June 19, 2006

in search of microsoft's next big idea


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In a recent post I talked about Microsoft not having their "Next Big Idea".

Which doesn't bode well for the future, if you ask me. Which I'm guessing is partly the reason their Robert Scoble is moving on.

Maybe I'm wrong, maybe they do have their next big idea, only I don't know what it is. They haven't told me yet. Or maybe, they haven't quite around to articulating to themselves yet, either. Who knows?

In the comments, Microsoft's Steve Ball had a go at expressing it:

Your PC is a 'Powers of 10' microscope you can use to study every minute detail of any subject under the sun.

It is also the telescope you can use to discover and interact with every thought that has ever been thought, every book, lecture, class, picture, film, play, brainstorm, equation, contradiction, emotion, song, performance, conversation, idea, person, character, genius, and idiot who opts in to participate in the globally connected collective consciousness.

The PC is also our primary local interactive connection to global context (physical, social, political, emotional, spiritual) in the universe.

Today's tools and interfaces are extremely primitive. If you think of Vista as MS-DOS, then image what lies ahead when we get to the next 'Vista' ten years from now.

We're exchanging primitive and random bits of ascii and you think 'we're done'?

These boxes give us the power to share and distribute experiences and broadcast intelligence (and stupidity) in ways we have only just begun to imagine.

Not a bad start, but I don't think it nails it. Something needs to be more concise, somehow.

Whatever the final answer is, I'd like to get it down to something short and incisive enough to where, as Steve suggested, it would make a good "cartoon drawn on the back of a business card". Seriously.

So I'm going to have a go, seeing if I can [A] find out what Microsoft's next big idea actually is, and [B] understand it well enough to turn it into one of my wee bizcard cartoons. If I can't do it, I honestly don't think it's because I'm stupid. I think it's because nobody really knows what it is, yet.

Any Microsoft employees reading this, if you can help me with this, I would appreciate it. Feel free to leave a comment or send me an e-mail. That goes for anyone else, too, of course. It should make for interesting conversation. Thanks.

Posted by hugh macleod at June 19, 2006 6:36 PM | TrackBack

The description above is the classic Microsoft - "We've thought of everything and we'll sue your ass off if you attempt to compete with any of the above".

I notice they even include the name of my product (registered in 1982) in their list.

Maybe I should sue them.

Posted by: David Tebbutt at June 19, 2006 8:02 PM

Stormhoek and English Cut not enough? Fishing to blog Microsoft's gapingvoid?

Posted by: David at June 19, 2006 9:18 PM

No, David, they can't afford me ;-)

Posted by: hugh macleod at June 19, 2006 9:33 PM

Microsoft needs a full-fledged overhaul, and a completely new corporate identity (probably impossible by the way). Right now they're bland, they're torpid, and they're lacking. Vista might give MS life again, but they need more than just run-of-the-mill software, they need to step up in new media, with some fresh minds. I think Google gave that speech last week.

Posted by: rocco at June 19, 2006 10:52 PM

It staggered me when about a year ago I realised I couldn't remember them changing their logo in at least 10 years, (I'm just 20 years old, now).
It's just a small example of how they could do with an overhaul...

Posted by: Rob McDougall at June 20, 2006 1:30 AM

The next big idea is Microsoft Transporter 2010. I'll be able to zip right over, fix the tablet personally, have a bottle of http://stormhoek.com/ and zip back before my manager knows I'm gone.

Posted by: Keith Combs at June 20, 2006 3:05 AM

Who says we need a NEW big idea. There's still a lot of mileage in the old ones.

Posted by: James O'Neill at June 20, 2006 2:08 PM

At what point in the evolutionary timeline did the primate ancestor of us humans decide ok time to stop picking on the 800lb Mountain Gorillas and move one. Next thing you know, fire.

