Dear Microsoft: you’re in trouble


Dear Microsoft. I like you. Despite having not liked you throughout my twenties, I am now older and more mature. I realize that ‘cool’ companies like Apple are just as bad as you ever were in the height of your stranglehold on the computing world, but they annoy me more because they pretend to be so fashionable and trendy. I like you more than Google, the giant corporation who doesn’t give a crap about the little guy, and who in the name of combating ‘web spam’ subjects the internet to algorithm changes that are much like chemotherapy, destroying honest sites like mine in the process (a site that took me seven years of my life to build).

But the reason I like you the most is that I own a house in Seattle, and many people I know there work for you, and because you are part of the local economy, and I like that local economy. I know that you give smart geeky guys the chance to work on projects that interest them (because I know some of these people), and you even let them easily move from one team to another almost at will rather than let go of them.

I also know that there’s a lot of brilliant, quiet innovation over there on the east side that somehow doesn’t seem to be altering your fortunes. Perhaps it’s the curse of having too much cash at hand? If so, you may not have this problem for very much longer.

A-letter-to-Microsoft-8So let’s get down to business.

Here’s the problem: if you’re not careful, the laptops of the future will run Android, and that future seems very close. I am sure you are feeling good about the modest success you have had with Windows Phone 8 this year, and it’s faster growth rate than Android. But you’re at 5.6% market share (as of April 2013) and are (optimistically) projected to own a mere 12% of smartphone market share by 2017.

This is not a happy picture, and to make matters worse, the PC world is shrinking. Not only are both desktop and laptop sales declining, and with it the relevance and importance of the Windows operating system, but the cool, desirable touchscreen laptops that manufacturers will make may run Android (see HP’s latest experiment , and Intel’s latest Surface-like tablet/laptop demo, running Android).

You need to get into all-out PARANOID mode NOW

Something needs to be done fast. Here are two pieces of advice.

1. You need high end devices that geeks want

The Surface Pro is a great device, but grossly overpriced. Nokia Lumia is a great phone, but not as good as the hot, sleek Android offerings. One thing that both of these share (Surface and Lumia), is that I am going to buy neither.

What you need is high-spec coolness. What you need is a device like the HTC One running Windows 8 (preferably without an Android version), or a sleek, thin, high spec Lumia. You also need an exciting, thin, high spec phablet, preferably with a stylus. You need to have devices with flexible screens lined up.

But right now you need a flagship phone AND a flagship tablet. The Lumia 925 and 928 are steps on the right direction, but somehow fail to trump the new Android devices. My wife could buy a Lumia and be happy with it, but she won’t switch that easily. I would switch, but I want a large, high res screen, a lot of RAM, and clock speed to brag about. I also want very high form factor. Once I get a Windows phone, you have a pretty good chance of selling another one to my wife. That’s how she switched from iPhone to Android in the first place. After that you have a better chance with my mother and my mother in law, both of whom own iPads.

At home, we have an iPad, three early iPhones (which we no longer use), a Galaxy S3 for my wife and a Galaxy Note for me. We also have three high-spec Windows 7 laptops which may be our last. I am in the market for a new phone, but am waiting for the Galaxy Note 3, which I would buy today if it were out. If I didn’t want a phablet, I would buy the Galaxy S4 or the HTC One. Like most geeks, I always want high specs. Lumia isn’t even on my radar screen. You should get it on my radar screen, and the way to do so is through the combination of sleek design and High specs (high with a capital H).

Oh, and if you cannot get Nokia or others to produce the goods, you need to do it yourself. Tablets like the Acer Iconia are good, if overpriced, but somehow not the flagship you need. And you do need a flagship.

2. You need to price strategically, to gain market share

It’s the kind of advice that can get a marketing person fired, it’s a crap position to be in, and it’s playing with fire that can burn you and your licensees – but you have to compete on price right now and there’s no way around it. You have to do with Surface and other Windows 8 devices what you did with Xbox (and Sony did with PS3), and price it to move, at least for the time being. You’re competing with a $200 Google Nexus running Android that can do Skype, email, surf the internet, offers a great selection of games, and is a great ebook reader and all-around-device. And you need to do this quickly, because even Apple is rumored to be considering a cheaper iPad to compete in this space.

How do you get me to buy a Surface or Windows 8 phone when I have 7 devices at home in a bad economy where we don’t have money to go out half the time? You give me a deal (a good price + high specs + good design), so that I come home and announce my latest purchase to my wife, and then ask for her forgiveness rather than her permission.

