Friday, April 20, 2007

Microsoft Marketing Disaster

This week had the privilege of sitting through a presentation given by a Microsoft Field Engineer about Vista to a room full of software engineers. The intent of the presentation was to generate enthusiasm for Vista and Silverlight. The presentation started out with about 7 slides telling us how exciting Vista is. None of the slides said anything about actual features, just repeated how exciting it is.
Then they finally showed slides of actual features. The first feature, and the most impressive, was the new look. The windows are prettier, the buttons rounder and the backgrounds are nearly black. Then the next most important feature was that you can show all the windows in a 3D view as pages you can flip through. The third feature was that while editing text the text change dialog will popup right next to where the mouse is.
That's it. The three top features and improvements. We were underwhelmed. Their key tag line on their Vista page is 'Crank up the Wow'. Since when do you have to tell your audience that what you have is exciting? Compare this to the marketing approaches of Apple. When they announced the first iPod, Jobs simply stood on a huge barren stage, pulled out an iPod and demonstrated it to the audience. The audience when hysterical. There was no need to tell anyone to get excited. For developers Linux is exciting because it is wide open.
I then started to contemplate how irrelevant Windows Vista is, and quickly realized that Vista is not at all irrelevant. The problem is that Vista is relevant for all the wrong reasons. Vista will be the dominant OS because Microsoft will use it's dominant position to force Vista on users. The end users have no say in what OS they use. If they are a home user it is simply what comes on the box preinstalled, and corporate users are forced to use what the company standardizes on. (Yes you can be a maverick, but that can be a career limiting move, or limit what games you can play at home.) Apples products are relevant because they are interesting and desired by end users. Google is relevant for the same reasons.
Silverlight is a Flash wanabe. During the demo of the Silverlight the IDE failed. The engineer tried to drag-n-drop an element and the machine froze. This leaves an engineering group with the problem of choosing Flash, which is well proven, functional, and ubiquitous, or to choose Silverlight, be guinea pigs for the Beta IDE, and hope that in the future Microsoft does not drop Silverlight on some marketing whim. Of course, Microsoft realizes that the engineers don't make the buying decision. Top management is the one to sell to, behind closed doors.
I'm old enough to remember clearly the good old days when IBM had a dominant position in the computer market, and for the exact same reasons given above, lost it.

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