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Microsoft can reorg all it wants, but it’s still doomed if it doesn’t fix Windows

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Poor Microsoft. Everybody, but everybody has advice for the huge-but-struggling software maker that just launched its latest reorg in hopes of fixing what ails it. Some want it to dump Bing and sell off Xbox. Others, including our own Derrick Harris, say nixing Bing would be nuts, given the knowledge base it provides the rest of Microsoft’s businesses.

As someone who’s covered Microsoft on and off  for more than 20 years, I have my own thoughts on what Microsoft’s plan of action should be, and it starts with this: Fix Windows, dammit.

I know, they say they’re doing this. Microsoft has spent big dough on Windows 8 and now Windows 8.1 to address deficits that have left Windows PCs a distinct second option for more and more users. But here’s one interesting data point: Every single former Microsoft exec I’ve met with in the past two years — and there have been quite a few — carries a MacBook Air (s aapl). These folks left the Big M on good terms, so that’s gotta hurt.

Capping that off, last year, an HP exec was embarrassed to be caught with a MacBook in a coffee shop. I had to swear never to reveal his name. If one of Microsoft’s biggest hardware partners — which supplies free HP PCs to employees — can’t persuade its own execs to use them, there is indeed trouble in paradise.

It’s fine to chase Google in search and Amazon in cloud services, but Windows has to come first — and as always it’s hard to get Microsoft to prioritize anything.

Some of this Windows problem is beyond the company’s control: Unlike Apple, Microsoft relies on third-party hardware makers, which burden their machines with annoying crapware. I’m speaking from experience here. Even as I type this (full disclosure — on a MacBook Air) an HP Pavilion is staring at me from across the room. It hasn’t been turned on in months. One reason for this: it takes a full minute to power up. Microsoft started to break this dependency with the Surface. Will it start manufacturing all its own stuff or work out agreements with OEMs to cut the extraneous software? I don’t know — they haven’t brought me in on the strategizing yet — but they have to do something.

Microsoft can recoup lost ground if it can deliver on promises to make the Windows 8.1 (or 8.x and beyond) experience wonderful across a range of devices — tablets, laptops, PCs, Xbox. Naming Terry Myerson, the former Window Mobile guy the chief of Windows across devices might help here. But this is still a big “if”  because to ensure uniformity of experience,  it has to wrangle Dell(s dell), HP(s hpq), Lenovo and others to deliver a crap-free experience — including in their retail PC models. It’s by no means clear whether that can happen, especially since these companies will compete more with Microsoft with their own clouds and services going forward.

Any way you cut it, Microsoft’s in a tough spot. Will it be like IBM that reinvented itself under then chairman Lou Gerstner in the 1990s? Or will it be like Novell which used to own the corporate networking market — and was as big a deal as Microsoft — but which is now nearly irrelevant?

24 Responses to “Microsoft can reorg all it wants, but it’s still doomed if it doesn’t fix Windows”

  1. Ameer Gittens

    Windows cannot be fixed. M$ft should abandon it and develop a Unix-based OS. Sure it would be an admission of defeat but they wouldn’t be any more defeated than they will if they stay the course.

  2. C Stanley

    The biggest problem is that Microsoft has not been listening to consumers, who don’t like the new features of Windows 8, the way the did when people complained about the new features of the XBox One.

    You don’t like the new Metro apps consumers? Tough! You want your start menu back for productivity sake Mr Customer? Tough!

    This is all to fall in line with their silly mobile devices strategy, The problem is that most people already have a mobile device they are happy with. If I am going to switch to a windows tablet or phone, it better have some features I cannot get already with my Iphone or Android phone. Like another poster said, the mobile devices ship has already sailed and Microsoft missed it.

  3. LOL, Microsoft is struggling? Haven’t the apple fanatics gotten over this yet? They are far from struggling. Apple is a one-trick-pony, and their stock has taken huge hits. Microsoft isn’t trying to “fix” something that “ails” it. They are growing. They are merging their operating systems, and this was part of their plan. They can’t just merge it overnight. A company of that size doing this is comparable to several companies merging. And like other companies competing so do departments in huge corperations. This is nothing new. The task of the merging and code-sharing etc is a long term plan.