Here’s a secret: I really wanted to buy a Surface, because I like to keep current with technology, because there was some excitement about it back then, and because I wanted to see how Windows is evolving. But then I was hit by the $1000/$900 price (for the models I would have bought), and $500 for the Windows RT version I didn’t want (which I also thought very expensive). More bad news: the prices are fully DOUBLE what they should have been, in my opinion. Not only did you lose a customer, but you lost many a potential posting I would have written about Windows 8 and Windows 8 apps had I bought one. You also lost time. Feel free to give me one for free, if you want to correct this 😉

I can imagine that Microsoft worries about pricing that would piss off it’s licensees such as Dell, HP, etc.; which is fair enough. But you should take drastic action to save yourself if you’re going to be able to help licensees (who anyway will all be selling Android laptops and devices tomorrow).

Thanks. I really wish Microsoft can survive, because of my Seattle bias, but also because in the troika that is Google/Apple/Microsoft, the latter seems frankly the least malevolent.

  • Wim de Lange

    Good message to Microsoft. But will they listen?

  • Sly

    Let’s just say that the harm that Microsoft could do … is already done…

  • Sledge Hammer

    First they need to make an OS which people want, not an OS where they have to tell people why they maybe want it.
    Windows 8 was at least as bad as Vista, but without a start button.
    Now they are trying to fix it again with Windows Blue.
    Instead of learning from the Vista/7 disaster, they made the same mistake again.
    Make features people want, not fancy squares and ribbons in a desktop OS.

    • They did go with features people want, want in a touchscreen OS anyway. Anytime there is a radical overhaul/redesign of any OS it’s going to have issues and things people don’t like. This is why MS’s Windows releases have always been love/hate.

    • Cerberus_tm

      I completely agree with this: if you change what people are used to and/or like, you’d better have a good reason AND give them the option to revert those changes. Why would my mother possibly want to learn an entirely new interface in Word? Even if the interface should be better (which I think it’s not), the very fact that it has changed is a huge disadvantage in itself. Somehow, many UI designers don’t get this, even though it should be more than obvious. I’m good with computers, but I refuse to learn the ribbon thing in the newer versions of Office, I’m sorry. I have no reason to.

  • Victor

    Great post and I fully agree. Hope they will listen and will be able to seriously hit Apple (evil in all its pores) and Google (just pretending not to be evil).

  • Arie Baan

    Well stated , Samer. They (Microsoft) probably won’t listen but at least they have been warned.
    Thanks, once again, for all the good work . Freewaregenius is a rock we can build on

  • Graham Anthony Rusk

    You’ve hit the nail on the head when you talk about price. I had a Windows Phone 7 device (Omnia 7) and absolutely loved it, however when I needed a new phone I ended up with an S3. Why? 2 reasons: 1 – price. I was looking at the Lumina 925 and I really, really liked it however I couldn’t get it on my network – I did look at switching but that would have meant more expensive phone calls to my main number (my wife) so it was a no go. 2 – The app ecosystem is atrocious. Most decent apps are way overpriced when compared to their Android and iOS counterparts and that’s if the app you want is available.

    As far as the surface goes, I’d absolutely love one. I think they look awesome and would love to have a tablet that uses the Windows OS. That being said I don’t think they helped themselves with WindowsRT. It was never explained enough to the lay person that normal windows apps won’t run on WindowsRT. Personally, the main reason why I would like one is the wealth of apps I’m comfortable with in the desktop environment that I’d love to use on a Tablet. So that means a Surface with Windows8Pro – even more expense. And the cost of them? Astronomical and prohibitive. So what have I got? An iPad2, which is now reaching the end of it’s life and a Nexus 7, which I love. Between this and my phone I’m now more used to using Android as a primary OS.

    Would I buy a laptop or computer with Android? I don’t know but I’m certainly more likely to now I’ve had extensive use of it. Use I would never have had if I could have afforded a Surface or a Windows Phone. M$ needs to realise that the more people get comfortable with alternative systems the less likely they are to go back to more expensive ones.

    • SamerKurdi

      I’m in the same boat, sort of. I am now very familiar with Android and would buy any Android laptop or device happily. But I do want a Surface 😉

  • Major Fubar

    Maybe Microsoft doesn’t have enough money to hire really smart people? 😉

  • An Android laptop is closer than you think

  • Microsoft might be moving into the wrong direction, but at least they are MOVING. That is more than I can say about Apple. How long are they having the same OS again that still pretty much looks and functions the same like it did over 10 years ago? (Apple fanboys will say that it’s so good, it doesn’t need change).

