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Good Advice for Microsoft: Stop Trying To Be Cool

Microsoft is a lot of things to a lot of people: a moneymaker for partners, a blessing and a headache at the same time for users, an easy target for competitors and antitrust types, and something of an enigma -- of late, anyway -- for investors. But what Microsoft is not, and never will be, is cool.

We don't claim here at RCPU to be the arbiters of cool. Far from it, actually. But like anybody else, we know cool when we see it. And we don't see it in Redmond. We see wealthy, highly profitable, astute, capable, extremely tenacious, energetic and sometimes even innovative -- but not cool. If anything, the now-famous Mac Guy-PC Guy commercials that Apple has been running sum up pretty well the public image Microsoft has developed for itself -- nerdy, uptight and, these days, a bit bloated.

It's disturbing, then, to see Microsoft trying to be cool. The Zune is an embarrassment juxtaposed to the iPod, for instance, at the very least in terms of coolness, if not in a lot of other ways. And just when Microsoft looked to be on the brink of being cool with the Xbox video game system, disaster struck (as it always does for the faux cool) to the tune of more than $1 billion lost (or, as Redmond might say, "set aside") to extending the ill-fated -- and, apparently, ill-performing -- system's warranty protection.

That's why we were struck this week by an article that originated in the Denver Post and featured Michael Gartenberg (of all people) telling Microsoft to cool it with trying to be cool. Rarely have we heard wiser words.

For instance, take Vista -- an operating system that many have said fits Microsoft's requirements better than those of the users. If anything, the lukewarm (and that's being kind) reception to Vista should serve as a reminder to the software giant that Microsoft might want to start getting back to its geeky roots and stop trying to be everything to everybody. It should especially stop trying to be cool, with video game consoles, portable music players and the like.

With the coming mini-revolution of hosted applications, the promising future of Microsoft Dynamics and the increasingly real threat of open source software in the enterprise, there's plenty of money to be made -- and competition to be fought -- among the glasses-and-pocket-protector set that Microsoft has ruled for so long. Redmond needs to embrace its nerdy roots and focus more sharply on the markets that enrich it and its partners. After all, it's still better to be rich than to be cool.

Is Microsoft spreading itself too thin and losing its focus on its core products? Tell me at lpender@rcpmag.com.

Posted by Lee Pender on 07/12/2007 at 1:21 PM


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