Now I get it, the Consumer guys at Microsoft are just plain wrong!

I’m an Enterprise guy.  In the mid-70s I set a career goal of dethroning IBM from its then total dominance of the enterprise computing space.  By the end of the 80s I needed a new goal, and it’s always been around furthering the use of computing in the Enterprise.  So I like to think, and have plenty of evidence to support, that I know enterprise computing as well as anyone on the planet.  But outside of being a consumer, and applying common sense and observation, I claim no particular expertise in bringing technology to consumers.  So I tend to give the so-called experts in the consumer area the benefit of the doubt when they claim some behavior that violates my sensibilities.  But I’ve concluded they are wrong.  Horribly wrong.

In the Enterprise space we realized something decades ago:  Customers don’t so much buy your existing product, they BUY-IN to your strategy.  Your product can have numerous weaknesses and even look bad against the competition in some critical areas, but as long as the CIO and other key decision makers like where you are going they will still choose you.  And so we always have been willing to tell our customers, often but not always under NDA, where we were going.  It worked.  They bought.

But the consumer experts, using Apple as an example of a successful strategy, have argued that you don’t say anything until shortly before shipping.  There are good reasons for this.  You want maximum press coverage very close to availability.  You want to avoid the Osborne Effect.  You want to avoid over-promising and under-delivering.  A CIO might understand that you had to change plans because of strategy changes, technology shifts, or just engineering expediency.  Consumers aren’t so forgiving.  Once you tell them about something they aren’t very tolerant of a failure to deliver.  Basically, in the consumer realm “shock and awe” rules.

Problem  number one with “shock and awe” is that it doesn’t work when you need developers and other partners to succeed.  Apple doesn’t say anything about iPhone x more than days before availability, but it does release the SDK for the new version of IOS months in advance.   Microsoft did this for Windows Phone 7.0 and 7.5, but for Windows Phone 8 it didn’t release the SDK in advance.  So four months after Windows Phone 8 devices started shipping we still see very few apps that take advantage of new features.  That’s a FAIL Microsoft.

The latest catch-phrase being attributed to the Windows Phone team is “shut up and ship”.  Really?  That’s what you did for Windows Phone 8 and it didn’t work.  You alienated developers.  You alienated power users.  You alienated the faithful.  You alienated the influencers.  And you are continuing down that path.  True the volume of buyers doesn’t care a lot about these things.  But they take their cue from those that do.

Of course this doesn’t just apply to the Windows Phone team, but to Windows as well.  Microsoft had a history of saying too much too far in advance and then being unable to deliver.  The purpose of PDC was to give developers an advance peak at what was being worked on, and get their feedback.  This gave both developers and Microsoft time to react before a product was finalized.  The disaster that was Longhorn let Steven Sinofsky bring his philosophy to Windows, and it was the complete opposite.  Don’t talk to people, even under NDA, about what you are doing until it is almost fully baked.  Don’t let developers talk to customers.  Impose secrecy (and impose it even on enterprise customers, which is a horrible mistake).  What did this get Microsoft?  A bunch of rookie mistakes, including failure to address the Start Menu/Desktop situation in a way that traditional form factor users find acceptable.  80%, 90%, perhaps 99.99% of dissatisfaction with Windows 8 is all tied up in this one issue.  Failure to disclose intent early, and respond to the resulting feedback, is holding Windows 8 back.

And the Windows 8 mistake continues.  Early disclosure of the direction for Windows Blue and Windows 9, or whatever the next couple of releases are called, would go a long way towards assuaging power user discontent.  It would also give Microsoft feedback on if what they are doing is sufficient, in time to actually react to it.  But no, that is not the philosophy of the Windows team.  Nor Microsoft in general these days.  The irony is that when Microsoft was considered at the height of its arrogance it was actually listening to customers very closely.  Now that it is fighting for its right to continue to be called an industry leader it displays the greatest sense of arrogance.  “We know what’s right for you and we’ll tell you what that is when we attempt to shove it down your throat”.  If my Microsoft friends don’t believe that is their attitude, then it’s because they are on the inside looking out.  The view from outside is enlightening.

Microsoft needs to improve customer engagement, dramatically.   And the first thing that will take is to recognize that the consumer teams’ attitude towards communicating futures is just plain wrong.  That doesn’t mean abandonment of controlled information release, it means applying it more intelligently.  It means disclosing platform direction early.  It means bringing developers on board early.  It means giving general technology direction to the public early (ala what BillG used to do) without talking specific releases or products.  It does not mean releasing every detail of a product in advance.