    • SamerKurdi

      I agree 100% Dario. Microsoft is moving. They’ve done some great work (with the WIndows phone 8 interface, even Lumia and Surface are great products) and I honestly hope their efforts pay out. I just feel like they should have pushed the devices further, made them the sexiest thing around, and gotten the pricing right.

      • Cerberus_tm

        Yeah, they should have moved further with their mobile devices, but not with desktop Windows: don’t fix what ain’t broken, because people *hate* having to learn yet another interface. At least I do.

  • Zam Matt

    Tell em like it is bro. POWER TO THE PEOPLE!

  • Stephen

    Hey Samer. Long time reader, but not much of a commenter here, Anyway I was wondering if (as a freeware aficionado) you would consider something like Ubuntu as your OS?

    I have read about people putting Ubuntu on Samsung Chromebooks and ending up with a very nicely priced and speedy ultrabook.

    • SamerKurdi

      @ Stephen: I totally can consider it. However, in practice I need to run, review, and write about software that has mass appeal, and don’t have the bandwidth to embrace Ubuntu.

  • webfork

    I think folks have a short memory when it comes to how bad Microsoft was. Internet Explorer 6, Vista machines made almost useless by lack of RAM, security holes, anti-competitive behavior, and throwing out any innovation that didn’t fit into windows + office matrix to name just a few. Meanwhile, Apple and Google both brought low power ARM processors to compete with Intel while standing up to the RIAA and MPAA, helping pull music and video into a digital age.

    You’re right that neither Google nor Apple have exactly pushed things in a particularly good direction, and I share your sentiment that Microsoft is definitely better in some areas. Ultimately, I think a balance of multiple companies is far better than one or two. I also agree that if Microsoft doesn’t make a very competent push into the new consumer space, they won’t even have a voice and that’s bad for everyone.

    Good article.

    • SamerKurdi

      Well, you know what they say about you not being the same person you were 10 or 20 years ago. I am not too troubled by the past, and like you I wish that MS can continue to be a player.

    • Bart

      Bullshit. IE6 was the best browser of its time. You don’t get a 90% market share without doing something right. IE6 won the browser wars and rightfully so. The main problem was that people KEPT using it despite being outdated. Hell, even Microsoft tried to kill it off. Can you really blame them?

      I’m not saying Microsoft hasn’t made mistakes. If you think Vista was shitty, you must have been lucky enough never to run Windows Millennium. But that doesn’t make Microsoft any better or worse than Google, Apple, Facebook or Adobe. Can’t really call those companies shining examples in “competitiveness”.

  • francoisdublin

    Microsoft needs APPS, not for Windows 8 (who cares?) but for Windows Phone 8. Their current offering is so poor, I would not be able to leave my android behind without missing all those wonderful little (and free) programs that do everything I need to do.

    • SamerKurdi

      The irony of ‘Windows’ not having enough programs to run.

    • Cerberus_tm

      How about if Microsoft made Windows phone compatible with regular Windows, somehow? I realise that this would break a lot of UIs, but I think something like that is the only thing that could help them get enough programs on their phones to compete with Android.

  • Underseer

    One of the first things Jobs did when he took over Apple again was to get rid of the licensees who were making Mac clones. This ensured that market share wasn’t being parasitised, even though technically some of the licensees were making machines superior (in performance anyway) to Apple’s – like the Genesis MP from DayStar.

    Obviously Microsoft’s relationship with its licensees is quite different, but it is something to consider, if MS decides to move closer to Apple’s business model. And of course it could backfire with the licensees taking even more away from MS by marketing alternative OS platforms to a client base with which they already have a significant foothold.

    Not to mention legal issues binding upon MS vis a vis its licence agreements of course. But desperation has a way of making the unthinkable, thinkable. ANd the licensees undoubtedly have no loyalty to MS when $ are involved.

    The truth is, MS has produced some great hardware technology, like the XBox. The problem isn’t whether MS can produce great hardware – it’s proven that – it’s the visionless morons like Ballmer at the executive level that need to go, and fast. MS shareholders need to act, now.

    • SamerKurdi

      I think the difference is that with MS, licensee revenue is a massive amount of money, whereas for Apple it wasn’t (and anyway Apple at the time was slowly imploding, so the licensees were more a distraction than anything else). I hope the licensees don’t prove out to be the heavy anchor that makes MS drown.