Technology doesn't need to be of the herd mentality that if MS or Apple does it, it is the way of the future. Dare I say Hugh, that Scoble and you are? Blogging has created a network of communication which knows no intellectual, political, or social bounds. You had made mention a few days back of making good snowballs.

If I may reference Ben Hammersley’s talk at Reboot 7, we need at new Tatler. We need a new Tatler, not a whole new printing press. We've got our how, we just need our what. Who's to say the next big idea needs to come from Redmond? I think it will come from the Blogosphere, and I think the Blogosphere is listening.

Posted by: Matt at June 20, 2006 3:48 PM

Hugh - I think you hit the nail on the head with this statement "understand it well enough to turn it into one of my wee bizcard cartoons." If a company has a strategy or mission statement that can't be explained on the back of a business card, it is too complicated. When you talk to a reinsurance company like Berkshire Re and ask what they do - if they go into the fact that they use derivatives to hedge risk for blah blah blah - it's too complicated. Instead they should say, we insure insurance companies. Everyone gets it. Can Microsoft explain their business or next big idea on the back of a business card? If they can, my bet is that they will do incredibly well, if they can't, then they will most likely fail.

Posted by: Steve Bates at June 20, 2006 8:29 PM

I'm with Steve on this. Marketing is key and confusion doesn't sell. Microsoft is flapping in the wind right now--they have nothing "going on". Many companies have created products that are simply better than the ipod, but Apple continues to sell it like mad. Make it simple and solid (put more weight on the former), and focus on a few key features. To be overly terse (I have no training in marketing--if that's not obvious), it seems that a solid idea with some pure minimalism sells. For a business card, it's easy to bash Apple, but Microsoft is a challenge, because they've been selling a lot of illusions for years (reference: Ball at the intro to this blog).

Posted by: rocco at June 20, 2006 10:29 PM

I think I have it. I really think I have it. Oh, my freaking...bg...ber's. So why would the muses choose to enlighten, or burden, my mind with one more thing? Especially when I am an inept bumbling middleclass cracker from the slums of PC illiteratacy? Precisely.

What year did roller blades enter the market? And what year were these concieved? When did Bruce Springsteen change his, uh, image? When did the Army come out with the slogan...Be All You Can Be?
And finally, what year did Disney change it's signature style?

Posted by: Kristine at June 21, 2006 3:17 AM

I think I'm more interested in Apple's next big idea. . .

Posted by: lisajay at June 21, 2006 6:46 AM

Hmm... Let's see.

Vista! Longhorn without all of the interesting features!
Office! Wordprocessing with new and annoying interactivity
Xbox! 4bn USD down the hole - that's a business model
Search! 80% of Microsoft employees use Google...
MSN! Uhmm.
SQL Server and Server Side OS! Compete with free! Or mainframes!

Well, Bill Gates' big idea seems to be to piss off and do something else, and the fish does rot from the head.

But seriously, they have sold a copy of what people needed to more or less everyone who needed it. The issue is that the code is now Good Enough, a few secutiy holes excepted, and software does not wear out.

The only thing they can do now is make sure that people stay with them for the next upgrade, i.e. organic growth.

The fact that they are trying to use every DRM trick in the book to make it impossible to move off the platform, and to try and lure the various **AA organisations into backing them is just a conincidence... Not.

Posted by: Hamish at June 21, 2006 10:00 AM

we all need the next idea!

Posted by: James Thomson at June 22, 2006 12:03 PM

Last post missed one thing that they are doing right though, integration with SAP. Heh!

Posted by: Hamish at June 22, 2006 12:36 PM

Well, at least no one is tendentious on the subject of Microsoft. Anyone who wishes to gain some insight into Microsoft's growth stagnancy should absorb the thesis contained in this book.

Posted by: Eliot Frick at June 25, 2006 9:40 PM

Why does anyone need a new idea when the old one still brings in cash? Oh yeah, ... more cash. And the world goes round and round.

Posted by: David Freedman at June 26, 2006 12:05 PM