    As far as MacBooks, or macs. Sorry, but I can take the money it costs for one and buy or build a much superior pc. You aren’t being intellectually honest. Why don’t you show price comparisons, and/or the performance of a similar costing PCs? would that counteract your agenda? You wouldn’t compare chevys and fords by comparing a corvette to a ford focus. I even read an article on this topic, and he was trying to say microsoft was changing their structure to copy apple’s. Come on people please get over this. You’re not apple, so you’re not on their team, there is no ‘us vs. them.’

    I do think microsoft should do more to prevent OEMs from installing crap on their PCs, and help show the less-knowledeable how to remove it. Microsoft, Gates, and Ballmer have been good at predicting the future. In 98 or so Gates said tablet sales would overtake pc sales by 2015 or 2010, I don’t remember exactly, but he was only off by a couple/few years. They had a stranglehold on mobile also, but they lost that, and missed out on tablets. We aren’t too far away from mobile platforms being just as capable as desktops and laptops. They are trying to merge coding, UIs etc. I think they know what they’re doing.

    If anything needs to be fixed it’s their marketing. Apple is older than microsoft, but they’re able to make themselves look like the new cool kid. Jobs was one of the best at taking other’s ideas and inventions and knowing what was the future, and what could make them tons of money. He’s gone now. Yes they have a bunch of cash, and talent, but where do they go from here? I say they continue on their downward spiral. Maybe microsoft will have a chance to bail them out again.

  4. hundoman

    Apple doesn’t make computers anymore all they make are expensive, non-upgradable consumer gadgets. Why anyone would buy a Mac laptop that doesn’t have a user replaceable battery upgradeable ram or hard disk is beyond me. Heck Apple laptops can’t even hold a charge after 1000 charges or 100 charges in the case of the original Macbook Air so they are bricks after a year to a year and a half after purchase.

    Beside the people in the 1st world no one is buying Apple computers or iOS devices and never will. Apple is an elitist fashion statement of a device. How much in wages would someone have to pay in the 3rd world for a proprietary Apple Lightening adapter verses a normal 50 cent USB cable or other cable.

    Windows is making the difficult step towards a touch – tile based interface on computers as well as smartphone and tablet devices. I see a much greater future in that than what Apple is doing with an ancient iOS architecture that doesn’t offer any real-time multitasking and is being pushed on us consumers.

    Heck to look at how we are all being forced to buy Apple product all you have to do is to look at how much Sprint, Verizon and others have had to give out to Apple as purchase commitments just to carry their iOS product.

    Does anyone really think Verizon is going to be pushing any other smart phone ecosystem over the next few years when they are on the hook with Apple to sell $23.5 billion worth of iPhones in 2013 – more than double what they sold last year.

    If anything the consumers need to realized that they are being duped into buying Apple no because it is better but because of all the marketing dollars behind it based of Apple sticking it to the cellular companies.

    • No kidding, go into any AT&T, or Verizon store and they push iphones so hard. Then people get stuck with the most ridiculous phone bills. And when their phone breaks, stops working etc. Oh, no problem just pay this, and sign a new contract. I don’t think most people actually know how much they are paying for their iphone.

  5. stevmas

    Microsoft’s slide began the day following Bill’s departure. They stopped listening to their customers, resellers, and developers, telling them what they are going to get rather than asking them what they need. It’s a company with an extraordinary amount of talent that has the potential of reestablishing itself as an industry leader, but only with the proper focus and the very top. Reorganizing under the current leadership is just reshuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic.

  6. I’d pay good money to know that my XP machine would be supported for another ten years. It’s all I want, and what all my software runs on just fine. Will Microsoft sell me that? Of course not. Too many people need excuses for their jobs.

  7. In my view fixing the OS is not enough, and neither is the reorg. They need to change the way they operate. Although MS never had the best products, except Office which made them the giant they are, they were always excellent in marketing and bullying.

