Software // Operating Systems
Commentary
3/21/2013
10:21 AM
Mike Feibus
Mike Feibus
Commentary
Connect Directly
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%

4 Signs That Microsoft Finally Gets It

After making moves last year right out of a Greek tragedy, Microsoft is finally taking steps to fix its mobile mess and other blunders.

Office 2013: 10 Questions To Ask
Office 2013: 10 Questions To Ask
(click image for slideshow)
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.

[ Microsoft has a plan for revitalizing Windows 8. Will it work? See Windows 8 Sales Stall: 3 Strategies. ]

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.

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
MFeibus
50%
50%
MFeibus,
User Rank: Strategist
3/25/2013 | 3:29:00 PM
re: 4 Signs That Microsoft Finally Gets It
Good set of comments! My opinion: Microsoft got so caught up choreographing product roll-outs, and getting all their platforms working together, that they lost sight of what they needed to do to make each individual platform successful.

Under the hood, Win8 is an upgrade over Win7. The code is cleaner, more reliable and more compact. I've even found that my neighbor's brain-dead network printer from hell (read: HP) works flawlessly with Win8. So I set up his house so that all the other systems access the printer as a shared device from the Win8 PC.

The problem with Win8 is Modern UI. Microsoft is hell-bent on getting us to use it. And we will eventually. In the meantime, though, it's shocking that Microsoft didn't have the foresight to provide a transition.

Modern UI isn't bad if you have a touch-enabled system, but most of us don't. And it's not as bad if most of your apps are Win8 apps, but most of them aren't. Until that happens, Modern UI will continue to make everyday tasks confusing, convoluted and frustrating to perform.

@David: Take a piece of advice from one NIO (Neighborhood Information Officer) to another, and install the transition that Microsoft didn't see fit to include. I found that the single biggest thing you can do to ease your support burden is to install a Start button app on each of your neighbors' Win8 machines. There are several good ones out there. Find them - and take back the weekend!
Palpatine
50%
50%
Palpatine,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/25/2013 | 1:02:56 PM
re: 4 Signs That Microsoft Finally Gets It
I have to disagree. The trend is not about keeping complexity away from users, it is about to set up an advertising box to generate higher revenues.
Palpatine
50%
50%
Palpatine,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/25/2013 | 12:59:07 PM
re: 4 Signs That Microsoft Finally Gets It
Fixing? Multiple non overlapping windows improves W8 usability from Windows 1 level to Windows 2 level.
They still need overlapping windows to catch up with Windows 3 usability.
And a proper software launcher, and a proper desktop (multi functional place to store files, applications and notifications) to catch up with Windows 95 - sorry Windows 98, as they have notifications to accomplish most basic functions of Active Desktop...
They have still way to go to roll out a decent Modern based system.
Mike_Acker
50%
50%
Mike_Acker,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/23/2013 | 11:58:40 AM
re: 4 Signs That Microsoft Finally Gets It
i have to do a +1 on this : Dave is exactly right in his analysis. My sister in law came down and she had a new Win\8 -- because no one would sell her a Win\7,...

I could have sat her down in front of my Linux\Ubuntu and she'd have been fine . but the 2 of us together couldn't deal with that idiot's mess they call win\8.
Andrew Hornback
50%
50%
Andrew Hornback,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/22/2013 | 3:53:08 AM
re: 4 Signs That Microsoft Finally Gets It
David,

For what seems like years (well, ever since Vista), it's my belief that Microsoft's thinking is that the software user is their beta tester. Why spend the money to test software when you can throw it in a shiny package, put it on shelves and have millions of people do your testing for you... for free?

As far as simple tasks in Windows 8 - finding cookies and the MAC address should be the same as Windows 7. I'm not entirely sure since Windows 8 spent all of 10 days on my primary workstation before the serious performance hit became too much to bear - a year old, dirtied up Windows 7 Ultimate install should NOT be faster than a fresh install of Windows 8 on the same hardware, period.

I also think you're looking at usability from the point of a techie - as opposed to usability form the point of view of a soccer mom or a teenager who just wants to get on Facebook or whatever it is that kids do these days. The idea is to keep the "hard tech" away from most users and just give them what they want - a system with great ease of use. The honest question remains - why should the average end user need to be able to find their cookies (which they can manage in Internet Explorer) or their MAC address? Ease of use is what Mac OS X promises and, for the most part, delivers... All of the latest Windows evolutions are trying to follow that blueprint.

