Why Microsoft absolutely DOESN'T need its own Steve Jobs

It should differentiate itself by not copying Apple

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Sysadmin Blog Microsoft is a company in transition. Speculation is rampant and everyone in the IT industry seems to have a strong opinion on what Microsoft should – and shouldn't – do.

Analysts are increasingly lumping PCs in with mobile devices, a trend that's decidedly bad for Microsoft. Others remain sceptical of the practice and seem to see Microsoft's future as far less bleak.

Market share changes and the upcoming change in CEO have made Microsoft the focus of armchair executives the world over. Amidst the dross there are a lot of well reasoned opinions by seasoned Microsoft observers and analysts, with an increasing number saying Microsoft needs its own Steve Jobs.

In the months since the announcement of Ballmer's retirement I have tried to see the world as my learned colleagues see it; to view the Microsoft of the future through the lens they communally share. I cannot. I neither believe Microsoft is doomed, nor do I believe that it is invulnerable, and I emphatically do not believe that Microsoft needs its own Steve Jobs.

Quick recap

Ballmer's tenure at the helm has been dubbed "Microsoft's lost decade". An unflattering term that is misused by many who blithely ignore that Ballmer's tenure still saw Microsoft grow profits by an average of over 15 per cent per year to a company with a net income of $23bn. We should all hope to fail so well.

There were errors aplenty during Ballmer's time. Longhorn's failure, the Vista/2007 series disaster, aQuantive and so forth. The Redmondian eat-your-own-young management system was a spectacularly failed experiment. Ballmer weathered it all, until now.

At the core of the Ballmer departure debate are Windows 8 and the outright failure of Microsoft to understand – and react appropriately to – the change in consumer buying habits. Microsoft's inability to counter Android and iOS has shattered confidence and created heated divisions amongst investors and the technorati alike.

The Interface Formerly Known As Metro (TIFKAM), the UI that unifies Windows 8, Windows RT and Windows Phone isn't head-and-shoulders above the rest. It is, however, strongly competitive with Android and iOS. It has earned a strong core of vociferous evangelists not unlike the turn of the millennium Macolytes.

This much everyone can seemingly agree upon. The details of what Microsoft did wrong (and how to fix it) are where I start to diverge from more prominent Microsoft watchers out there.

Microsoft Tiles 8.11 for Fondlegroups

In my view the idea of a unified Microsoft OS was a brilliant idea, terribly executed. The deployment of the Ribbon Bar should have been solid evidence that Microsoft is not good at change management. Windows 8 should have ended any doubts.

Chip Heath (a business professor at Stanford) and Dan Heath (a senior fellow at Duke University in North Carolina) provide analysis in their book Switch: How to change things when change is hard that underscores my belief.

I'll give you the Coles Notes on it; for a majority of change situations, you need to manage three things: people's rational thoughts, their emotions, and their environment. It needs to seem reasonable to make the change, there needs be an emotionally compelling reason to change, and the change needs to be easy.

In essence, you need to tweak their environment as much as possible to remove obstacles that will prevent them from adopting the desired new behavior. This is the antithesis of how Microsoft's change management works in practice.

Microsoft prefers to simply toss new UIs at punters. Microsoft demands end users, corporate buyers and partners pick up the costs of training and invest the time convincing all stakeholders that the change involved is necessary and good. This is regardless of whether or not there actually is a measurable benefit for any stakeholders other than Microsoft.

This was a non-optimal change management methodology for introducing TIFKAM to desktop users. It was Microsoft's largest mistake.

Had Microsoft released its new UI as a series of OSes with their own brand name (Microsoft Tiles?) I believe the world would have embraced it enthusiastically. Microsoft could then have shipped an actual Windows 8 for the keyboard-and-mouse crowd that was the same operating system but without the drastic UI changes.

Yes, it would have been more SKUs, more diversification and so forth…but it also would have been an approach that takes into account the human factors regarding change management. Newness under a new name isn't as readily compared to extant gear.

Irrational as it might seem, users will gleefully accept a glitch or a loss in productivity if the new widget is to supplement, not supplant our existing tools. Microsoft chose instead to attempt to leverage the Windows brand name to drive buy-in of TIFKAM without acknowledging that the brand also brings with it expectations.

The result was the opposite of desired: TIFKAM has instead damaged the Windows brand name.

Picture this: a brand new tablet operating system that maintains compatibility with your old Windows x86 apps but goes head-to-head with Android and iOS. Not as an "upgrade" or replacement for your traditional keyboard-and-mouse devices, but as a supplement. An iPad that could run Windows apps if it had to!

Had this been my first interaction with Windows 8, I might have switched from Android. Today, I'm far too invested in the Android ecosystem to dream of switching; convincing me to switch to a Microsoft mobile ecosystem would be roughly as difficult as it is to convince your average business to switch to from Windows to Mac OSX.


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