    Now the world has changed, customers don’t want to pay for the OS and database and this and that just to use their business application, they rather rent the application in the cloud and all the other costs are being taken care of. This means that the cheaper the rent, the more attractive it would be to customers. The OS adds another layer on the cost of the monthly rent.

    MS should make office free, or at least the same pricing model as Google Docs, and then focus on Azure, Bing and their XBox business, their other offerings should become invisible components of these offerings. And forget about the mobile OS war, the ship has sailed, you missed it.

      • It is indeed an interesting subject, especially the mad scramble of the traditional big software houses to stay relevant by trying to buy their way out of a changing market.

        As for the OS, I do think our dependance on the OS is getting less, especially since most of the applications, even Office, is available either through a website or on a mobile device, sometimes both. That is why MS is throwing a lot of money to their mobile OS, the problem is that they are not getting market share. I think that Chrome will be a much more important OS for the PC going forward, it is free and you will be able to do everything you previously needed an OS and installed software for.

  8. Just b/c a bunch wealthy beings walk around w/ an overpriced MacAir to show off doesn’t mean Windows needs to fix anything. If I buy my son a laptop for his school usage I would not give a damn about that he wants some iDiot device instead to impress some chicks.

      • The general public care more about the price than the symbolic status the device carries, especially in this tough economy. That’s where the bulk of sales come from and where MSFT collects their money. MSFT is not losing their PC business to MACs. They are losing it to MORE AFFORDABLE tablets.

  9. alessiof

    I guess they have also to introduce also a standard service for 3rd party software updates: no more “flash updater” – “java updater” and “who-knows-what-updater” sitting in memory and continuosly annoyng users, mostly at reboots. I’m speaking from a windows 7 perspective, do windows 8.x have something similar?

  10. For the wealthy, computers have become status symbols; no wonder they walk around with overhyped, overpriced trinkets to show off. For working class forks, it’s hard to justify buying new computers all the time, when maybe even their XP machines are still good enough.

  11. Scotland

    When exactly was Windows the best OS? I am doubtful on the premise that there is any Windows luster to be regained. Microsoft has had a monopoly on the desktop for so long that they have not had to compete. The last good competition they had on the desktop was IBM OS/2 and they ruthlessly crushed it (got them in trouble with the Justice Department almost resulting in a Microsoft breakup). Now that there are non-desktop computing alternatives, it is not surprising that consumers don’t want to pay the Microsoft tax. Windows 8, like Vista and the IE browser, is Microsoft deciding what is good for Microsoft and ramming it down customer’s throats.

    Even if you go back all the way back to Windows 3.1 days, it was not the OS that got Microsoft to OS dominance – it was that Microsoft Office was only available on Windows. Microsoft has used the Windows/Office pair to keep users tied to both platforms. Increasingly there are alternatives to both and neither is as vital as either was at one time. Most mobile users do not care about Office at all. Businesses remain committed to the Windows/Office since they have standardized on it and on the MS Exchange/backoffice suite.

    • Tommy Jonq

      They’ve got serious competition now. OS X.9 “Mavericks” and iOS 7 are everything no one at Apple could get Steve Jobs interested in doing—bringing Mac superiority to “enterprise” and corporate networking. The entire company (except for the Maps team, who, unlike Microsoft failures, were taken out and shot, instead of kicked upstairs) has focused on it since the day after Steve’s funeral, and according to the beta testers I’ve heard from, it’s an iPhone scale home run.) Apple has already snuck in with their Mac mini servers, and OS X.9 is a full-blown network system. You don’t even need to buy additional server software, just a $19.99 app to interface with the baked-in network features. And yes, Virginia, Python, PostgreSQL, Apache, massively overhauled profile management (including 100 percent support for existing Windows workstations) and server caching for company-wide updates, active directories, calendars (a BIG deal, I guess) and so on and on and on. XBox and Zune and Kin were not seen as breaks in Microsoft’s core business firewall. But Windows 8 is not only a terrible vulnerability to their “enterprise” brand, but the Surface is a Pearl Harbor attack against their own core customer base—OEM’s. Not only are younger IT grads gnashing their teeth to dump Windows at work, but even old pros are starting to get fed up with the bloated dinosaur that is MS.

