November 11, 2006

the microsoft question


I was hanging out with Microsoft's Steve Clayton and two of his colleagues yesterday [Hi James and Ben, great meeting you both etc], and the question came up:

"So, Hugh, why are you so interested in Microsoft?"
Fair question. Here are some thoughts:

1. Rebirth. A big, long-term interest for me is how both individuals and organizations, once they've been around the block a few times, get their Mojo back. As I wrote in September:

"Rebirth" is a wonderful metaphor, meaning everything from "re-invention" to "regeneration" to "renaissance" to... just about anything.

I find that a large part of the human experience is [a] getting oneself into a rut and then [b] figuring out how to get oneself out of it.

What is true for individuals is also true for large groups of people... businesses, organizations, nations etc etc. How do we re-invent our modus operandi? Serious question.

I don't claim to have all the answers, but it's a subject that interests me professionally more and more.

And I think it's a subject that also interests Microsoft more and more. How do they grow? How do they avoid extinction? How do they keep innovating, instead of being calcified to death by their own corporate inertia, something that all big companies suffer from [and often succumb to]?

i.e. It's a subject that genuinely interests us both. And where there's genuine mutual interest, there is connection.

2. Robert Scoble. I once went on record saying that Robert Scoble, blogging as a Microsoft employee [N.B. he quit Microsoft earlier this year], was the biggest thing to happen to advertising since Apple's "1984" commercial.

I took me a while to figure it out, but one day I suddenly realized, the big story about Robert blogging from inside Microsoft wasn't the effect he was having on outsiders like myself ["Oh, what a lovely blog, I think I'll go out and buy me a new PC"], but on the effect he was having on his fellow Microsoft employees. His blog was starting conversations that simply could not have happened before the invention of the blog. Why? The Porous Membrane, of course.

This one little insight completely changed and informed my views about the future of marketing. So I have Microsoft to thank for that one.

3. Microsoft is an interesting company. If they weren't, I doubt they'd get so many millions of words in the mainstream media written about them, every year, like they do. All I'm doing is the same as countless thousands of other journalists and bloggers are doing.

4. Being nice pays off. Thanks to becoming friends with Scoble and the London Girl Geeks in the last year or two, I've since met quite a few MS people, and to be quite honest, for the most part they've all been well-mannered, interesting, engaging, passionate, very smart people, and I've enjoyed their company. Unlike some of the arrogant jerks I've met from other companies in my time.

5. They're in the software business, I'm in the software business. They have a commercial interest in Microsoft product. I have an [albeit much smaller] commercial interest in Thingamy product. So we've got that in common.

6. They're in the de-commodification business, I'm in the de-commodification business. So you think $300 desktop software is ubiquitous? You should see the $10 wine business. Where 80% of the wine sold in the UK is bought by a half-dozen or so top supermarket and retail chains, and the number of commercial, large-scale wineries in the world number in the tens of thousands. You try rising above that clutter, Boyo. Yeah, not easy. Again, where there is common interest, there is connection.


7. Microsoft wants to change the world, Stormhoek wants to change the world. Again, common interest. How well we succeed is always debatable, but hey, you only live once.

[UPDATE:] Steve posts a reply.

Posted by hugh macleod at November 11, 2006 10:55 AM | TrackBack

I can surely appreciate Apple, geek as I am, but MS really is the best thing that could happen to IT... and the world.

MS might not always have been original [cough, if I compare the timeline of iTunes 7 and WMP11, Apple loses this battle all over, except for podcasts], but MS has made IT accessible to anyone.

$300,$400,$500 software? Almost 90% of the users have MS preinstalled on their computer anyway. In those cases the OS even doesn't cost $100 anymore.

Posted by: franky at November 11, 2006 1:30 PM

a good friend of mine told me once, it is always easier to be the baby elephant following an adult elephant......
the baby elephant has the luxury of never having to smash down the tall grass.

rock on hugh!

Posted by: AndrewH at November 11, 2006 3:36 PM

Rebirth -- like a convict on parole, you mean?

Franky forgets that Ms Office Standard Edition costs around £300. And it requires activation to ensure you are not a pirate.

iWork costs less than £60. Apple trusts you not to rip them off.

