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Microsoft’s digital dilemma

Wednesday, 20 August 2008 — by

Like most other major multinational companies, Microsoft is comprised of some exceptionally smart people. However, sprawling strategies and conflicting interdepartmental agendas have the unerring ability to undermine the best intentions of said smart folk — and Microsoft are by no means an exception…

Case in point being Microsoft’s Live Mesh, which looks to be a fabulous idea:

“Live Mesh is a true platform, whose scope extends well beyond MobileMe. Yet Apple’s marketing message is so close to Microsoft’s that most users will not see that difference.”

Who’d have imagined Apple going toe-to-two with Microsoft when it comes to the might of marketing, eh? But that they have. Thing is, MobileMe isn’t having a particularly good time right now. Plus, as a service and as a strategy, MobileMe doesn’t really stand up to Mesh.

Personally, I really like the idea of Microsoft Mesh, which is something I’ve discussed before, albeit briefly. In our interconnected world, Live Mesh is the tonic to the connectivity headache we all seem to be suffering from.

But for all its promise, Microsoft do what they nearly always do and massively over-complicate things:

“Now, Live Mesh is great for file synch, but how do I synch email with it? Where is the Live Mesh calendar? Ah no, for that you need Live Mail … Maybe you are meant to use Active Sync; but that won’t deliver push synchronization. And how about integrating your Windows Live Calendar with Outlook? There’s a connector but it’s for paid subscribers only.”

You get the idea, right? Contrast that with Apple’s MobileMe, and it’s like night & day. Live Mesh and all of its attendant applications and services is what happens when choice and business models collide.

That said, I know a few people using Live Mesh and loving the experience. The fundamental difference between Live Mesh and MobileMe is one of scale; the former is much, much more inclusive of different types of people and their specific needs, part of which being the reason it’s so bloody complicated!

I didn’t buy an iPhone. Instead, a few weeks ago, I bought an iPod Touch. As of the following Saturday morning, after endless attempts to purchase the iPhone / iPod Touch software upgrade, I eventually succeeded.

When home entertainment becomes a joke

Underlying all of this is Microsoft’s attempt to replicate their way of doing things onto any new market they enter; develop software, provide developers tools, open the whole lot up to hardware suppliers and then license.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? In practice, it’s not working. Of course, it’s still working fine for the computer market, as it has for nearly 20 years. But it’s a business model that refuses to be cloned for the purposes of consumer entertainment.

Don’t believe me? Just ask Microsoft! Such is the lack of trust in their own business model, they’re making their own Xbox games consoles, rather than using their hardware partners. Ditto for their Zune music player.

As the combined patience of the owners of the various media players wore thin due to hardware & software incompatibilities, Microsoft’s blood ran cold. They knew they had to act, and that meant doing an Apple and going it alone. Then came the Zune — wash, rinse, repeat.

As for the Xbox, it’s just recall after recall, on top of which, random hardware failures, like the one that did for my nephews Xbox the day we flew out for our summer holiday — just as we were discussing how several other people had seen their Xbox die of a random hardware failure. The irony was laughable — for everyone except Jack, my nephew, owner of said dead games console!

And still both the Zune and the Xbox (though in fairness, to a much lesser extent) are foundering. It’s hard to see what else Microsoft want. Their main rival Sony is currently sat in the corner of a dark room foaming at the mouth, experiencing something of a total brain fart, losing the plot on a company-wide scale.

Conversely, what was once killing Apple is now the reason they’re succeeding. The original Mac was all about appliance reliability. We’re still some way off, but what Apple have created is a tightly integrated hardware & software environment that just works the way you’d expect it to work, albeit with the notable exception of the recent iPhone 2.0 update and MobileMe.

The whole choice pendulum has swung the other way, it would seem. For the most part, people don’t care what the box under / on the desk does so long as it just works.

Contrast that with the early days in computing, when the people buying computers were far more technically literate than they are today. And they had to be, too! People now want appliance-like simplicity and performance. We buy little black / white / beige boxes, not knowing the first thing about what magic they perform inside.

Some might call that a tragic passing, I say it’s the very reason Apple have come into their own this past five years.

There’s a lesson to be learned, here; when it comes to playing music and playing games, playing to your strengths isn’t always to route one to success…

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Comment and be known

dstt spellen → Friday, 22 August 2008 @ 13:23 BDT

They should take Google as an example. Those employees get free time to express their “geniunicity”.

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