Letters to Redmond
Reader Letters January 2013
In her December 2012 column ("The Next Big Thing for Microsoft"), Mary Jo Foley wrote about "the new Office" -- new versions of the Microsoft productivity suite that are subscription- and cloud-based. A reader reacts to this vision of Microsoft's future.
I really don't get the push to the Microsoft cloud. Sure, there's a market there -- a huge one -- but when Microsoft starts competing with itself and taking away from its best parts, it just doesn't seem right.
Office and Exchange are the specific pieces I question in this all-or-nothing cloud push. Office has been pretty standard in offices around the world. Exchange Server is pretty much the undisputed king of the corporate e-mail universe. The huge Office 365 push will take away from that -- and it already has where I am. Microsoft reps have pushed 365 so hard that my company is actually taking down Exchange and Office on-premises.
And what if Microsoft is successful at pulling people to the cloud? While Gmail is no threat to corporate Exchange on-premises, I think it will be a threat to hosted Exchange. Google Apps isn't a real competitor to Office on-premises, but in the cloud it could be a much more level playing field.
Microsoft is pushing existing, loyal, unquestioning customers to change from what they've automatically done for years to something unknown. And once in the unknown, Microsoft isn't king, as it always has been. Google has demonstrated an ability to compete with anyone on the Internet -- it's Google's realm.
Consumers vs. Enterprises
In his December 2012 column, "Ballmer's Apple Envy," Editor in Chief Doug Barney wrote about recent Microsoft efforts to move to the cloud, and replicate the success of consumer Apple products that "just plain work." Barney asked readers: "What do you think about Surface? Does Microsoft have a compelling cloud story?"
I agree that Microsoft is going to some interesting places with this new approach. But the needs of consumers are radically different than the needs of the enterprise. The enterprise needs a robust OS that's generally hardware-agnostic. The enterprise also needs a variety of hardware options from competing vendors. This model works for Microsoft as long as the enterprise has a predictable hardware lifecycle. As the market becomes saturated and demand is met, it becomes harder to sustain growth.
Consumer needs are quite different. Simplicity is the mantra. The ecosystem is the key to that simplicity. Apple built its ecosystem on the iPod/iTunes model. Amazon created an ecosystem to support the Kindle e-book reader based on its roots as an online bookseller. The more robust the ecosystem,the more successful the competitor.
Microsoft came late to the party, but it has had remarkable success with Xbox and Windows Live. Combined, these services endow the Windows 8/Windows RT ecosystem with great potential.
The important point is that, while maintaining its historical business model, Microsoft is -- for the first time -- targeting consumers directly. These are not traditional Windows notebook buyers. Many are new consumers, and they're buying tablets. Some need only limited services. For them, the Surface with Windows RT offers them a superior choice to the iPad because it retains Windows compatibility. For others, the Surface with Windows 8 Pro offers "the best of all possible worlds" -- portability in a remarkably mobile, fully Windows 7- compatible platform.
By ignoring the very different needs of Microsoft's two types of customers, the pundits are unnecessarily creating fear, uncertainty and doubt.
Also, far too much emphasis is being placed on enterprise adoption of Windows 8. In my mind, it's not nearly as important for Windows 8/Windows RT to be adopted in the enterprise as it is to win back the hearts and minds of consumers considering buying iPads and getting them to buy a Surface instead.
C. Marc Wagner
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