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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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KevinRCasey
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KevinRCasey,
User Rank: Moderator
1/3/2014 | 5:50:54 PM
Re: Office for any tablet is dumb
Good question. I'd be curious to hear answers from iPad fans here: What would you pay for native Office apps on the iPad?

It seems like there are multiple models Microsoft could pursue. Wouldn't native iPad versions make some of the higher-end Office 365 packages (the tiers in $12.50-$22.00/user/month range that include full desktop versions of Office) more attractive to business customers? Similarly, couldn't they offer a version of Office Home Premium for a bit more per year/month that includes iPad versions?

Office for Mac Home and Business runs $219... seems unlikely iPad users would pay that much, but there must be a price that would generate major sales. Would you (and by you I mean any Office user with an iPad) pay $100 to download full iPad versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint from iTunes?

 
TerryB
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TerryB,
User Rank: Ninja
1/3/2014 | 11:12:51 AM
Re: "The time for that move was 2013. Alas, it didn't happen, so it's on our list."
I guess whether I agree with you or not depends on whether you are talking about hardware or software/systems. I have not seen anyone else create a system (Watson) that can kick any human's butt in Jeopardy or diagnose illness like a doctor. You are radically underestimating what IBM does today. Apple can't even create map software to get you to right place. Siri is a joke.

Look up who applied for most technology patents last year, and for many of years before that. IBM is not a consumer company, they work quietly in the background.

Not to mention their business computers are still the finest in the world. They've given me a great career since 1985 and will take me into retirement in 10-15 years. Outside of Best Buy, just who exactly has Apple and Google helped? You want to try and make a living writing apps for their stores that people download for free? Good luck with that.

IBM may not be glamorous but are still a backbone in technology for business. Google, Apple and MS can only dream of getting there someday.
awebb199
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awebb199,
User Rank: Strategist
1/2/2014 | 10:24:21 PM
Re: Office for any tablet is dumb
I see your side too.   How much would you be willing to pay for Office on an iPad?   I just bought a Dell Venue Pro 8 (64GB) with Office bundled for $320.
jgherbert
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jgherbert,
User Rank: Ninja
1/2/2014 | 3:33:53 PM
Re: "The time for that move was 2013. Alas, it didn't happen, so it's on our list."
@TerryB: "I hardly think IBM and Xerox is a valid comparison. Last time I looked, IBM is doing pretty well. Not everyone has to make tablets and smartphones to be successful."

 

I was really talking about leading the technology markets. Microsoft has shown signs of playing catch up in some very significant market adjacencies (mobile and tablets being a good example). They also appear to have lost the plot with Windows 8, though there are signs that they're at least aware and trying to address some of the problems there. In my opinion Microsoft isn't leading the markets for emerging technologies, if I may be so rude as to generalize like that. They are playing catcn up or copy cat, and trying to stay in the game; they run the risk, as I said, of becoming an "also-ran" rather than an innovator. That's not to totally ignore the breadth of what they do, and they aren't like that across the board, but if they can't figure out their mobile platforms, they're in trouble because that's where the enormous growth is.

As to IBM and Xerox being "also-rans", that's exactly what they are. That doesn't mean they can't do "pretty well" - I'm sure that IBM at least has managed to reinvent itself to some extent and is making money. However, do we look to IBM as the market leader and innovator in ANY market these days? No - IBM had great technological inspirations in the past, then the market overtook them. Xerox, like Microsoft, had fantastic ideas and no idea how to take them further (PARC was a truly amazing example of their understanding of the need to innovate, then they notoriously failed to capitalize on a whole string of opportunities). Microsoft is doing pretty well too, all things considered. However, given the tech refresh cycles, I wonder how that picture will change in the new few years.

 

</wild_generalization>
TerryB
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TerryB,
User Rank: Ninja
1/2/2014 | 2:04:52 PM
Re: "The time for that move was 2013. Alas, it didn't happen, so it's on our list."
I hardly think IBM and Xerox is a valid comparison. Last time I looked, IBM is doing pretty well. Not everyone has to make tablets and smartphones to be successful.
Shane M. O'Neill
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Shane M. O'Neill,
User Rank: Author
1/2/2014 | 12:00:59 PM
Accept that nobody wants a One Microsoft experience
This is a good list. I agree that Microosft needs to stop pushing a "unified Microsoft experience" on people. Obviously, this is what every tech company wants: complete customer buy-in to their ecosystem. What's interesting is that Microsoft does have all the parts -- a client and mobile OS, a search engine, personal cloud storage, productivity suite, tablets, smartphones, Xbox -- but has not been able to tie them all together in a convincing way for consumers, and the company waited too long in mobile. Apple can still pull it off the "one experience", but not Microsoft. And using it as a marketing ploy only amplifies how much the company is out of touch.
KevinRCasey
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KevinRCasey,
User Rank: Moderator
1/2/2014 | 10:59:40 AM
Re: Office for any tablet is dumb
Thanks for the perspective. I agree that prioritization is important, but I can't get on board with this particular point: "That is higher priority than supporting iPad users who are already made that choice with the understanding that Office was not available."

For one, many of those iPad users made that choice before Microsoft offered a viable, visible Windows tablet. In the bigger picture, it seems to me that kind of thinking helped Apple and Google get off to a huge head start over Microsoft in terms of mobile devices and apps.
mak63
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mak63,
User Rank: Ninja
1/1/2014 | 9:06:02 PM
Re: RT name dump a bad decision?
@DominicG929

Windows tablet is too broad for a name to be effective setting apart the difference between the tablets. Aren't both the Surface 2 and the Surface Pro 2, Windows tablets anyway?
Li Tan
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Li Tan,
User Rank: Ninja
1/1/2014 | 8:55:52 PM
Re: One more
A successful CEO must be a businessman, there is no doubt for it. But as a CEO of a high-tech company in a fast evolving and hectic business environment, this is not enough. You must have bother business and technical acumen. It's not necessary for you to under technical details but at least you should have the interest in technical stuff and technology trends. I have no intention to have aspersion on Ballmer. But I do have the same doubt - would he be the right person for this challenging position?
jries921
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jries921,
User Rank: Ninja
1/1/2014 | 12:36:02 PM
Re: One more
I definitely agree that he was the wrong man to lead MS, partially because of his lack of technical interest or understanding, but mostly because of his apparent paranoia, lack of self-control, and lack of ideas on how to compete in a market that's not rigged in his favor.  I fully expected him to be ousted in the wake of the Vista debacle, but it appears that he retained the confidence of the Board anyway.  His appointment as President of MS was Bill Gates' single biggest mistake.


I do think it important that the head of a technical firm have a technical background, not because anyone seriously expects him to do programming or design work, but because it's hard to come up with the answers if you don't comprehend the questions and it's very hard to manage technical specialists when you don't understand how they think or what they do.  To that extent, a newly graduated MBA with a former career as an auto mechanic would probably do a better job managing a technical firm than a veteran corporate executive with no technical background.

 
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