Microsoft has to make a clear differentiation between platform and product.  They need to nurture the ecosystem around the platform.  That requires openness.  They need to reserve “shock and awe” for the product.  The problem I see from the consumer guys is that as much as they say the word “platform” they don’t get it.  Even those that used to get it now seem to have amnesia.  They drunk the consumer Kool-Aid.

Let me contrast three strategic thrusts going on at Microsoft.  Windows, Windows Phone, and Azure.  Windows and Windows Phone are in the “shut up and ship” camp.  Azure is in the ENGAGE camp.  It seems like every week Scott Guthrie is announcing new Azure technology previews or releases.  Everything about Azure is exciting.  Amazon, Salesforce, and a few others defined cloud computing.  Azure is displacing them.  It has the Big Mo.  Let me make this clear, AZURE IS GOING TO WIN the cloud computing infrastructure and platform battle.  Meanwhile Windows and Windows Phone continue to alienate their ecosystems.  It is unclear if Windows Phone will ever amount to a significant third ecosystem.  It is unclear that Windows will be able to halt an overall market share decline against IOS and Android tablets.  Azure developers are excited.  No, it’s beyond excitement.  Windows and Windows Phone developers?  Not so much.  They are, at best, conflicted.  Azure is doing platforms right.  Windows and Windows Phone?  They prefer to “shut up and ship”, even if it risks no one caring what they ship.

It turns out that the consumer ecosystem as well as the community of influencers craves direction and interaction with the vendor every bit as much as Enterprise CIOs do.  Put simply, the consumer guys are wrong about secrecy.  At least at Microsoft.  I hope they figure it out soon, because “shut up and ship” is not helping their cause.

In closing let me remind everyone that I think Windows Phone and Windows 8 are great products.   It is the failure to engage with the ecosystem in a way that Microsoft well understands, and continues to do successfully in the enterprise (STB) space, that I’m criticizing.  Forget that conventional “shock and awe” consumer wisdom.  It was wrong.  Return platform evangelism, including willingness to discuss “futures”, to the forefront and watch Windows and Windows Phone adoption explode.

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53 Responses to Now I get it, the Consumer guys at Microsoft are just plain wrong!

  1. joe0507 says:

    This is a great opinion piece, I agree that Microsoft has to change the direction when it comes to communication on the consumer side, Microsoft has to change its approach. Granted… Microsoft has very powerful and well funded competitors that will use any advantage to slow them down or stop them all together so a giant firehouse of information such as in the past under Bill G is a thing of the past. But a structured and limited but clear information and endangerment on the consumer side would go a long way.

    I too love Windows 8 and Phone, but they have to carefully address the issues that arise around these products while not tipping their hand or giving any competitor strategic information.

  2. This is the best post you have written to date. I feel like I have been complaining like this for a long time about MS. They do so much, so right, but then they don’t sweat the details and they leave a ton of loose ends. I’m glad to see you vent this time, with extreme precision. I’d like to think that when HB vents, Microsoft’s ears at least perk up a bit, when they really need to be sitting down at a conference table and discussing all the points in this blog post.

    • halberenson says:

      I never know which of my posts enjoy broad exposure within Microsoft’s leadership and which go unnoticed. Nor who thinks “Hal has a point” versus who thinks (or says) “that &U^#$( Berenson”. But both are no doubt being thought/said.

  3. @Hal: Considering that you’ve worked at Microsoft, do you think that it is possible for the higher ups to be (mostly) aware that their current strategy is wrong, but be unable to quickly change it?

    It is possible that the sheer size of Microsoft makes it difficult to change certain things, especially when it involves many divisions and implies a change in mentality and roadmap (which are both so important that you have to be careful when you change them and which take time to sink into every employee’s mind).

    • halberenson says:

      I think they learn from mistakes. I am sure, for example, that Steve is being very thoughtful about this. That doesn’t mean he has yet come to the conclusion that the current direction is wrong. That’s also true for other executives. But, for example, one of the first private comments on my post came from someone senior and it was the single word “Bravo!”.

      What I can never capture is that there is a lot of debate about questions like this and just because a decision turns out to be wrong doesn’t mean it was poorly thought through. I’m sure, for example, that if they have re-had this debate recently the key question has been around the Osborne Effect. Will being more open at this point speed adoption of W8/WP8 or delay it? I would argue it would speed it, others no doubt argued it would delay it. Even if change is in the wind, they may have decided to keep to “shut up and ship it” for one more cycle. That’s particularly true if we are only a couple of months from a public preview of Windows Blue and on the verge of the first public disclosure of the next-gen Xbox.

