The blogosphere is a mysterious and wondrous place. Today I somehow came across a blog ostensibly called The Fake Diary of Steve Jobs, which appears to be the real blog of the Apple CEO but after a little reading you realize it’s a parody. However last week there was a post that actually made at least a little sense, which was also surprising to some of his regular readers.
“Steve Jobs” laments the waste in Microsoft software products.
For years people have been begging Microsoft for leaner, simpler products with fewer features. Not just befuddled and baffled consumers but CIOs at big companies, guys who manage tens of thousands of PCs, who are considered "thought leaders," and who definitely have Microsoft’s attention. They don’t want slightly fewer features. They want a lot fewer. Like 90% fewer.
Call it the twenty-seventh form of waste, "the waste of too many features." Such complex software is commonly called "bloatware," and Microsoft is famous for it.
So what does Microsoft do? It rolls out a huge new OS and a new version of Office with a 10x gain in features. Then it hires an army of MBAs to go "unlock value" and get customers to use all those features that they’ve already told Microsoft they don’t want.
Very true. Although the new user interface in Office 2007 is pretty slick once you get used to it, you still face an enormity of functionality that can be very daunting. No wonder that only a couple years after demolishing their only real competitor WordPerfect, Microsoft is now facing some pretty serious upstart competition from the likes of Google.
The author, whoever he really is, goes on to propose an interesting reason why Microsoft loves to promote features the customer doesn’t really want.
I hate to play armchair analyst but [Microsoft CEO Steve] Ballmer’s roots — a Detroit kid growing up with a dad who was a Ford manager — are too significant to ignore. Remember Detroit in the 1970s, when customers started saying they wanted smaller, cheaper, leaner, simpler cars? Toyota and Honda listened, while the Big Three kept cranking out monstrously huge cars and then putting all sorts of effort (advertising, discounts on the lot, dealer incentives, blackballing dealers who tried to open Toyota or Honda stores, spouting empty patriotic rhetoric about buying American, blah blah) thinking that by doing this they could get customers to buy the cars that they’d already told Detroit they didn’t want.
This — not Harvard, not Stanford — was where Ballmer’s worldview was formed. There at Detroit Country Day School with the other kids whose dads ran the Big Three in the last days of Detroit’s golden era. Now at Microsoft we’re seeing a repeat of this phenomenon.
Brilliant! I don’t place much credence in his supposition, but it is still a brilliant hypothesis! And as with many companies today, according to "Steve" Microsoft has lost touch with its roots.
Microsoft seems to have lost sight of the fact that its rise to power came as a result of Bill Gates positioning Windows as smaller, cheaper, easier and faster than OS/2 Presentation Manager. Windows 3.0 was lean and mean and, relatively speaking, open. OS/2 with PM was big, bloated, expensive, and all about locking you in to IBM. IBM was the big monolith trying to protect its market share and suck everything into its maw. Microsoft was the disrupter, using a little toy weapon to attack a fortress.
And that’s the lesson. How many of us have lost touch with what created our initial success? How many of us have added so many products and features and services that we no longer effectively serve our core business model… if we even remember what that was? What price "innovation?"