempting to keep their bigger customers tied to on-site server based software and licenses and all the cost that goes along with that business model. Russ then admitted that his new cards, when they come back from the printer, will have only the Google logo. They both said the cloud computing customer education period is coming to an end and the cloud computing customer buying period is about to begin. And Google is what customers are going to be buying.

What Microsoft Might Want To Do 

MAINTAIN A HOLD on existing customers by providing a serious option for people to use the old Windows XP and office apps user interfaces - don't trash 15 years of your customers’ hard earned knowledge from countless hours spent using your products every day to do their jobs. I personally know I should move on to a newer and cooler user interface (UI) but most days I’m so desperately busy; I just want to type up a document, whip together a powerpoint presentation, model some numbers on excel, send them off attached to an email and run out the door. I promise I’ll learn a new UI as soon as I have some free time.

Question about UI design: Once you know a UI do you care if others think it’s dated or clunky? Does anybody think the QWERTY keyboard layout (designed in 1872) is cool or efficient or makes any sense at all? But we all know QWERTY because we’ve been using it since the day we stopped sucking our thumbs so we’ve grown fond of it. I would not look kindly on someone who tried to force me to start using a “new and improved” keyboard layout.

What would happen if Microsoft kept the clunky old Windows XP UI available for the three billion or so of us who already know how to use it and still went ahead and changed the technology behind the covers but shielded us from the pain and distraction of having to relearn all those things we already know so we could instead concentrate on getting our work done? If they did that I’d probably follow them pretty much anywhere. But destroy what I know and now you release me to move on to other products. If I have to learn everything all over again anyway then maybe I'll go to a totally cool new platform (hello Apple, hello Google).

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