  4. I agree a 100%. Not only are the Windows 8 and Windows (Phone) 8 team doing it wrong – they’re also screwing up what (little?) good there is in the platform. “What’s new” is one of the prime examples. Windows Phone has had its entire lifetime to enable third party app support for adding to this feed (feed background agents?). This wouldn’t have been an alien concept to developers and fitted in well with the SDK (being secure AND conserving battery life). Instead, they chose to lock down this feed and deliver it via Windows Live – which limits what someone could do with it. Ditto for every other piece of “integrated” functionality that Windows Phone offers. Just think about how cool Messaging would be on Windows Phone if Skype or WhatsApp could integrate as if it were a first-class citizen (enabling a quick switch). Windows 8 is the same, providing terrible core apps that have first-class citizenship for certain features and deny all others the capability to use them.

    From being an organization that released SDKs ahead of time and exposed all sorts of extensibility to developers, Microsoft has become a company trying to blindly emulate Apple in its search for “coolness”. The all-dancing, all-singing Surface ads tell you all.

  5. akc says:

    Good post, but even if Microsoft had taken your advice re SDK’s and signalling platform direction and intent, I still doubt very much that it would have made a difference to how poorly Windows 8 and Windows Phone have been received. The key thing here is momentum. Apple has it, Android has it. Microsoft could have executed *perfectly* and still wouldn’t have it because mindshare is against them.

    Pretty fascinating times though. I’m a Windows Phone and Windows 8 developer but that’s only because it’s fun. I already know the game is over.

  6. advertboy says:

    I was at the MVP summit and I can say first hand that it was all about “BLACKOUT” and “unable to talk about that” for the bits that mattered the most to me and my fellow mvps..

    The WinRT/XAML/DirectX stack was off limits to us MVP’s that needed to know what MS was doing!

    We did get good information, albeit very limited, on some .NET strategy which I must say I was liking very much!

    I hope things change after blue when most of these projects that have been running for many years mature and the teams can then start opening up!

  7. I’ve only a few interactions with Azure. All of them positive. Scott Guthrie, David Ebbo and Amit Apple are very responsive. The problem is Azure is a Microsoft outlier. Not many people will ever interact with Azure directly in their life. So in terms of impact and clout, the Azure folks might not be able to influence the rest of the Microsoft that they have a better way.

    The secrecy surrounding WP is astoundingly stupid. It is the 2nd or 3rd runnerup. There’s nothing to hide for the shock and awe. All they have to do is to reassure the faithful that they have a product in the making, and Osbornize the competition.

  8. David Regourd says:

    Great article. Having done these mistakes will lead Windows to be a simple middleware, like Websphere! instead of the great consumer platform it could have been.

  9. Nick K says:

    I wanted to reply to the yesterday’s post about Windows Phone [sorry] state of affairs. But this place is as good as any. What can I say? You read my mind. Down to a tiniest, most minute detail. And the fact that two different people, with vastly different experiences and backgrounds could arrive to the same conclusion is scary. Really scary. What’s even scarier is that there are probably a lot of other folks out there who are thinking along the same lines.

    But I doubt Microsoft is listening. They alienated manufacturers by going after poor OEMs for perceived Android trespasses while charging steep Windows Phone licensing fees. They alienated developers by offering a refreshingly pathetic Developer Hub with idiotic regional segregation, withholding WP8 SDK, and focusing on a few hard-to-get celebrities like Pandora at the expense of the bread-and-butter daily apps that actually make a platform useful. They alienated power users by never following through on their promises of timely updates. Then if none of this was enough, they showed a big fat finger to everyone by completely dropping WP 7.x even for handsets that were barely six months old.

    Now, all this would have been forgivable if it was accompanied by a mindblowingly successful marketing campaign that made each and every average Joe salivate over Windows Phone. But on the heels of the Barcelona mobile gathering, rumor has it Lumia is now a far more recognizable brand than Windows Phone. While the former shoots up, the latter is steady like a flatlining comatose patient.

    Oh, well… I’d still give Microsoft some benefit of a doubt, with news of GDR2 being tested by Nokia, and Blue coming to the phones near you this holiday season. But this is as far as my good faith effort goes. If by the end of Q3 Microsoft doesn’t blow this particular early adopter away, I’m going back to iPhone assuming Johnny Ive weaves his signature magic to invigorate iOS 6 UI/UX. And if not… I hate being bent over by Google’s data stalkers, but falling back even further in everyday usability due to lack of simple commuter or banking apps is no longer an option.

    * I got my Samsung Focus at 9.12am on Nov 10, 2010, the day it came out in New York City, pre-ordered Lumia 900, and suffered nearly the full price of Lumia 920, ouch! Yes, I’m that type of fanboy! Or rather, I was… Nothing cures an unrequited love as years of indifference.