Andrew Hornback
InformationWeek Contributor
LookMaNoWires
50%
50%
LookMaNoWires,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/22/2013 | 2:21:20 AM
re: 4 Signs That Microsoft Finally Gets It
Well .. not exactly. On my Win 7 Media Center I can watch Netflix, Amazon Instant and Hulu all without paying EXTRA for a Live Gold account as is required on the XBox. I can also watch any web based content in a browser window and I can also record live TV. There are folks that write and support tools, plugins and utilities for media center and the use of Windows as a media PC using the "10 foot Interface", I'm not sure that is even possible for the xBox (I could be mistaken on that past point, never really looked).
I use the xBox as an extension of my media center, any recorded tv can be viewed on the xBox, and I can even use the tuner card in my media center from the xBox to watch live TV over my network.

I understand the cost savings on every copy of Win 8 sold, that makes sense for the masses. When I get around to upgrading my Media Center, I'll most likely be building a Win 8 box and adding the Media Center feature, its worth the added cost for me.
jimbo0117
50%
50%
jimbo0117,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/21/2013 | 8:46:48 PM
re: 4 Signs That Microsoft Finally Gets It
Money. They were able to reduce the per copy cost of W8 by not including the codecs required for Media Center, while at the same time pushing folks to the Xbox 360 which with the current version provides the same functionality.
David Berlind
50%
50%
David Berlind,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/21/2013 | 8:10:23 PM
re: 4 Signs That Microsoft Finally Gets It
Mike, interesting points that you make. I know there are other stories here on InformationWeek that may be more appropriate for this comment.... but I have to ask when it was that intuitive UI's were cast aside as a price of entry. I ran Windows for most of my life, until about 2008 when I jumped to the Mac. But that was a personal choice. Other members of my family (read: the boss) stayed on Windows and I'm not just the family support guy, I'm the neighborhood support guy. As Windows 8 finds its place in my home and those of the neighbors, the number of "support calls" has gone up and the complaint is always the same... "I can't figure out how to do XYZ." The crazy thing is that when I get my hands on the keyboards of those systems, I'm having a hard time figuring it out too. Options that used to exist are gone. Yesterday for example, I had a situation where IE 10 was refusing cookies even though it was set to allow allow all cookies. To diagnose the problem, I went looking for a list of cookies that were so far issued to the browser. Simple tasks like this used to be relatively easy to do. Even intuitive. Not anymore. Another one... try finding the MAC address of a Windows machine (I've got my security locked down so that only whitelisted MAC addresses get on). You can't. You have to open CMD (aka: DOS) to run ipconfig. Trying figuring out how to do that on Windows 8. When I Googled around for help, it told me to mouse to the lower left corner of the Start Pane to pull up one menu, upper right for "Charms." Neither worked and how the heck would I know to do these things if Google didn't exist.

This isn't just a Microsoft issue (let's not single them out as though they alone have the problem). Usability seems to be an afterthought in some cases. What happened to the days of extensive public beta cycles to sort this stuff out. Now, it's all behind closed doors where obvious problems (remember Apple Maps) turn up as embarrassments instead of fixable bugs before RTM.
proberts551
50%
50%
proberts551,
User Rank: Strategist
3/21/2013 | 7:02:08 PM
re: 4 Signs That Microsoft Finally Gets It
Media Center was dropped from Windows 8. Why? isn't that was owning a PC is about....Multimedia, and Multimedia management of music, video and such? Why did Microsoft in all it's Wisdom seem to think they can take this away from the consumers once they made it a standard operaing system feature on the now "outdated" Windows 7? NOT!
I am having my relitives buy Windows 7 because it is a better value, easier to use, and has Media Center. Why not? We will not pay extra for M.C.
S. Kyle Davis
50%
50%
S. Kyle Davis,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/21/2013 | 6:32:24 PM
re: 4 Signs That Microsoft Finally Gets It
WELL SAID. The messaging around Windows 8 has indeed been tragic. If these other moves are accompanied by a renewed marketing effort around the project blue upgrade, then things could certainly turn around. Especially if they are also accompanied by a round of well-priced, Haswell-toting tablets and hybrids.
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
White Papers
Current Issue
InformationWeek Must Reads Oct. 21, 2014
InformationWeek's new Must Reads is a compendium of our best recent coverage of digital strategy. Learn why you should learn to embrace DevOps, how to avoid roadblocks for digital projects, what the five steps to API management are, and more.
Video
Slideshows
Twitter Feed
InformationWeek Radio
Archived InformationWeek Radio
A roundup of the top stories and trends on InformationWeek.com
Sponsored Live Streaming Video
Everything You've Been Told About Mobility Is Wrong
Attend this video symposium with Sean Wisdom, Global Director of Mobility Solutions, and learn about how you can harness powerful new products to mobilize your business potential.