As usual, the drawing is funny, pefect, and just great.
I've tried to stay somewhat clear of Microsoft issues because, as a former employee, I'm either hammered as a sour grapes crank or kool-aid drinking suck up, depending on what I say and what a reader's particular opinion of Microsoft is.
But I can't resist some observations on the current state affairs with Redmond and the software industry as a whole.
First, the notion that Microsoft is 'in trouble.' While Hugh's post really has nothing directly to say about this issue, I'm making a broader observation.
The basic arguement goes that everything Microsoft offers for money today is or can be replaced by cheap or free which translates into a downward spiral of revenue, cutting of expenses, slowing of innovation, less products, fewer updates, and the final slow painful death of the once mighty M. Some will tell you that this is well underway and actually point to the departure of really smart people for other places.
I'm, for sure, mashing tons of ideas into one pile and making one big broad 'argument' observation, I know, don't pick on me.
The glory days of stock splits vs. pay raises are over.
Like the various other times/eras in history, Microsoft was part of an amazing race to get a new world of technology ushered into the hands of the many. Yes, some won, some lost. Yes, they were lucky on some and for sure happen to go up against some really stupid competition, but reasonable people should be able to agree that because of the Microsoft eco-system, many coders, consultants, trainers, hardware guys, etc, got to make a few coins along the way.
We are now into the era of Dial Tone. 404 errors, crashes, downtime, clt-alt-del, etc just ain't funny anymore. We want stuff to just work just like dial tone.
We've also enjoyed the technology jungle swing. When I got started: punch cards. Feed em in, go get lunch, come back to your errors, repeat and start again. Then, I got a job in a tape library. Big machines with the IT department controlling everything. Then, the PC world let the inmates run the prison. Now we are, via web services and hosting, heading back to keeping all this stuff on the big box.
What that means is a PC centric company, like Microsoft, has to change. It's that simple.
When you look at PayPal are you shocked, stunned, and awed over the dismal, pathetic failure of who should have owned that market? Who? Western Union: The original PayPal. Check the history of the company.
In watching my former employer, I watch for Western Union signs.
I have the advantage of knowing and having had worked for a number of the senior execs. I used to work along side many of the people that stayed and are now the new senior managers. The guy who hired Robert worked with me when I was at Microsoft. Very smart guy along with lots of other smart people.
The point I'm making is that Microsoft has to change or die and they know it.
They watched Novell, WordPerfect, Borland, Lotus, Western Union, AT&T, and so forth. My peer group, who are now starting to run the company, is not a group of stupid people. In fact, those that lasted are not even the arrogant goofs you'd expect would have stayed.
On the notion of the Web vs. the PC: trust me when I say this even though I have NO DIRECT/INSIDE KNOWLEDGE of anything internal to Microsoft.
I'll bet the farm that right now, as I type this, there are at least 4 different research and/or shunk works projects that have Office as a complete set of web apps that will run in any browser as well as every back end product in a state that can be an on demand, hosted, rented, etc.
The company is not stupid and the whole notion that Microsoft will be the last great buggy whip provider as space travel comes to the masses, is just laughable to me.
There is a tap dance that is being played out today called: Change.
At some point, the majority of people might (maybe I dunno) want to just have a simple device that is instant on and has access to applications which give them data, services, and entertainment on demand. Today, there are lots of issues before that becomes a norm. Always on isn't there yet, at least for the masses. Broadband to the home isn't like dial tone and just there. And so on.
So, tap dance. Remember the Kaypro? Pre-announce the future at your own peril. Declare something dead before it's time is not always a good plan.
Millions on people are happy with AOL. Millions. My lovely wife being one of them. She doesn't go directly to travelocity, she goes via AOL. She is a dual masters, Phd candidate brain that is perfectly happy with AOL. But watch AOL. Slowly, they are getting a web thing going. Very slowly and, for sure, it's painful. But they are working to morph the company as best they can without killing all the customers that are happy.
Can the PC get replaced with other devices? Will Windows get replaced by other options? Yup. Is Microsoft working on this stuff? Bet on it.
The comment that seemed to have hit some nerves is the notion that Microsoft, in order to get the mojo back, has to thrill people. Skype excites and thrills people, Microsoft doesn't.
Scoble wants to be harder on the company and he agrees that Microsoft needs to thrill people.
Cute -n- cuddly but not exactly lined up with what the core wants.
In general and as a very broad comment: People want comfort not thrills. I want to comfort it isn't going to crash. I have the pleasure of being the only person on the planet that has never, ever had excel crash on me. Really. Never and I suck at math. Nobody can thrill me with a new spreadsheet application. Word? Growl. PowerPoint? Sigh.
Comfort. Make them rock solid. Dial-tone. Fit like an old shoe. This stuff just sends many geekse over the edge but it is, unfortunately, the human condition.
The tipping point curve or any other curve has that big pile in the middle. They are not the leading edge types, they want comfort that the machine won't crash and won't eat thy work.
What would be 'thrilling' is improvements in recovery tools and back up. Wouldn't it be nice if, by default, the PC back stuff up for you in such a way that barring physical destruction of the hard drive, you could always get your data back. Think about it. You buy a PC/Laptop and a there is a shadow drive that is always dealing with back up issues so that even if you tell the machine, by accident, reformat yourself to original state, you could get your data back.
That's thrilling done up in a comfort wrapper.
Microsoft can 'thrill' customers by making things easier. The current crop of Office upgrade commercials with the dino-heads are probably the most insulting shot at a customer I have ever seen in my life. Basically telling your customers, stop running old software you old crank. Wow, talk about moron alert and, yep, that one is a Western Union spooky point for me.
In the old days, Microsoft used to do reviewer guides that helped reviewers hit the new stuff in a product. Some people would say it was to get lazy reporters to write what the company wanted to have said but, whatever. Today, in my view, all the money spent on insulting customers might have been better spent getting the word out as to how new software could increase comfort and, straight up, help somebody get work done.
The point is thrilling, as defined by the Firefox people or the skype users or anybody on the leading edge is not the same as the poor gal having a heart attack as Word locks up.
In my view, Microsoft is not the walking dead, nor a wounded animal, nor in any kind of trouble today. In my view Redmond is struggling to take the company and the millions of existing customers into the next era of computing. That is a fairly tall order. It's easy to just say, new product X leaves the old one behind. That isn't cool to the customers of today.
Finally, as the rocks and mud get slung from all directions, I wonder if it's possible to try to keep it on business issues. Shocking but there are real people working at all these companies. People with kids, bills, hopes, etc. I'll debate a tactic or business thing all day long but large swipes at my fellow humans, well, sorry that's just not my thing.
Sorry for the long one.