  10. peteohanlon says:

    This sounds familiar. I discussed another side of this a couple of years ago and hoped that it would be a temporary problem. I was wrong.

    My viewpoint:

  11. fequalsma says:

    What frustrates me the most with this whole Win8/WinPhone8 situation is that the actual platform performs well. My WP8 app (C++/XAML/Direct3D) is faster than my competitor’s apps on iOS and Android. It’s not even close. So, MSFT has the platform part nailed. The problem is with the fractured dev environment:

    1. I can develop a complete XAML/Direct3D app in C++ for W8 but *not* for WP8. I have to slap a C# shell around the C++ core in order to use XAML in WP8. It’s stupid.

    2. W8 has full support for roaming settings — WP8 doesn’t. Ideally, settings for the same app would roam across all WX devices and OSes via your MSFT account. I want those settings to roam across W8, WP8, and XBox8.

    3. W8 transparently supports SkyDrive in the FilePicker. In WP8 users have to login to SD and you have to write your own FilePicker. Why?

    4. Embedding async functionality in the core WinRT API was a big mistake. That’s app-specific functionality and mostly not needed (loading local files is fast in both W8 and WP8, loading networked files should be handled in the FilePicker with a progress bar, large file handling would be done on a separate thread like in a Desktop app, etc.).

    To get WinPhone8 more consumer mindshare requires ripping technical leadership away from iOS and Android. You do that with a high end device. It doesn’t matter if it makes money, it’s advertising (the money is made in the mass market). A perfect high end consumer WP8 device: use the new Dell investment to subsidize development of an “Alienware” WP8 device. No compromises, high performance, long battery life, etc. The twenty-somethings I know love Alienware. At a minimum, it would generate substantial buzz in that crowd (WP8 would be “cool”).

    My two cents (as a former MSFT dev in OS/2 and Windows a million years ago).

  12. Pete says:

    The silence cost them a significant number of developers as well- in 2011 all the talk was about how Silverlight was dead. The teams were working on Win8, but silence was the word. So you have all of these consultants who sold Silverlight-based solutions getting slammed by their customers stuck with a dead technology, and Microsoft would do nothing to defend XAML.

    Forward to now, and the XAML stack is critical to their success (regardless of how hard Sinofsky tried to kill it), and they’re still fighting to recover from the damage done to their die-hard developer base in 2011.

    Microsoft needs to act scrappy- they still pictures themselves as the 800lb gorilla able to move into markets and dictate computing trends at will.

  13. Having used Azure, Rackspace and Amazon AWS, I can confidently say that Azure is NOT going to win anything unless they do some radical change. They are way too costly and have way less features than Amazon AWS. The support is not as good either. In fact, in my case, support people stopped responding after a few queries.
    Many technical implementations like white listing a lot of ports for a lot of machines takes too much time and lack parallel operations. Not to mention their carelessness like “forgot to deploy renewed ssl cert” which recently took down Azure services impact business a lot. I could honestly write a huge list of things that they lack which I found easily on AWS and rackspace.
    Please use AWS and rackspace before you think that Azure is going to win. It is not going to win even on papers, forget real practical life.

  14. @Hal,

    you wrote a great piece, but I think you are missing that in the end, Microsoft never had to win a market, “it was just” in the right place, at the right time. Sure, it did not screw up the opportunity but all it had to do was to offer/acquire good enough products. Microsoft even developed the belief that time and money will always deliver a positive outcome. Who in their right mind could believe such a thing? When it had to create a market, fend off the competition (BizTalk, Oslo,…) it, often, was a disaster or plain average “me too” products.

    These should be the signs you look for to understand the Windows Mobile Strategy debacle. It is a good product, I agree. It is unfair that for once they almost did everything right and the market does not respond, but Microsoft’s DNA is the problem, not the solution. Microsoft never bonded with its customers. It left that dirty job to its ecosystem. An ecosystem which for the most part focused on cost savings and not innovation (MacBook Air?).

    In the 2000s, Microsoft became a big propaganda machine focused on selling strategy as you so candidly point out. Things like Channel 9, P&P … could be, retrospectively, the worst mistake Microsoft did, allowing lazy teams to live off their own feedback loop (listening to the developers they wanted to listen to). I am not sure more “propaganda” would deliver a different outcome. Microsoft has become just another company.