      Let me put it this way—how many companies, in any industry, have tried to emulate Apple as a COMPANY? How many try to emulate Microsoft? How many people like buying a product or service from someone they’d fire?

  12. delawarediner

    Sadly, I think it’s those crap software add-ons that brought down the price of the PC to mere-mortal levels. For every PC that ships with McAfee (or the toolbar, or the Shop Retailer X from your desktop! app or…), I’m guessing PC manufacturers get a kickback, which means the manufacturer can shave a dollar or two off the cost of the end product. The downside? That add-on often makes the manufacturer LOOK BAD. I’ve been in IT Support for nearly 20 years, and *hands down* Lenovo and Dell have been the two worst culprits when it comes to crap-laden images, and I have steered friends and colleagues away from them on numerous occasions for just this reason. Yes, I agree that this needs to stop, but I’m a little afraid of what it will do to PC costs if it does.

    • Tommy Jonq

      For most of us, time is money. How much money are you and your company wasting every month because of the time you’re wasting on Windows reboots, reinstalls, etc, etc, etc? I’ve move into teaching in my middle age, going from Media industries (99 percent Apple; admittedly SMB’s) to college campuses (90 percent Windows) and I’m horrified by the time I see being wasted every day babying Windows. The machine was made for man; not man for the machine. I realize Apple’s quiet push to overhaul (successfully, apparently) OS X and iOS to start taking a serious bite out of Microsoft’s “enterprise” market will start making a LOT of IT jobs obsolete, but I’m afraid company wide productivity is going to come first. And saving a few bucks up does not justify relentlessly wasting hours and hours and hours working for the machine.

      Oh, I know Apple didn’t make a big noise about it at their WWDC, but since Jobs died, they’ve been concentrating their entire effort (something Microsoft has never done, and apparently can’t do) on doing what they could never get Jobs interested in doing—making OS X and iOS killer apps for enterprise. OS X 10.9 and iOS 7 finally—and completely—fulfill the only complaint anyone has ever had about Apple products. And unlike Windows, you don’t need to buy a completely separate piece of server software. Apple has already made quiet but startling inroads with their Mac Mini servers in SMB’s and “workgroups” within larger corporate networks. And it’s not even necessary to go all Apple all at once. iOS 7 makes all iPads and iPhones ready for existing corporate networks, and existing Windows desktops will work just fine within OS X 10.9 networks. Until they can be phased out.

      Expect Apple to make a bigger noise about this this fall. I’ve already seen quite a few IT managers’ blogging about how much they love the Mac servers they’ve already implemented.

      • whatever

        Sorry but Apple isnt close to be a serisou competitor when it comes to business IT.
        you talk about babysit windows – lol you dont know what youre talking about.

        in a business enviroment you dont need such things, all is controlled by policys while you cant do the same with apple devices, hell you can even a real full meber in an domain with apple devices.

        so no security, no maintanance, no control nothing – useless in a big network.

        and no iam not a microsoft fanboy, but actually business enviroemtn is the only place where windows actually does a good job.

        not becuase its that good but all other solutions simply suck.
        the transition will come – hopefully – but not to apple for shure.
        it will be a micture of thinclients based on RDS and LRDS and thick clients based on *nix liek platforms – at least what we hope for.

        one thing for shure, IOS arent the good guys or have a working system – they simply dont compete. they are nice as home machine to play with, nice for some speciualiced software in video and audio and thats it.

        we all want get rid of windows but well , there is still no competition.

        IOS is based on openbds – all other competitors on linux both lack fundemental structure as microsoft provides (dll api base, dev enviroment IDEs and so on) so
        as long we cant find a way around to need this stuff were doomed to ms.

        only hope are cloud based (private cloud so you can setup on your own) business apllications which are able to replace all of needed windows aplications… still a long way togo