  • Toni

    One thing Microsoft hasn’t managed to do is make their brand get a sexy image again. The thing Apple did so well, at least under Steve Jobs. Their stuff has always been more expensive, and still everybody wants it. But Microsoft can’t loose it’s ‘bad guy’ image. So I think it isn’t just about the pricetag.

    The one mistake they made with Windows 8, methinks, is that they tried to make one operating system for both touch screen operated devices AND keyboard/mouse operated devices. The problem with Windows is that it needs always to be backwards compatible with former Windows versions, dragging along design mistakes way back to Windows 95. If Microsoft had made a seperate OS just for those mobile touchscreen devices, designed entirely from scratch, they would have overcome that problem and maybe, who knows, they would have kicked some ass again.

    • SamerKurdi

      Good points Toni. Interesting that the sexiness of the Apple brand seems to be waning right now somehow.

      My beef with Windows 8 is that it took away interface elements that people love, elements that actually work very well. I was left wondering: why not let the user customize the Windows 8 experience a bit more, so that we could have more of the traditional Windows experience on our non-touchscreen devices?

  • Dale, occasional commenter

    A friend and colleague came to me, last week, to point out that TechEd attendees would be given the opportunity to buy a Surface for $99 and a Surface Pro for $399. I thought he was pointing out that they were still overpriced (at more than half off). Today he returned with the Pro, to show it off. It seemed unnecessarily complicated, compared to my iPad 3 (I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t like the limitations of the iOS). My 7 year old understands her iPad and loves to Facetime when her mother or I are out of town. I think you are right on about price, if M$ ever wants enough market share to make up the losses in volume. It seems like they are designing for hipsters (according to their ads) and former Blackberry users that aren’t allowed to switch their corporate phones to iPhone or Android, by their enterprise-licensed IT departments. Unless M$ convinces me a Surface isn’t a total waste of my time, my kid will still use our iPads, iPhones, and potentially a hacked TouchPad. Surface isn’t even a consideration, at this point, because it isn’t a competitor.

  • SAMER WROTE: You need to get into all-out PARANOID mode NOW

    MY RESPONSE: Ohgod, no! Not “all-out PARANOID mode.” Microsoft ALREADY operates pursuant to questionable thinking practices. With real adrenaline flowing through its veins, it might start making REAL mistakes! Instead, we just want the behemoth Microsoft to accurately assess the lay of the land, and to stop thinking that it controls everything; to stop thinking, for example, that the problem with Win8 is that users just don’t get it; that it’s a failure of Microsoft to educate the masses. That’s what the Roman Catholic Church thinks is the problem with anyone who doesn’t embrace its thinking, lock, stock and barrel.

    I pretty much agree with the rest of what you wrote.

    That HP Slatebook x2’s kinda cool, though, eh?

    Gregg L. DesElms
    Napa, California USA
    gregg at greggdeselms dot com

    • Cerberus_tm

      I agree. If people don’t want to learn a new interface every couple of years, Microsoft should accept that fact and work with it, rather than staunchly ignore it, as with the silly ribbon and with Windows 8.

  • chaoscreater

    These points don’t stand out at all, in fact I think they’re so insignificant that they should be non-existent in the first place. The fact that Microsoft isn’t doing so well with Windows 8 or Windows Phone 8 is the fact that almost nobody likes the new redesign/change. Just look at the amount of complaints there are about the lack of Start Menu on Windows 8, that’s enough to put off a lot of people by itself. Windows 8 isn’t bad, but it isn’t that good either. So unless they improve it, it’s not gonna drive sales, regardless of the “high tech” stuff.

    Now, as for Windows Phone 8, don’t get me started on it. It’s doing crap and it’ll never get better. It’s not about high techs, it’s about the apps and the app market. The reason why iOS devices sell well is because of how well integrated its app store is. There’s a reason why tons of developers choose iOS over android. So despite the higher market share that Android has over iOS as of now, tons of people will still use iDevices coz of the better and richer apps available for that platform. Now if you look at Windows Phone, what apps out there? Barely any decent ones. In the end, the lack of apps available will just drive people away from using it.

    • SamerKurdi

      The idea is that they should enlist geeks as advocates, and use them to pivot to the general public. Also, that geeks are both spec and price conscious. They should have made the most desirable phone on the market, targeted at geeks (e.g. an HTC one style Windows phone), and a lower spec one or two targeted towards the mass market. They did the latter but not the former.