    When you “shout” AZURE IS GOING TO WIN, it sounds to me that you never left the bubble Microsoft grew up in. You seem to believe that Microsoft highly earned its position through a broad market mindshare and great products. It can’t be further from the truth. Scott is definitely a game changer at Microsoft, but above all, Microsoft is suffering from a brand fatigue and a clueless ecosystem with zero innovation.

    Personally, I gave up on Microsoft products in 2010 and never looked back. Life is actually fantastic outside the Microsoft ecosystem: there are great OSes, office suites, mobile platforms, middleware suite, development tools, clouds… (I use all of them). You get a real sense of innovation and commitment to deliver great products and UX (and often cost).

    The worst thing that can happen to Microsoft is to continue believing in that bubble. The worst thing that can happen to Microsoft is to believe that nothing of value happens outside of Redmond. Competition and Innovation is the new normal. Will Microsoft understand that? I doubt it.

  15. Jarle says:

    Great article!
    Someone needs to run into Ballmer’s office shouting: “Developers, developers, developers!”

  16. daniel says:

    You are absolutely right, Microsoft might go the way of Lotus, Ashton-Tate or Borland, or with a bit of luck their engineering prowess might allow them to hold on a niche market with SQL Server, Exchange and Sharepoint. Though Ballmer might also f***k up this up, remember he has killed windows! The king is dead, long live the king = Android

    After Silverlight I retrained with javaScript to provide LOB apps to my clients, guess what – it’s as good as Silverlight in doing the job, actually better as it runs on all platforms. Especially with the free DOJO library incubated by IBM.

    If IBM sold their worklight offering for $1,000 instead of $150,000 they could finish off Microsoft and recoup the money selling DB2 to the unhappy enterprises, but I doubt if that will happen as they can’t read markets either, I remember AS400 good idea, but did not sell to the bottom of the market, who then grow into the big fish of tomorrow.

    • Tom says:

      IBM will not cut the price to $1,000 — and it is actually because they *CAN* read markets. Their strategy depends on enterprise lock-in rather than mass-market. Cutting the price from $150,000 to $1,000 will *NOT* result in 150x the customers.

      This is why Warren Buffett, who famously noted that he could not understand the tech world, bought 6% of IBM. Because IBM shies away from fighting the bruising market share battles, and concentrates on building a great *business*. They know when it is more profitable to accept lower market share by charging high prices.

  17. David Roh says:

    I agree 100% with your post – it’s what I have been screaming for the last two-plus years.

    The really sad thing is that it’s not rocket science – how to treat the development community and customers is simple and straightforward – you simply do the things that are in the best interests of your customers and your development community – that is, you put their needs first and yours (Microsoft’s) needs second.

    Windows 8 Phone and Windows 8 are great products, if Microsoft would just listen to the complaints and fix the issues (e.g. Start menu, being forced into Metro.), and start putting real effort into marketing them.

    Put Scott Guthrie back in charge of development tools and developer relations. Bring back Silverlight and WPF. Fully support Expression Blend and Expression Design. Compile C# to the target machine without GC – do memory management like iOS does with compile time not runtime.

    Anyway, I could write for days on this subject – great post, but why is no one at Microsoft listening?

    • halberenson says:

      Scott was never in charge of either development tools or deeloper relations.

    • Tom says:

      Silverlight is not coming back, no matter who you put in charge. The team got moved over to the Windows division and is working on the XAML stack in WinRT now.

  18. Ronald Stepp says:

    Its getting to the point that I think Microsoft will need to change their name to “SinofskyVision, LLC.”

  19. Tec Goblin says:

    You seem to understand everything, you have all pieces of the puzzle, but then, for some maybe personal reason, you assemble them wrong!
    What about Windows 8 was closed? I’ve been using it 13 months before its release and I have no direct links to Microsoft. How is that different from Azure? Ok, release cycles are longer, but they plan to shorten them.
    You acknowledge that there is a difference between consumer and enterprise market. You do realize as well that there is a difference between server and platform products (like Azure) over consumer products. But you never explain why you advocate the same policy for both. Windows Phone 7 had tons of previews and a preliminary SDK released months before. But it didn’t succeed. WP8 does much better despite the (wrong) decision to hold on the SDK until the last possible moment. And developers follow. I am in a Windows 8 project. Now that there is a store companies are really interested in Windows 8 apps, because there’s a market for that. They are ok for a WP8 port, because it costs very little once you’ve done the Windows 8 app and Lumia has impressed many, here in Europe. But WP7? No. Because there’s no market for that.
    In the end, most companies don’t care about the fact that Microsoft has the best developer tools and most advanced mainstream languages. They go where the customers are.

    So in the end, yes, we agree that Microsoft needs to listen more to consumers. We also agree that the SDKs should be available earlier. But the latter is your only concrete advice, which Microsoft actually followed anyway in all cases but one.

