I'm not saying that Vista, Zune, XBox, or Live Search are bad products or outright failures, but they're not great successes, either. Certainly not when judged by Microsoft's historical triumphs with Windows 95/98 and the Microsoft Office franchise. It's hard to recall the kind of buzz that was generated by Windows 95 more than a decade ago. People waited in line outside stores, which opened at the stroke of midnight so people could get their hands on a copy. Is there any product released by Microsoft in the past 5 years that anyone would wait in line to get?
There are plenty of products that still generate that kind of buzz today, but they aren't from Microsoft. For example, Apple can have a "disastrous" IPhone 2.0 rollout with long lines and activation delays, yet former Microsoft blogger Robert Scoble fawns over it. While Sony and Microsoft slug it out on price in the game console market, Nintendo out-buzzes them both with the Wii. Despite some flaws in these products, they have an incredible amount of excitement around them.
So how can Microsoft pull out of its funk? The company needs some innovative and elegant products or technologies that generate buzz. One of Microsoft's advantages for these past 25 years, the ecosystem of third-party hardware and software vendors, is now holding the company back. The Windows ecosystem is what it is and Microsoft can't change that now, so it needs to get the OEMs and ISVs involved. Microsoft needs to do whatever it takes to convince those partners that Microsoft's success means their success. For OEMs, that means no bundling crapware and always offering quality driver support. For ISVs, it means software should work well as non-privileged applications and not require administrative privileges for everything.
It's not just a case of Microsoft's marketing machine dropping a load of dollars to improve the company's image. It can spend all it wants, but it won't change people's perceptions unless the products deliver as well. That's why Microsoft's new Vista marketing push is most likely a waste of money. Most consumers and companies have their Vista opinions set after experiencing the OS for 18 months; it would be better for Microsoft to get Windows 7 done -- and this time, make sure the OEMs and ISVs can really support it from day one.