      I personally think they did a great job with the Windows 8 Phone interface. In fact, better than I would have expected. Windows 8 on the desktop is another story. They should have made it easily possible to have the same Windows 7 experience more or less. They made a mistake, but it’s fixable (or at least we hope they will act to fix it)..

      I don’t think the apps are an issue. When I convinced my wife to buy a Galaxy S3 instead of the iPhone 5, she was worried about apps also, but not any more. The apps will come to any platform once there’s a user base. Microsoft will expedite the process and you’ll have more apps.

      Suffice it to say if Apple thinks it can retain users because they have the biggest app market, they’re going to be disappointed.

      • chaoscreater

        There’s a reason why manufacturers don’t bother making great Windows 8 phones. There’s also a reason why it’s not doing well, with such a tiny market share. Windows Phone 7 was released in October 2010, almost 3 years ago, and look at where it is now, just the same thing but slightly improved and upgraded so called “Windows Phone 8”. Even this “upgrade” pissed off tons of Windows Phone 7 or 7.5 owners. You can go ask the majority on this.

        The truth of the matter remains (there’re tons of articles out there) that developers prefer the iOS ecosystem than Android. Sure, Android is catching up on apps and that’s great (since I use a HTC Sensation XE with custom roms) but the amount of top quality apps available on iOS are just much more superior than Android. For example, Bastion, The World Ends with You, Infinity Blade etc. Those are exclusive only to iOS, and even the non-exclusive games or apps usually take ages, around 6 months to 1 year to be ported to Android (e.g. Flipboard, Chaos Rings etc).

        Your wife probably use a very small amount of apps, so she’s not affected. But my point is, it’s not all about the high end specs that attracts consumers. A good example is games, it’s not all about the graphics. For most people, it’s about the storyline or gameplay. For a game console, it’s not always about how powerful it is, but about the software and games that are supported on it. If there’re no great games for the console, there’s no point in buying it because there’s nothing to play.

        iOS devices aren’t as powerful as Android devices nowdays, in fact I hate the fact that they always get incremental upgrades, it makes waiting for a full year seem pointless. But still, their sales volume speak otherwise. People buy into iDevices for their ecosystem, not necessarily for the hardware.

        So yes, there’s a reason why tons of people spend crazy amount of money buying Apple products. And that’s not going away anytime soon. Remember, Apple is but one company. Android consists of many manufacturers, so it’s not surprising that it’s finally taken over the upper half of the market share.

        Now back to the main point. You don’t see people talking or caring much about Windows Phone 8, and you almost certainly don’t see people debating about Android vs iOS. Why? Because nobody cares about it. It’s not that their high end devices suck or anything, but rather it’s exactly what my point was saying. It has no apps to attract users. Do some research on this and you’ll find this a common complaint that most people have.

        And no, it’s not gonna get any better. Windows Phone series (7~7.5~8) has been in the market for a total of 3 years, yet there aren’t enough apps to attract consumers, so what makes you think developers will create more apps for it anytime soon?

        • SamerKurdi

          I see your point. What I will agree on is that there is a critical mass of apps that has to be there that *perhaps* Windows phone hasn’t reached yet. But while developers may prefer iOS, I don’t think that bears much on users. I had hundreds of dollars worth of apps purchased on iOS, but haven’t looked back once after switching to Android. There may not be an Infinity Blade on Android for example, there’s plenty to keep me occupied (including this free Infinity Blade clone which is quite good).

  • Lamont Briggs

    I can’t imagine Microsoft really being in that much trouble. Things change so quickly in the tech world that a bad product won’t necessarily break a company, especially one as big as Microsoft. Not to say they shouldn’t get their sh*t together and try to appeal to the majority again, but all out paranoid mode seems unnecessary. Of course all this said, I don’t use IE, have a windows phone, or get into windows 8 at all. But I do like windows 7 (and I was a huge fan of XP–just worked really well!) I’m the kind of person that wants useful equipment. I use the torch browser because they were smart enough to include a media grabber and torrent client directly into the browser. Perhaps Microsoft just needs to be more forward thinking and appeal to where we are today. I’m not that big of a tech nerd so maybe my opinion doesn’t matter so much, but as an average guy, I never hold a bad product against a company, I just wait for them to improve it!

  • Avi

    Try playing skyrim or call of duty 5 on any other OS and on the other hand running apps on windows is far better than running it on any handheld, idk about apple products because they are way too much costly. It’s just people with apple products will rectify by saying it has the best hardware and all that stuff. I like windows because of its flaws, as users have to do something in order for applications to work on Windows PC.