    • Tom says:

      Do you remember the absolute *fury* from developers when Microsoft showed the Windows 8 touchscreen interface, and said only that it was programmable from HTML5/Javascript? Heck, someone even asked Sinofsky a question at the press conference about Silverlight, and he dodged the question.

      *That* was what was closed about Windows 8. For more than half a year, developers were left to believe that Microsoft had jumped the shark and decided to develop the next Palm WebOS. That’s half a year, *in addition to* the 13 month period cycle between Dev Preview and RTM.

      How would it have hurt them to be more open? Just say: “There will be a new XAML API that can be accessed from C# — and, for the first time, from unmanaged C++ as well. We can’t promise any details because we’re still working it out, but you’ll hear more about it in the next year. The new XAML API will require you to rewrite about 10%-20% of your Silverlight app.”

      What harm would’ve come out of that? This was not something that could be cut — they *had* to finish it to ship Windows 8. And it’s not like it’d give any clues to competitors. Microsoft has been working on XAML since Longhorn.

      It would’ve redirected much of the fury at Silverlight’s death into anticipation of the new API. And maybe some of the developers who quit the Microsoft platform in disgust would be writing Windows 8 apps today.

  20. duaneco13 says:

    As a developer I totally agree. Getting SDK’s after the fact is too little too late. Microsoft also messed up with Windows 7 phone development because I could not add the mobile development to Visual Studio if it was on a Server. There are a lot of regulated industries which require the development environment to be on the same OS as the target in order to get the system validated. I got out of that MS policy that Microsoft don’t see Windows phone as something serious in the Enterprise. To make a long story short, instead of build Windows Mobile App’s I simply started building Android Apps.

    • Tec Goblin says:

      Microsoft had messed completely with Windows Mobile. They had to start from scratch, so they delegated enterprise support to Windows Phone 8. This doesn’t shock me – the era of “bring your own device” approaches and Microsoft does have a strategy for that (with its Windows Intune etc).
      It’s clear, of course, that the break was too sudden, there was a huge discontinuity. But Windows Mobile had gone so far down the wrong road…

  21. Brian says:

    After the big Win8 reveal and the reaction to the lack of a start button in Win8, I really expected someone to code up a button for the Win8 desktop taskbar that simply switched to the Metro Start page (doing this requires not much more than a simple PostMessage call).

    If they did that, there’d be a visual clue that that the “Start Menu” function survived, but in a new form (which is consistent with SteveSi said in his October 2011 “Evolving the Start menu” entry on the “Building Windows 8” blog).

    But, someone decided “no, we want users to behave this way” and a decision was made that putting out a button like that would encourage poor behavior. It just acted to further p*** people off.

    Microsoft is a big company. People make poor decisions all the time – it happens. Microsoft works best when someone notices customer reactions and fixed/corrects/modifies things quickly (the latest example is the loosening of the EULA restrictions on the full packaged product Office SKUs). Microsoft is at it’s worst when someone makes a decision and decides it’s right no matter how much evidence to the contrary is presented to the decision maker (this is my opinion after have worked there for 12 years – ending, coincidentally, the day before the big Win8 reveal).

    • Tec Goblin says:

      Without wanting to sound like an MS apologizer, I want to remind that Microsoft has actually explained why there is no start button:
      1) It would work weird in multi-screen scenario and in particular with the snapped view (where would the start button be with a snapped app on the left?)
      2) This is the strongest clue to the end user that there is more than what (s)he sees on the screen. That they have to try ALL the corners.

      There are tutorials during installation. Maybe not enough. The whole start-button issue is ridiculously out of proportions and doesn’t actually come from normal users. My MOTHER learned to use Windows 8 (with me being in a different country) in a couple of days!

      • runranger says:

        Mine too. And my Dad. And my mother-in-law. They all love it. They don’t miss the start button at all. The start button trolls got WAY too much attention from the press.

    • waldtaube says:

      That’s how it worked in the Developer Preview, there was a Start button on the desktop that took you to the new Start. It was removed because people found it confusing to have two ways to get to Start (i.e. having the button on the desktop made it harder for people to understand that the corner menu worked everywhere). In other words customer and usability feedback were the reason the button was removed in the first place!

    • bill burrows says:

      See Stardock’s Start8 application!

