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12/30/2013
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Kevin Casey
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7 Mistakes Microsoft Made In 2013

This was a pretty good year for Microsoft with some big customer wins. But these seven missteps were just dumb.
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Hey, Nobody's Perfect
If you're looking in Microsoft's rear mirror, you could describe what you see in a whole bunch of ways. One adjective you probably won't use for the company's 2013 is "quiet."

It was a busy year even by Microsoft's standards. From Windows 8.1 to Xbox One to the Nokia device business acquisition to Office 365's continued growth to Steve Ballmer's (somewhat) surprising retirement announcement -- not to mention that whole NSA spying thing -- it seemed each week brought a new wave of headlines out of Redmond.

There was good news. Office 365 had some big customer wins and seemed to solidify the future of the Office franchise. Xbox One appears to be a hit. The Azure cloud is expanding globally. The Surface 2 and Surface 2 Pro are sold out, and even if there's some inventory management magic behind the demand, it still makes a good headline for the Monday morning PR roundup. So 2013 wasn't a lousy year for Microsoft.

But, hey, let's face it. It's more fun to pick apart a company's shakier decisions and flat-out mistakes. So that's what we're here to do.

"Frustration" might be a more apt term than "mistake" in some cases here -- as in frustration with Microsoft's apparent belief that a Microsoft customer can't also be a Google or Apple customer. Google doesn't mind acknowledging that the competition exists. "In the next couple of weeks, you'll be able to download a new version of the Google Search app on iPhone and iPad," the company wrote in a recent blog post touting the company's Hummingbird update. "So if you tell your Nexus 7, 'OK, Google. Remind me to buy olive oil at Safeway,' when you walk into the store with your iPhone, you'll get a reminder." See that? Dogs and cats, living together. (No human sacrifice or mass hysteria, either.)

A related frustration is the 2013 marketing push that insists the world craves "one experience" for everything we do, as if we were living in a dystopian novel. And while we're on the topic of frustrations, Microsoft needs to stop communicating with consumers and businesses as if they were investors and board members. "Devices and services" might perfectly describe Microsoft's vision of its future self, but when was the last time anyone said, "I think I'm going to go buy some devices and services today"? Apple, by comparison, doesn't sell devices and services. It sells iPhones and music (and other stuff).

Sometimes frustrations morph into tangible mistakes -- pretending, for example, that Office devotees don't use iPads, a head-in-sand strategy if there ever was one. As our own Michael Endler reported in April:

Forrester analyst Dave Johnson told InformationWeek in February that Microsoft could reap greater returns if it stops protecting Windows and starts treating Office as a multi-OS platform. In an interview conducted just before the Outlook RT rumors hit, Gartner analyst Carolina Milanesi offered similar sentiments, saying that because Office for iOS represents such a massive opportunity, it is 'only a question of time' until Redmond finally makes its move.

The time for that move was 2013. Alas, it didn't happen, so it's on our list.

Not on our list: There's a whole lot of wait-and-see stuff happening in the Microsoft universe at the moment, from the ongoing search for Ballmer's successor to the Nokia acquisition to the next evolutions of Windows 8.x. It's too early to pass sound judgment with so much to be determined on those fronts -- the CEO seat perhaps most of all. We'll have to revisit those at the end of 2014.

In the meantime, click the image above to dive into a slideshow on last year's mistakes. Got your own bones to pick with Microsoft's moves in 2013? Let's hear them in the comments.

Kevin Casey is a writer based in North Carolina who covers technology affecting small and midsized businesses.

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jries921
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jries921,
User Rank: Ninja
12/30/2013 | 1:06:42 PM
One more
Announcing Steve Ballmer's retirement before his successor had been appointed.


My suspicion is that the reorg was decided upon before Mr. Ballmer decided to retire early, but that wouldn't be public knowledge.  I'm guessing that the board gave him an ultimatum shortly before the retirement was announced (the other alternative being dismissal).

 
jgherbert
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jgherbert,
User Rank: Ninja
12/30/2013 | 11:38:09 AM
Re: "The time for that move was 2013. Alas, it didn't happen, so it's on our list."
And so from this we conclude that Microsoft has great R&D but an inability to see which products are going to be successful or, perhaps, to accomplish the task of taking a product from idea to market. Maybe they've just got scared as they have got larger, and don't want to be seen betting the house on something new. Maybe they just don't have the flair for marketing that Apple does (and, love them or hate them, you gotta give Apple credit for knowing how to create demand).

 

Your underlying point stands then; by playing the follower rather than the innovator, Microsoft runs the risk of losing all credibility in the marketplace and ending up as an "also-ran" in many technology areas, following a well-beaten path behind such behemoths as IBM and Xerox.
jgherbert
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jgherbert,
User Rank: Ninja
12/30/2013 | 11:34:08 AM
Re: RT name dump a bad decision?
You're right that the need to keep a distinction because of incompatibility. Of course, they kind of created their own problem here by trying to make everything look exactly the same on the surface (no pun intended) when underneath they're really not. 

 

Interestingly, Apple has the same logical issue of a tablet/phone platform that runs different software to the laptop/computer platform, yet seems to manage this much more gracefully. Perhaps while iOS is a limiting factor in the "pseudo-laptop" capabilities of the iPad, in the same way, dumbing Win8 down enough that it will work on other form factors was a worse idea.

 
DominicG929
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DominicG929,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/30/2013 | 10:58:28 AM
RT name dump a bad decision?
As confusing as it was to have Windows RT, I don't agree with dumping the name.  There are major compatibility issues between RT and 8 (since software designed to run on x86 CPUs doesn't natively run on ARM CPUs), and there needed to be something to denote to customers that they aren't the same.  If anything, they should have called it something more meaningful, like Windows Tablet.
melgross
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melgross,
User Rank: Ninja
12/30/2013 | 10:33:11 AM
Surface sales
I'd like to have Microsoft give out sell through on Surface. We get the idea of how well a Microsoft product is doing depending on whether they announce sales or not. If it's doing well, they tell us the numbers. If not, then they don't give us the numbers. Selling out means nothing. So far, skepticism over Surface sales seems proper.
sgbeal
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sgbeal,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/30/2013 | 10:19:49 AM
"The time for that move was 2013. Alas, it didn't happen, so it's on our list."
The past decade, MS has made a habit of waiting 3 years to respond to any market activities of its competitors (e.g. compare the release dates of Google Docs and Office Online). They demonstrated Surface computing YEARS before anyone else and then SAT ON IT, not doing anything with it until 2+ years after Apple, then Android, ran with tablet computing (a very close relative of Surface computing). To be honest, i'm not sure what's keeping MS afloat. They are becoming less and less relevant in the world, quite possibly for the reason the author mentions: that they assume everyone wants a single-platform solution to all their problems. If that's what they continue to believe, and act on, well... so long, Microsoft!
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