Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Dear Microsoft, can you focus on Office instead of Surface?

One of the advantages of being a multi-billion dollar conglomerate, is that you can fashion a much longer rope to hang yourself. You can afford many more failed experiments, you can pour much more money down the drain of innovation and new product development, you can hare off in many directions. You do not have to actually bet on the one big thing that will define the future and then stake your future on that.

Google's very philosophy of innovation involves investigating multiple and fascinating avenues including Google Fiber, Google TV, Glass and such bizarre things as wireless balloons that provide internet connectivity to remote rural areas. Some will work, some will never see the light of day, other projects may work patchily and be shut down after a short duration of operation

Microsoft too has extended its innovation in many areas - including search engine tech (Bing), gaming and entertainment (XBox Live), hardware (Kin, Zune and more recently, the Surface) and Windows Mobile, the foray into mobile operating systems. I am not counting the many developments on the enterprise software front, which are  core to the company's business. I am talking about the attempts to enter into new areas.

With the significant exception of XBox, Microsoft's foray into hardware has been a failure. One wonders if they should even continue to try. To my mind, Microsoft stands for enterprise and productivity software and it is this that has characterised the company from the beginning. 

When I bought an iPad one of my first regrets was that MS Office does not run on it. But I could not wait indefinitely for the Surface to release so I spent Rs.300 on a discounted Quick Office package from Google. It does not work perfectly, but it was available when I wanted it. That's where Microsoft lost  out on me. I would have paid a full price for a Power Point package then. This year, when they finally launched Office 365 for the iPad I was uninterested. I'm already invested in Office for the laptop and I do not want to add on a cloud solution. 

Enterprise is characterised by a slow pace of change, even in a small entrepreneurial set up like ours. I am unlikely to replace what I use overnight. This works in Microsoft's favor but it can also work against them. For instance, I notice that my colleagues and I have truly embraced Google Docs. Google has upgraded it to the extent that it has become a powerful tool, which we often use in preference to Excel. Office 365 has introduced a lot of these features but somehow, we grew used to Google Docs first. 

This brings me to the point of this blog post. The one reason that keeps me as a Microsoft user is the productivity tools - Office, Outlook, Skype and Windows OS itself, which runs almost every software on the planet. I can casually change from an Android phone to an iPhone or a Sailfish but I will never ever lightly take a decision to change my laptop operating system.

What I would like, is for Microsoft to realise my need and focus on addressing it. Make the most awesome productivity software. Make it available on every mobile device and operating system. Make it very hard for me to switch. Focus on two segments - a home enertainment segment (where the XBox is the central hardware device) and the office segment (where, despite shrinking sales, the laptop is still the central hardware device). This leaves me wondering, does Microsoft really need to focus on mobile and the Windows 8 mobile OS? After watching them for years and seeing the vast gap that still exists vis-a-vis Android and iOS, I would say no. 

I am unlikely to buy a Surface. I am unlikely to give up on MS Office. Microsoft, the rest is up to you - and the writing is very much on the wall.