  22. Brian Balke` says:

    I have been thoroughly flabbergasted by the clashing dialectics around this topic. There are things that seem obvious to me that don’t come into discussion. Maybe I’m not deeply enough into the bubble.
    First: before entering seriously into the mobile market, Microsoft had to wait for a serious competitor to Windows. Otherwise they would have been beaten to death by the governmental anti-trust teams. So Android and iOS are a success. Wasn’t that a precondition for this shift?
    Secondly, I don’t see anybody else providing the kind of “heads up” display that you have on the W8 start screen. I don’t even know if that is possible, given the consumer focus of the Android and iOS markets. This is a vision that might possibly come only from a company that talks with enterprise customers and understands the diversity and tempo of the information feeds that they have to process. When this gets coupled to the back-office process automation systems they’ve built, you’re going to see some amazing things happen.
    So, finally, I see this as being a strategic shift taken by a company that thinks on a very long time frame. Sometimes those kinds of visions fail. But I also look at the competition and don’t see anybody else that has in place the components needed to implement the vision.
    So who will they be pitching that vision to? Well, to the corporate customers that they supported on Windows XP after Vista flopped, until it was determined that Windows 7 would be accepted in the marketplace. To the 40% of corporate CIOs who said that they were going to standardize on Microsoft for their mobile solutions. These people don’t think in terms of 6-month product lifecycles.
    So they didn’t bring the developers along with them. Well, you know, this is a tectonic shift, and maybe they were just couldn’t imagine trying to negotiate this with all of their stakeholders. Sinofsky being shown the door so shortly after the Windows 8 release was a little too convenient, and suggests that they recognize that the strategy was not an acceptable way of doing business.

    • Brian says:

      Microsoft worked hard to enter the mobile phone market well before Apple or Android was there. Both the “Smartphone” and “Pocket PC” versions of Windows Mobile were very competitive up until Apple came in and completely shook things up. Of course, that Microsoft had two very different phone platforms (both branded “Windows Mobile”) was not a good sign.

      When the iPhone burst onto the market, lots of things happened. One of those, that doesn’t get much discussion, is that Apple completely upended the OS Vendor/Device Maker/Carrier/Consumer relationship. Until the iPhone, the carriers were in charge and they dictated everything. Steve Jobs looked at that and decided that if the iPhone were to be a success, the rules needed changing.

      He changed them by going to the carriers and saying “here are my terms, take them or leave them”. Verizon said “No”; AT&T said “Whatever you say, Steve”. The result was that Apple was suddenly in charge the way no other supplier ever had been, and that AT&T had an exclusive contract. Apple was able to impose the Jobsian vision on the market.

      • Brian Balke` says:

        >>Both the “Smartphone” and “Pocket PC” versions of Windows Mobile were very competitive up until Apple came in and completely shook things up.I don’t <<

        Is that the context for this foray? Microsoft has realized that it can't implement its vision unless there's hardware to match. Google and Apple had the license to build devices around their OS. Microsoft, frustrated with the offerings in the PC market, is now taking that same liberty (given that it has a huge stake in Nokia).

  23. Noah Yetter (@angrynoah) says:

    If you truly believe Azure is going to beat AWS, I can’t rightly say what planet you’re living on. AWS is a best-of-breed product lineup to a degree the world has rarely seen, and everyone else is light years behind. As @metapgmr said, when you shout “AZURE IS GOING TO WIN” it indicates you live in Microsoft’s bubble, and not in the real world.

    • Tom says:


      The other possibility is that he was talking about the enterprise market, where Microsoft merely has to offer a product that is less than three years behind the competition, and they will buy it in droves. I’d put Azure at about 18 months behind Amazon.

      Microsoft does not need to be better than Amazon for Azure to win. It needs to be better than Rackspace et al.

  24. Paul says:

    Excellent post, Hal. Platform visibility and developer engagement, particularly on WP, is wholly insufficient to secure even 3rd place far less aim higher. At MWC, for example, Microsoft was a premier sponsor but didn’t even have a booth. It’s crazy. Platform evangelism used to be MS’s strengths. And the W8 rollout is just full of fail. I can’t believe we’ve waiting this long and still haven’t even had the crappy applets fixed. The Guthrie/Azure model, by comparison, seems to be engaged and working. There are regular new feature announcements, which are generally well received and turn into a mostly “good news” success loop. And Scott is front and center on a regular basis and personally accessible via twitter, etc, all the time. Compare that to WP. I can’t recall the last time I even saw Terry Meyerson mentioned in a news report. And certainly with little to nothing coming out of the group the daily flow of WP news runs about 90% negative. Even communication about something as simple as the 7.8 update problems has been mostly non-existent. It boggles the mind that this goes on w/o Terry or even Ballmer saying wtf, and fixing it. Terry may be a great guy and effective in others ways, but from the outside look in I don’t see any improvement in pace of feature releases, developer engagement, communications, platform evangelism, etc., versus Lees. And the Windows team seems to think that a barrage of TV ads – the most I’ve ever seen from MS – make up for its shortcoming in evangelism and developer engagement as well. One area where we perhaps disagree is that I’ve given up on Ballmer’s ability to turn this ship around. MS needs someone new who will get on these issues – many of which are basic – long before they’ve resulted in problems that are apparent to you, me and everyone else who follows the company. I realize MS is big, but at the end of the day we’re talking about two critical products: Windows and WP. Prioritizing that shouldn’t be so difficult.

