[Disclosure: Microsoft is a client of the author.]
I’m reading a great book named The Darkest Eyes by Mick Brady. In it the female protagonist goes through a rift to enter an alternate reality to Atlantis and fight little green aliens. Pretty out there, I know…but yesterday when Microsoft told me they were moving to Chromium with Edge I thought I’d hit my head with the Crystal Skull from the story and either ended up in an alternative reality or had completely separated from reality (I’m pretty sure my wife would claim the latter).
But what I, and likely you, don’t realize is that despite the national trends on the world stage, the tech market is now defined by companies that both license their technology and license technology to others, avoiding the plague of the failed lock-in strategies of the past. This allows them to focus on customer satisfaction as the goal rather than the more common efforts to trick customers out of their hard-earned cash for upgrades they don’t need or want (yes, the lack of a headphone jack is an upgrade).
This move is not only good for users, it showcases both a new Microsoft and a new, more successful tech industry approach to success for everyone.
Microsoft’s past lessons
If we to go back a decade, the Microsoft of that era run by my old friend Steve Ballmer would have done what they did with Zune. Once they realized Google was in the lead, they would have spent unbelievable amounts of money trying to break the Chrome browser that had become more popular, trying to damage Google, and trying to lock people onto their IE and Edge platforms. They’d believe this would work because they believed it worked against IBM and Netscape…and they would have failed much like they did with Zune with the same strategy. [Disclosure: IBM is a client of the author.]
The reason is because their perception of why they won previously is ‘fake news.’ They beat IBM because IBM had to license OS/2 from Microsoft and didn’t understand that other computer firms wouldn’t buy a branded product from them (Token Ring failed for the same reason). And Microsoft knew more about OS/2’s weaknesses, since they basically wrote it, than IBM did. Netscape lost because the firm was run by borderline insane people. They should have evolved into Yahoo, Google or Facebook—all of whom were closer to the firm’s core competencies. Instead, they were distracted by massive instant wealth, and focused on building a better Microsoft. This last still goes down in history as being one of the most colossally stupid things I’ve ever seen a company do—and this is on top of their decision to signal they planned to take the one product that made them money (the Netscape browser) and give it away for free. It was like watching adults run blindfold with poisoned scissors.
Zune vs. Azure
Both Zune and Azure entered the market late. Zune lost against the iPod because Microsoft focused on Apple and not the customer…and then failed to execute. So, Microsoft brought to market a product that could do video and share files, neither of which the iPod could do, but that was so badly crippled that these two functions didn’t, well, function. You couldn’t get video content on the device and the only way you could share was if the person you shared with had both a Zune and a music subscription. It was dead on arrival.
Azure, on the other hand, runs against AWS. Microsoft doesn’t focus on Amazon, they focus on what customers want, they execute sharply, and the end result is that Azure is a huge success. AWS may be kicking everyone else’s butt, but they aren’t kicking Microsoft’s as they’re giving as good, or better, then it gets.
This takes us to Chromium. Spending billions creating an alternative platform to what people are already using for a product you give away for free makes no sense. It would piss off users due to incompatibilities, but if the product is free you can’t recover your cost, and you spend all your effort fighting Google and compatibility issues and not differentiating. You couldn’t burn money as fast as you’d waste it.
By licensing Chromium, it focuses both Microsoft and Google on competing on unique benefits like performance, security and ease of use rather than compatibility. This is good for both firms because the fall of IE showcases what happens when a company with a free product reaches absolute dominance—they stop spending on the product. This not only makes for a better Edge, it will make for a better Chrome…and give users a choice of two products that are improving against the changing needs of the user rather than the alternative. That alternative is two companies each trying to break each other’s offering and collectively pissing off these same users.
The new user focus
Changing the strategy from one that pits vendor against vendor in a last-person-standing fight with users as the cannon fodder to an approach that treats users as the prize (with a focus on which firm can make the user happier) isn’t just happening at Microsoft and Google. This approach is at the heart of efforts like open source, IBM’s Open Power, ARM and like-minded efforts that are driving the next wave of standards and advancements into the industry.
We, as users, should be much happier. Vendors that instead use lock-in (Apple, Oracle, cable and cellular companies) all seem to be vulnerable to this approach, too. If you give users choice, you’re forced to focus on giving them the best choice, rather than mining them for money because they can’t walk away from you. This new user focus will result in better products, more responsive vendors and, I think, a far more pleasant technology market. I applaud both Microsoft and Google for this move and look forward to a time when the firms work even more closely together to create a better technology world for all of us.
This isn’t the Microsoft we used to hate, this is a new Microsoft…and I’m very pleased to be here to witness its rebirth.
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