After making moves last year right out of a Greek tragedy, Microsoft is finally taking steps to fix its mobile mess and other blunders.
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Few people use the word "tragedy" the way the Greek playwrights intended. Most of us describe floods and plane crashes as tragedies, but the ancients would label such events as disasters or calamities. A tragedy, in the classic sense of the word, is a disaster or calamity that you bring upon yourself. You know, like killing your father so you can marry your mother. That sort of thing.
The ancient Greeks would certainly agree that Microsoft's present situation is tragic. The wounds that piled up last year were almost entirely self-inflicted. Like when the company violated the trust of hardware partners by disclosing at the 11th hour that it was planning to build its own-branded tablets. Or by introducing Windows 8 in late October instead of midyear, when the first systems built for the new OS were coming available. Or by taking away the Start button and forcing users to contend with the Start screen, but not doing enough to court developers so that the go-to tablet apps were available for the so-called Modern UI at launch.
The year unfolded like a business-school case study for "Shooting Yourself in the Foot 101." Really, if Microsoft had contracted Google and Apple to sketch out the Windows 8 rollout, the plan probably wouldn't have looked much different.
I bring this up not to pile on, but to point out some encouraging signs that Microsoft may comprehend the situation it's gotten itself into and is taking steps to right the ship. It had better. Because every quarter that passes with Windows 8 flapping in the breeze is another quarter that Android and iOS tablets become more entrenched in consumer usage patterns.
Last year, I predicted that Windows 8 wouldn't sell well if the marketing message focused on touch because so few Windows 8 systems were being built with the capability. And that's exactly what happened. So reports out of Taiwan that Microsoft has begun discounting Windows 8 licenses for touch-enabled portable PCs are a very good sign. Intel has been doing a lot of work trying to hasten the transition to touch, and it's great to see Microsoft help align available product with the collateral.
Finally -- finally -- Microsoft is enticing developers to write for Windows 8 by dangling dollars. It's about time. The new "cash for apps" program pays $100 for each piece of software that qualifies for the program. Hopefully the campaign will pepper the shelves of Microsoft's online store with more of the apps that Android and iOS users already depend on.
For all the openings that Microsoft left for Apple and Google to gain share, it's nice to see Microsoft poke at a major vulnerability of its nemeses: privacy. Privacy is a big concern for consumers. And the more information about their lives that passes through the cloud, the greater the concern will be. Apple and Google have both been cited for flirting with the privacy line, and now Microsoft is countering by cultivating a name for itself as a champion of privacy. Like earlier this year, when the company suggested that people who care about their privacy should dump Gmail for Outlook.com. And when Microsoft supported a bill in the Massachusetts legislature that would curb the use of private data for commercial gain. Well played.
Microsoft Office has been a leading cash generator for the company, though Google has been making inroads into the productivity software market. The recent Office upgrade, paired with more aggressive pricing, hints that Microsoft is aware that Google is creeping onto the beachhead, and doesn't want to cede any more ground. What's good for Office is good for Windows, so put another feather in the cap.
To be sure, Microsoft did a lot of damage to the platform and the brand in 2012 -- and these few initiatives won't be able to right the ship by themselves. But if the moves are just the first wave of a larger plan, then maybe the company can give this Greek tragedy one of Hollywood's happy endings.
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