  25. gyurisc says:

    Hal, you just nailed it again. You are on your way to become the new Gruber for Microsoft. GruberV2, because you have comments too 😛

  26. patbob says:

    Microsoft seems to be trying to take a page from Apple’s playbook, and unfortunately they’re probably succeeding. Apple users don’t need to influence the direction of those products because they either like the direction Apple is taking them, or they’ve gone to windows. Now Microsoft is trying to do the same thing — users will either like the direction Microsoft is taking windows, or they can leave. Microsoft probably doesn’t realize that Android and Linux are increasingly viable options for their users to defect to.

  27. John says:

    Hal, this is dead on. I mean, it’s freaky how you almost read my mind completely. As a developer, it has been very frustrating because I don’t know what direction Microsoft is going. Plus, once I’ve learned one technology, I find out that it is either being “deemphasized” or it is being eliminated. I finally gave up and I have started applying my learning and efforts to languages and technologies that are more open and aren’t driven by a single company. I would love it if MS went back to the “Developers, Developers, Developers” days but the trust has seriously been damaged.

  28. This is right on. I’ll be circumspect with my opinion here out of respect for several former colleagues on the Windows team who I have deep respect for. Suffice it to say that I have been responding to LinkedIn pings about Windows internal jobs with the following terse reply: “I have abandoned the Windows platform and am no longer interested in investing in Microsoft technology stacks.” That’s radical given my background. Not sure about Azure. What I hear isn’t entirely good. Also, I seriously question the long-term viability of any cloud solution based on a closed OS. But that’s just my opinion.

  29. Pingback: Link: Now I get it, the Consumer guys at Microsoft are just plain wrong! |

  30. Khaja says:

    Hmmm…. Few people analyze matters of this complexity as well as you do. Fewer still have the history and depth of understanding that you do. I’d written off Azure but I may have to rethink that position now. I’d love to hear you expand on the case for Azure a bit though. What do you see as the vectors that will propel it forward?

  31. I agree with you in as much as developers should know about platform developments in advance. But I’d disagree with anything at the level of new features, UI changes, stuff that consumers are going to really care about.

    The reason is the message coming from Microsoft to the general public needs to be that the current product is the best thing ever made. Releasing info early like they did with the original Windows 8 release just leaves consumers with a message that the current product isn’t up to the competition but the next one will be better. It also makes then question if the current hardware will even run an upgrade. WP8 had info released quite a few months before phones came out, and the news that WP7 phones wouldn’t run it wasn’t going to help sales.

  32. rjmlive says:

    Announcing unfinished, untested or BHAG ideas early gives their much more agile competition plenty of time to trump or match their efforts. It seems that the real problem is simply that Microsoft is late to the game and too slow to deliver in the consumer space, so far.

    Windows Phone 8.1 is exactly what we’ve been waiting for, and what’s already existed on Android and IOS for years with few exceptions. They are still racing for a tie and there is nothing that will leapfrog any product or service from Android or IOS in a consumer-meaningful way. Everything is about apps. The cool thing about the new Iphones and Android flagships is the potential of the hardware.. for apps. Apple is forging new space into wearable sensors on watches and headphones and deep integration right into their phones. Meanwhile WP is getting a notification center…. maybe in August 2014. Cortana and Satori may be a game changer, but Google is sufficiently powerful, and agile to meet or beat their efforts sufficiently and soon enough.

    Integration/merging between RT and WP is something revolutionary I suspect and causing serious delays in progress of both platforms. The real future of the (consumer based) MS platforms is this IOS counterpart.

    Whatever their approach to launching platforms and pushing new services, as a consumer, I’m not sensing that they really feel the sense of urgency. I am an adamant Windows evangelist and being in Canada, I’m naturally forced to wait for second rate products and experiences (Phones, Bing, etc) and I can’t believe the words that come out of my mouth when I say with increasing sincerity that I might pick up a 5.5″ iPhone, some sort of watch or sensor earphone, and as a bonus, finally enjoy the option of the full library of apps including first to market products.

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