Consumer markets: Time for Microsoft to exit?
Fri, Oct 12, 07
Computerworld has a great story about the mother of a 13 year old girl who told Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer how she tried to install Vista for her daughter but got so frustrated that she decided to downgrade to XP. She argued that her experience with Vista was not unusual:
“What we’re seeing and what we’re hearing from users is a very similar thing. It’s difficult to implement. What should we be seeing that we’re not seeing?”
What’s most telling is Ballmer’s response to her:
“Users appreciate the value that we put into Vista, [as with earlier operating system releases] there is always a tension between the value that end users see — and frankly, that software developers see — and the value that we can deliver to IT.”
While this exchange took place at the business-oriented Gartner Inc. Symposium ITxpo this week, it still clearly shows where Microsoft’s heart really is in: enterprise.
“There’s always a tension between the value end users see, developers see and what enterprises see. There is a lot of value in Vista. The real issue is that we have some things we want to see in shape before (customers) make that transition.”
What are the billion dollar growth opportunities Ballmer sees in the future?
“We’re already close with SharePoint, with hundreds of millions of dollars. There’s also management software, office communications and mobility could explode.”
For Microsoft, it is obvious that the needs of IT always comes before those of the consumer markets. That’s because, for Microsoft, clearly it’s where the money is. With Windows, Office and a slew of tightly-integrated business applications and infrastructure, Microsoft has had a terrific run in the IT world. In the consumer markets, not so much.
Selling directly to consumers in competitive markets has never been Microsoft’s forte. Behold:
And, yes, financial flops like Tablet PC, PlaysForSure, Windows Media Center and XBox are included too. But I’ll spare you Smart Personal Objects Technology (SPOT) watches or ActiMates interactive toys! Do you want to bet your 401(K) on the success of Windows Home Server or Microsoft Surface? Didn’t think so. Here are three reasons:
Are you excited yet? Compared to the current consumer market leader Apple, for example, these can only be described as insipid at best. Microsoft has proven again and again that it just doesn’t have the DNA for strategic thinking, industrial design, technology packaging and marketing in competitive consumer markets.
What works in selling in volume to enterprises doesn’t work when selling directly to individual consumers. Microsoft has tried various tactics to overcome its “not cool” handicap. It tried selling ‘platforms’ to third parties, but most of these like Tablet PC, WinCE or PlaysForSure have fallen far short of expectations. Microsoft then tried going alone, but Zune and XBox have been financial blackholes.
Microsoft doesn’t have a power-efficient, nimble OS with advanced interface functionalities that can serve as a platform for small-scale consumer devices. Its industrial design department has been humbled by the recent failures of Zune and XBox to the tune of billions.
In channeling Steve Jobs, even Ballmer isn’t oblivious to the difference between enterprise and consumer markets:
“There’s no intent to share less roadmap, but you’ll see us be a little more cautious about promising dates and schedules. For things that are really consumer targeted we won’t talk about the roadmap.”
By keeping its roadmap secret in developing ‘blockbuster’ type of consumer products in the vein of iPhone and iPod, can Microsoft outdo its close competitors Apple and Google? In Zune 2: Mediocrity grows on trees I contrasted the introduction of Zune 2 and to the iPhone. Clearly Microsoft hasn’t yet learned from the mistakes of Zune 1.
After looking at this 5-year chart, as the head of Microsoft’s board of directors would you tell Ballmer to admit reality and gracefully exit from most consumer markets? Or would you just fire him?
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