Microsoft Needs Vision, Here It Is

I’ve been thinking for a few weeks about Microsoft, and what they’re doing wrong. What are they doing wrong; quite a bit, but what if they’ve managed to set up an integrated platform, under our noses. They could easily bring us something that no one else can, in short order. No competitors can catch up, not Google, not Apple, no one, if they take the proper path.

Microsoft has before it a golden goose, it’s up to them to decide whether to continue starving it or to feed it. The first step is to look at where they have already invested: everywhere, from the enterprise through to the cloud and mobile systems. They have a wide base and a tall hierarchy, but they aren’t capitalizing as successfully as they could or even should be.

Why are they failing? It comes down to 3 reasons: horrific marketing, horrific web presence, and lack of integrated focus.  The one I’m primarily wanting to touch on is their lack of integrated focus, because without it they are gone, but I’ll touch on the other two.

A few weeks ago, Microsoft released an update to their Office Live system, something that has been around for nearly 3 years, and yet many people still have no clue about. Why; why doesn’t anyone know about this? It is common for people to bash Microsoft, because they don’t offer a cloud alternative for the desktop Office Suite, but it’s simply not true. Who’s fault is this? It’s the marketing department, they haven’t bothered to promote the platform; it’s also partly due to how confusing Microsoft’s web presence is, it’s anything but simple. Their presence exists in two ends of the spectrum: a mangled mess of links to variations of systems on their main domains and a group of domains that can be hard to find, because of a lack of directions to them. So what they need is a simplified interface, and user direction, from both marketing and a user experience standpoint.

Microsoft, regardless of their poor marketing and website design, has a unique opportunity. Microsoft, is the only company to have an operating system on 4 platforms(enterprise, desktop, mobile, and consoles), a web presence that includes search, email, and cloud systems(enterprise & consumer), high-quality desktop software, and near-universal hardware support. The one thing they are missing in integration across all of these levels, and it makes them look like they are wandering aimlessly. The need to figure out what to focus on, and how to make the entire system more seamless.

My first recommendation to them is to start with the future of the desktop, quick boot systems that allow near instant access to the internet. I propose that they provide a hybrid-OS offering using an instant-on system, that provides access to a browser and several other basic applications. The next recommendation, is one I’ve already made, clean up your web interfaces to make them more user-friendly, and make your cloud systems more prevalent. After you’ve dealt with these issues, you’re ready to more actively promote systems like Live Mesh, that will allow you to integrate and sync cloud data, across multiple systems; I recommend purchasing DropBox to help with this.  The should continue to work on integrating Office and their cloud systems, during this.

In the foreseeable future, the majority of what we will be doing, will be on the internet, but that doesn’t mean that we won’t need our fully developed operating systems. Using a hybrid-OS approach, they will be able to provide both instant-on support for average use case, while still providing the ability to switch over to the full system for heavier workloads. This is what we need in the next few years, ChromeOS can match you in the first, but not the second, except via remote-desktop support. One issue with instant-on systems, is trying to get universal support, but Microsoft is at an advantage as it’s already worked with low-level compatibility, are there going to be hitches, I’m sure, but they should still have some ability to solve this problem, along with manufacturers.

Next step is to make their web presence more coherent and simple.  Promote your integrated services together, rather than splitting them across different domains, you have two live office platforms, three email services, and a search engine, and none of them are connected in a highly sensible way. You’ve also failed at promoting these from your main website, because of the kludgy method of navigation and association among your many many products. Simplify. Simplify. Simplify. Simplify. It’s all about simplification so that your users can find what they are looking for; help them out.

Now, you’re doing okay on this next thing, you’ve got Skydrive and Live Mesh, as well as Office 2010 integration with Office Live, but you can still do so much more to make it simple. Google is kicking your ass as simple collaboration, you need to get this right, and make sure you’re doing it better than they are. You need to get syncing to both the cloud and to other devices down, that’s why I recommend you purchasing DropBox, it would provide a great starting point.  This is going to be one of the key changes you need to get right, and get it right, now. The sooner you get people  using your system and having it seamlessly integrated between the desktop-mobile-cloud the better you will be.

Maybe they’ve been working on this in the background, and they’re just failing to compile the parts, or they have failed to have vision as to what they actually have, and how it can be connected. Either way, it seems that Ballmer is stumbling in providing his teams the ability to create a fully integrated system, either he has the vision or he doesn’t; I’d go with the latter. Now, is when they need to make the move, get to work on bringing your teams together, so they can create a seamless experience, and hire new marketing people.