Sure Microsoft, change the world in your little bubble. If you don't trust anyone, you cannot have true success. True success does not come from within.

As I've said before, with thousands of servers to maintain in the company I work for, Microsoft is supplying me a commodity (server OS, licenses, engineers, etc) and because they do not add any "real" value in today's world they are below the line and therefore that commodity service is prime for outsourcing. Do you have any idea how much my family hates patch Tuesday?

Virtualisation seals the fate as software as commodity.

Now wine is a commodity, but also there are wine conessuers. Last time I looked, nobody gave a stuff about what software they were running so long as it meets the task in hand. Unless it happened to be Apple, then users get all passionate for some reason.

Microsoft does need to reinvent itself, for sure. Will they be as successful, and open, as Apple have been in this reinvention process? (Microsoft's SEC filings do make interesting reading, but are are hardly definitive transparency ... )

Where is the Jonathan Ive poster boy of Microsoft? Oh yeah, in india singing developer songs ...

As Jack Trout says, you have to start with the public's perception of you and your product and work from there. And the public perception of Microsoft is as bug ridden as their monolithic patchwork of code, which is unlikely to be a silk purse any time soon.

The fact the BBC has recently buddied up with Microsoft and shafted everyone not using Microsoft Windows Media is typical of their monoculture thinking and great "partnerships". I pay my license fee, why should I not be able to access that media just because I "think different".

Tread carefully, Hugh. You will be assimilated :-)

Posted by: Mike Peter Reed at November 11, 2006 5:34 PM

I like Microsoft, though I sympathize with those who have some complaints against them.

A client recently asked for my help in usability testing and promoting a new API (Application Programming Interface) for a product. I did some research and at one point, I emailed the top usability lab guys at Microsoft with some specific questions.

They were prompt, thorough, and extremely friendly. I shyly said that I might trouble them with more questions further down the road. They said that was fine, they were at my service.

When I told the client about it, suddenly my own credibility and expertise was magnified in their eyes. The client thought it was amazing that I could get their attention and favor.

As you say, Hugh, many other companies are not anywhere near this kind and altruistic. Oh, and Scoble is a great guy, too. He is the same, very open to helping others and replying swiftly to emails.

Posted by: V-+a%S(p#E*rsT=`hE..]gra_Te[ at November 11, 2006 9:30 PM

Blah blah blah... I just bought my first four bottles of Stormhoek and will sit in front of the fire drinking the first of them (the computer will sit dark and alone in the office).

Posted by: KJ at November 12, 2006 1:02 AM

Yes, I think MS is trying to reinvent itself, look at the Novell deal.If they really really do want to re-invent themselves why not try offering MS for $25.00 if you want to give it to another person one of you will have to pay say $5.00 to pass on the info. This would save MS from having to give up their claims of exclusive rights. They could drop the idea of making each version hold everything of all previous editions. It would be affordable for me to cheaply up grade.Does this make any sense?

Posted by: Roger Wilks at November 12, 2006 4:23 AM

"a large part of the human experience is [a] getting oneself into a rut"

nevermind [b] you are getting part [a] wrong.

Posted by: Michiel at November 13, 2006 8:27 AM

Ironic. I guess I never really grokked your actual argument about GG content.

Posted by: Robert W. Anderson at November 13, 2006 4:03 PM

As long as Microsoft is still mainly in the business of screwing people over, I will continue to find them utterly disgusting.

The Novell deal is just the latest dirty trick. Publicized by clueless media as a move to work closely with Linux, it's actually an extremely sick attempt to kill off free software via a percieved loophole in the GPL. Nice PR-job though.

And Novell will catch most of the flak when free software developers start sueing them for distributing their software in violation of the GPL. Brilliant.

Real nice people, those MS guys. Just don't forget to count your fingers after shaking hands with them...

Posted by: Rick at November 13, 2006 4:29 PM

Rick, I find it somewhat curious that the Novell deal came on the heels of Ray Noorda's passing away. I'm sure he's turning over in his grave about now.

Posted by: Stevep at November 14, 2006 5:07 AM

Scoble had nothing to do with the number of Microsoft bloggers. It was happening anyway!

Posted by: Anonymous at November 23, 2006 6:26 AM