Foley on Microsoft

Is Microsoft Too Old for Web 2.0?

As Microsoft gets older, can the company continue to create products that younger users want to buy?

When I first started writing about technology in 1983 -- yes, I was a prodigy -- there weren't a lot of women tech reporters. And yes, I was asked more than once while waiting to interview an exec to "go get coffee before the reporter shows up."

"I am that reporter," I told a few red-faced folks who didn't think a woman was ready, willing or able to write about operating systems.

But any sexism I've encountered over the years has now been more than surpassed by the ageism I encounter as I continue to cover Microsoft. I'm talking about comments like, "Go sit in your rocker and stop writing about tech, Grandma!" It's the kind of stuff that seems to be hurled primarily -- though not exclusively -- by Mac fanboys, many of whom take offense at anyone who dares question Apple.

This isn't a column about ageism, per se. It's a column about age and whether Microsoft -- a company run by people in their forties and older -- can make products and services that younger-generation users want to buy. With Microsoft stepping up its forays into the consumer market with Windows 7, Windows Mobile, Zune, Xbox, Windows Live, Bing and more, the question is more pertinent than ever.

I've noticed on various blogs and forums recently that there are more and more age-specific criticisms levied against Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer (who is 52), Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie (54), Microsoft Business Division President Stephen Elop (45), Microsoft Entertainment and Devices Division President Robbie Bach (47) and others.

Does Bach really use a QWERTY-keyboard smartphone? Yes, though he also has an all-touch phone too, he said recently. Does Ballmer understand why the rumored Microsoft Courier Tablet PC will be the hottest PC on the planet? Well, Ballmer said in late October he hadn't seen the Courier videos, so he couldn't say much about it.

Does Elop understand why Office is a sitting duck, with users now expecting free or cheap productivity services to be accessible from anywhere? For the answer to this, see Office Web Apps, which is due in mid-2010, for Microsoft's first step in reacting to Google Docs and other Web 2.0 productivity contenders.

Microsoft has a bunch of incubation teams focused on products to appeal to generations X, Y and Z. The Pink phones -- which may never come to market, according to some recent tips -- were designed for teens and twentysomethings. Microsoft's recruiters are still going after young talent. Some teams -- Windows Live comes to mind -- are packed with younger employees who for sure weren't in Redmond during the Department of Justice's antitrust days.

However, none of this guarantees that Microsoft's products will win over the new generation of consumers and IT pros looking for gadgets, PCs, and software and services.

Maybe Microsoft should field two distinct lines of products: one for the Web 2.0 set that thinks that FourSquare is more important than SharePoint, and one for folks who still see an appeal for a dedicated e-reader or a multimedia player not integrated into a smartphone. A blogging colleague of mine recently said that Amazon's Kindles are for "old folks" and twentysomethings aren't into reading books -- and definitely not e-books.

How can Microsoft create products that appeal to the next generation while not alienating customers? Write me and let me know what you think.



About the Author

Mary Jo Foley is editor of the ZDNet "All About Microsoft" blog and has been covering Microsoft for about two decades. She has a new book out, Microsoft 2.0 (John Wiley & Sons, May 2008), about what's next for Microsoft in the post-Gates era.

comments powered by Disqus

Reader Comments:

Fri, Feb 5, 2010 kaol

I'd say that Too Old and Too Big are fighting a battle to see which one gets to shrink Microsot into a Mini-Me. Of course Steve Jobs is Too Old as well, and look what he's doing.

Thu, Dec 31, 2009 CT US

So many times we hear this banal, hackneyed, lame-ass idea bantered around - "These old timers don't get it!" Yes, a 25-year-old ADD-addled dork in some tiny little freetard bubble twittering recycled, misspelt trash to his echo chamber 'network' somehow has his pulse on the 250 other FourSquare users and is going to rise above the 3 billion Windows users and take the world by storm. Balls. What about Steve Jobs? He's old. He still has some ideas. I expect more from Mary Jo Foley than this stupid prattle.

Wed, Dec 30, 2009 EVVJSK

Seems to me that Microsoft is in serious danger of letting mobile pass it by. It struggles to develop Web 2.0 functionality and web server based application, instead it holds onto local processing with a death grip. For example Silverlight for Mobile is still non-existent and when it does FINALLY come out, it will most likely be V2.0 compliant (not V3.0) compliant. Microsoft has been missing the boat and it will most likely on get worse as the markets that are likely to increase the fastest (China and India both with populations over a Billion people) will be expecting mobile apps as opposed to large boxes of Windows, Office, and other older MS applications.

Sun, Dec 13, 2009 PG

Mary, I'm 45 and I 1. Would love to get a Tablet PC when I can afford one 2. Use Google docs extensively for creating, storing and sharing documents 3. Use a HTC Fuze for as many things as I can including the Google docs above, email, weather, FM Radio, Pandora, streaming etc. and of course, talking to people 4. Do read books, but wouldn't probably buy a Kindle. Where does that put me? I don't think all the 40 something and above are in the "oldish" category tech wise. I do agree with GABIMB above, it takes experience to make a good product. The only thing that prevents "older" people from going in a new direction is inertia, nothing more.

Tue, Dec 8, 2009 Claudia

If young people aren't into reading books, why are the young adult and new adult market segments the hottest ones in publishing?

Sun, Dec 6, 2009 Insider Redmond

Seems to me that the issue is not one of age but of lack of leadership from the top. Leadership requires a certain amount of vision or at least listening to those with vision. And listening is a skill that is sorely missing at Microsoft these days.

Wed, Dec 2, 2009 gabimb USA

CORRECTION: Mary Jo Foley, for Microsoft to make a good product for the young ones to like, the company can easily hire more young people. Because Google is making product for what young people like, are you saying that they have people in their 30's as their CEO or product managers? You may not have read or known about Ray Ozzie, other than his age. While younger ones might be creative, it takes older people to make things actually work, most of the time. Of all the big corporation on earth, how many of their CEOs are in their 30's or 20's?

Wed, Dec 2, 2009 gabimb USA

Mary Jo Foley, for Microsoft to make a good product for the young ones to like, the company can easily hire more young people. Because Google is making product for what young people like, are you saying that they have people in their 30's as their CEO or product managers? You may not have read or known about Ray Ozzie, other than his age. While younger ones might be creative, it takes older people to make things actually work, most of the time. Of all the big corporation on earth, how many of them are in their 30's or 20's?

Add Your Comment Now:

Your Name:(optional)
Your Email:(optional)
Your Location:(optional)
Comment:
Please type the letters/numbers you see above

Redmond Tech Watch

Sign up for our newsletter.

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.