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Generally Recognized As True: Where does Microsoft want to go today?

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Where does Microsoft want to go today?

It is very hard to figure out where Microsoft is going as a company.

One day, it seems like they're going to abandon consumer electronics and focus on business (their tablet-related moves) and the next, they are pushing or pulling Media Center-related living room technologies or putting out consumer hits like the Kinect.

Their relative abandonment of Windows Phone 7 is very confusing. I just don't understand why they don't get it that they need to rapidly improve this thing to keep people interested, especially seeing as it started from behind in the first place. They should have been talking about WP7-based tablets and media players by now, too. There are a whole lot of Microsoft technologies out there that offer tremendous promise but sit on the table like a piece of half-eaten fruit. But, this is not new for them.

I really want to buy an iPod-like device that will do more than just play music and behave in a Windows-friendly way. Every time I consider an iPod, I think of iTunes and remember why I haven't bought an iPod yet. That situation will never be fixed because this is Apple we're talking about. The last time I saw iTunes on Windows 7, it didn't even behave properly when pinned to the taskbar (clicking the pinned icon spawned a second icon on the taskbar), and that is the least of its problems.

Zune HD wasn't released in Canada. Android is too chaotic and too unpredictable for me, so my choices are quite limited. A Microsoft media player with WiFi but without mobile data, and based on the Windows Phone 7 OS would be ideal. It's hard to imagine how they will ever get there with their current rate of progress.
The exodus of executives at Microsoft is confusing, too.

And so is the fact that Windows Phone 7 is much more a consumer-oriented phone than a business-oriented phone, despite the fact that Microsoft provides the backend for a whole lot of Blackberry clients out there (via Exchange). If they can't get WP7 onto media players and tablets, what is the hope they'll get this angle sorted out?

The strange thing is that, as a business and as a revenue and profit generator, they seem outstanding. But so much of it still comes from legacy products and so little from the new things they've tried over the last decade or so. Where they really seem to have a problem is in convincing investors that they are capable of doing anything else and, therefore, of generating significat earnings growth in future.

But, even though Apple gets a lot more attention and the market seems to consider it a much better growth prospect, I think Apple is far more susceptible to attack than is Microsoft. People can get tired of brands and company attitudes quite quickly (where is Sony and their Walkman today?), and the cost of replacing most people's relationship with Apple is not very high. Apple's attitude toward openness both retains customers by making things easy, but can also repel because of their oppressive control. You also have to wonder how well the company can withstand the ultimate exit of Steve Jobs. On the other hand, maybe Microsoft's disorientation is a consequence of Bill Gates's exit.

Maybe the company really is just too big with too much bureaucracy to get itself on a straight path. We have been hearing it for years, but maybe this is the public evidence.

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