Foley on Microsoft

Wake Up, Microsoft! Consumers Aren't Going To Wait for You...

Mary-Jo Foley calls to task those at Microsoft who still don't get that the company's slow roll-out pace for its consumer offerings, like WP7 OS updates and Windows tablets, will eventually leave it out of the race entirely.

People often ask me what I consider to be the greatest weakness of Microsoft. My answers have varied over the years, but in 2011 I'd say that it's Redmond's lack of agility.

In the enterprise, cranking out new products and services at a breakneck pace isn't a top priority. Based on conversations I've had with some IT professionals, a new OS release every 2.5 years is possibly even a little too rapid-fire for business users' tastes.

But in the consumer world, where Microsoft is increasingly fielding new products and services, patience isn't a virtue. In fact, patience is disappearing as quickly as new Android phones and tablets are multiplying.

Alarmingly, Microsoft execs seem unfazed by this. They genuinely seem to believe that it's not a problem that the company and its partners won't have a real answer to the Apple iPad until 2012. They appear to feel that consumers are fine with waiting five months for the first updates to the Windows Phone 7 OS. And they really do seem OK with the every-three-years update schedule that has become the rollout timetable for most of the Windows Live services.

For a while, I thought Microsoft execs were simply putting on a brave face when they claimed they weren't worried about their ability to match the rollout pace of Apple, Google or Facebook.

"The tablet market is in its infancy," I've heard from more than one 'Softie. "We won't be too late if our first credible competitor hits around holiday 2012."

"Patience, grasshopper," I've been told repeatedly, when asking why Microsoft officials are unconcerned that five months after the Windows Phone 7 launch, many customers in the United States can't buy Windows Phone 7 because Sprint and Verizon are just now getting around to rolling out code division multiple access (CDMA)-capable devices. (So much for the ballyhooed handset choice that Microsoft keeps trumpeting as a major advantage over the iPhone.)

Lately, however, I've come to the conclusion that the 'Softies aren't pretending. Many actually do think that it's OK it's taking Microsoft two to three times as long to deliver new updates as its consumer-centric adversaries. Even though these Redmond employees are big on touting the changes wrought by the "consumerization of IT," they aren't backing up their rhetoric with delivery schedules reflecting the new reality.

I understand that it takes a lot more time, effort and care to upgrade billions of users than it does to update thousands of users. But if Microsoft really intends to play in the tablet, Web services, smartphone, Internet Protocol television (IPTV), and social networking and gaming markets, it needs to find a way to get the lead out.

There are a few glimmers of hope. The Hotmail team does seem to be making incremental, regular improvements to its service outside of the "waves" imposed on the rest of the Windows Live team. The Kinect team appears to understand that the time for delivering more Kinect-enabled games and tools for those interested in creating Kinect-aware applications is right now, while the platform is hot. And the Internet Explorer team seems, at long last, to have decided that it's safe to decouple itself from the rest of the Windows group and deliver new versions a year before the next release of Windows is ready to roll.

But there are other signs the 'Softies are living in the past, stuck in a time when monopoly power gave Microsoft a lot of wiggle room. Why did it take the Windows Live team so long to deliver its Wave 4 updates? Why do Windows Phone 7 users have to wait a year after the first Windows Phone 7 launch to get third-party application multitasking?

Microsoft is increasingly relying on telemetry data -- as opposed to live feedback from millions of beta testers -- to shape its products. That should, at least in theory, speed up the development-test cycle. So what's the holdup, Redmond? It's time to put the pedal to the metal.

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's the author of "Microsoft 2.0" (John Wiley & Sons, 2008), which examines what's next for Microsoft in the post-Gates era.


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