The axeman strikes again: Microsoft has real commitment issues

Yet another product cull raises questions about Microsoft's commitment to... anything, really

Comment Ever since Satya Nadella took the helm at Microsoft in 2014, his PR people have been grooming him to be an Inspiration Thought Leader, preaching Transformation to the TED Talk classes. This took another step with the global launch of his book Hit Refresh, a "masterpiece" of how to scale up the "growth mindset”. [must-read]

Whether this therapeutic Davos-speak is helpful to Microsoft or not remains to be seen - but some things at the company never change. Like answering big strategic questions, and the endless in-fighting that sees products snuffed out.

It’s only a small thing, but Microsoft has just snuffed out its premiere music service Groove Music. The problem isn’t that anyone will particular miss Groove, but the cumulative impact. See these reactions:

On Nadella’s watch, the list of casualties grows. After the new CEO insisted that mobile was a top priority, Microsoft killed off its own brand phones. The Mobile edition of Windows was neglected then sidelined. Microsoft launched, then killed off a fitness band which was the vehicle for ambitious fitness and health initiatives.

Two years seems to about the limit of Nadella’s tolerance. Wunderlist was one of three me-too apps expensively acquired by Nadella and it barely lasted two years. Bought in June 2015, sidelined in spring 2017.

The day the music...zzzzip

Now Microsoft has killed off its music. In a fragmented world, music remains staggeringly important to people, as IFPI research found. For some demographics, music and the Xbox are the only experience they have of Microsoft services.

So in five years Microsoft has gone from Zune to Xbox Music to Groove to … nothing. "Without the end points you aren't going to have the impact in the world and people's lives,” Nadella said three years ago.  Which makes the nonchalance with which its handed over 500 million “end points” (that’s how many Windows 10 desktops Microsoft claims are active) to Spotify quite extraordinary.

As an aside, I recently tried an experiment with a virgin Android handset sent to me for review, by trying to configure it with as many Microsoft services as I could out of the box, and see how far I got. In the US, Microsoft sells Samsung’s preloaded with this in its Store. And I already rely on Microsoft services like Exchange, and OneDrive. How did it all go together?

Aside from the excellent Arrow launcher, the experience was very poor. I can’t imagine anyone preferring Cortana to Alexa or Google Now. The Outlook app wouldn’t populate the phone’s address book with Exchange contacts. Word and Excel get buggier (see the recent comments here ), with heart-stopping lags as it retrieves documents from the cloud.

It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Nadella doesn’t value consumers at all, but isn’t quite ready to let go of Xbox, Microsoft’s one big (and expensively earned) consumer success.

What did we say about the value of keeping your promises, recently?

A reputation for flakiness risks long term damage to Microsoft in the enterprise. Nadella responds to financial analysts’ persistent calls to divest the company of the Xbox console by saying he’s “connecting the dots around gaming”. Like so much Nadspeak, this doesn’t actually mean anything.

A promise to stay in consumer games consoles today is worth as much as the promise to stay in mobile.

Cloudobile? Cloudobox! ®

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