4 Facts; 3 Acts; 1 Microsoft Mission

If you know the enemy and know yourself,
 you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.

If you know yourself but not the enemy, 
for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat.

If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, 
you will succumb in every battle.

~ Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Today’s Microsoft knows neither itself nor its enemy. The first thing Microsoft needs to do is to acknowledge and accept four facts. Then they need take three actions. Then they need to more forward with one mission, with one objective, as one Microsoft.

Chaos concept.

FACT #1: The Mobile Wars Are Over And Microsoft Has Lost

If I were running Apple, I would milk the Macintosh for all it’s worth and get busy on the next great thing. The PC wars are over. Done. Microsoft won a long time ago. ~ Steve Jobs [Observation when running Pixar]

Good advice from a deceased arch-rival.

If I were running Microsoft, I would milk Windows and Office for all they are worth and get busy on the “next great thing*. (*Hint: Neither Windows Phone 8, nor the Surface, nor the current bastardized version of the Windows 8 operating system is the next great thing.)

The mobile wars are over. Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android have won. Windows Phone 8 has lost.

Let me illustrate this fact with a riddle:

Q: If it took two pigs six hours to eat the apples in the orchard, how many hours would it take three pigs?

A: None, because the two pigs have already eaten them all.

There are no more apples left for the third pig and there is no more meaningful smartphone share left for Microsoft either.


Microsoft needs to acknowledge this reality, and move on.

There is an immeasurable distance between late and too late. ~ Og Mandino

[pullquote]Never under-estimate our ability to ignore the obvious. ~ Po Bronson[/pullquote]

Microsoft is not late — or very late — or very, very late — to the smartphone and tablet party. They are too late.

Will it be painful to acknowledge this reality? Absolutely. The only thing more painful would be not acknowledging it. Until Microsoft cuts itself loose from the idea they can still win in mobile, their ship of state will be moored to the past. Mobile is a battle Microsoft cannot win and — just as importantly — it is a battle they cannot afford to fight.

Four things come not back: the spoken word, the spent arrow, the past, the neglected opportunity. ~ Omar Ibn Al-Halif

FACT #2: Microsoft Windows Is A Legacy OS That Is Going To Become Less And Less Important With Time

Windows 8 is an aged battleship sinking rapidly and firing every available gun on her rescuers. ((With apologies to Alexander Woollcott))

The idea Windows is a legacy OS is, of course, a bitter pill for Microsoft to swallow. Windows has been their cash cow since at least 1995. However, it’s now isolated on notebooks and desktops and both are in permanent decline. And even in the Enterprise — Microsoft’s castle keep — Windows is no longer the platform of choice, with Enterprise users overwhelmingly preferring Macs.


Window 8 is an aberration. It is a failed attempt to extend the life of Windows by stretching it to cover tablets as well as notebooks and desktops. But that strategy has badly backfired as users flee the OS in droves. And Microsoft’s attempts to “fix” Windows 8 by returning it to its Windows 7 roots reminds me of a joke:

Moses trudges down from Mt. Sinai, tablets in hand, and announces to the assembled multitudes: “I’ve got good news and I’ve got bad news. The good news is I got Him down to ten. The bad news is ‘adultery’ is still in.

I’ve got good news and bad news for Microsoft. The good news is Windows 8 is becoming less and less like Windows 8. The bad news is the worst of Windows 8 — its dual operating system — is still in.

FACT #3: Microsoft Has No Business Being In The Hardware Business

In an exit interview, Steve Ballmer said one of his regrets was Microsoft didn’t move into hardware earlier.

Say what?

Hardware Is Abhorrent To Microsoft’s Existing Business Model

You can’t license your software to hardware manufacturers and then simultaneously sell competing hardware. This is not hard to understand, yet many, many people work very, very hard not to understand it.

Hardware Has No Margins

Why would Microsoft want to go INTO hardware when most everyone else is trying to get out? Only Samsung and Apple are making money in hardware and Apple is doing it via software integration and ecosystem added value. Samsung? Cracks are beginning to show in its business model. It’s possible they’re getting by with smoke and mirrors and the biggest advertising budget under the sun.

Hardware And Software Integration Is Not Microsoft’s Area Of Expertise And It Is Apple’s Area Of Expertise

As per yesterday’s article, if you’re going to fight, don’t do it where your opponent is strongest. Hardware/Software integration is Apple’s forte. It makes zero sense for Microsoft to challenge Apple at what Apple does best.

Hardware Is Being Used As A Crutch To Support The Fading Software Business

Microsoft is not going into hardware so much as they’re trying to prop up their old licensed software model. And that way lies madness. Let’s recap.

Mobile software moves on without Microsoft and desktop sales go into permanent decline. Microsoft responds by creating Windows Phone 8 and trying to stretch their Windows 8 operating system to work on both desktops and tablets. Both of these tactics fail miserably. Microsoft responds by buying Nokia and creating the Surface hybrid to boost software sales. This too fails miserably.

Which reminds me of a joke:

“Jenny!” called her mother, “Why are you feeding birdseed to the cat?”

“I have to,” Jenny replied. “That’s where my canary is.”

Selling hardware (at a loss) in order to save your licensed software business model is like feeding the cat birdseed. It’s not going to keep your bird, or your software licensing model, alive.

FACT #4: Microsoft Is A Business — Not A Consumer — Company

A zebra does not change its spots. ~ Al Gore

Microsoft is a great company. But they are a terrible consumer company. To deny it is to deny their very nature.

Look at their awkward advertising, their tone of fear marketing. They simply don’t know how the consumer ticks. That’s fine. Microsoft needs know itself and be true to itself. Until it does, it will continue to struggle, fighting battles it is ill-prepared to wage.

Chaos concept.

ACTION #1: Accept That The Past Is Over

It is hard to get to the summit, harder to stay on it, but hardest to come down. ~ Aleksander Fredro

I know Microsoft wishes the four facts I listed above weren’t so, but denying reality doesn’t change reality. They cannot move forward until they stop striving to hold onto a past that no longer exists.

Some of us think holding on makes us strong; but sometimes it is letting go. ~ Hermann Hesse

The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones. ~ John Maynard Keynes

There is no sin punished more implacably by nature than the sin of resistance to change. ~ Anne Morrow Lindbergh

ACTION #2: Stop Doing What Doesn’t Work

To get what you want, stop doing what isn’t working. ~ Dennis Weaver

Microsoft needs to stop competing in phone handsets, stop competing in tablets, and move all of their focus to cloud business services. It’s that easy. And it’s that hard.

Should you find yourself in a chronically leaking boat, energy devoted to changing vessels is likely to be more productive than energy devoted to patching leaks. ~ Warren Buffett

ACTION #3: Redefine Yourself

In the animal kingdom, the rule is, eat or be eaten; in the human kingdom, define or be defined. ~ Thomas Szasz

The Licensed Software model is going away. Integrated hardware is taken. The mobile wars are over. But the Cloud wars have just begun.

Define yourself. Find your mission. Then pursue it with a vengeance!

Stop being who you were and become who you are. ~ Paulo Coelho

Progress lies not in enhancing what is, but in advancing toward what will be. ~ Khalil Gibran

Conclusion – Get To It!

It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare; it is because we do not dare that they are difficult. ~ Lucius Annaeus Seneca

Advice would always be more acceptable if it didn’t conflict with our plans. ~ New England proverb

Microsoft’s past is over. Its future awaits So get to it!

Career Decision

Published by

John Kirk

John R. Kirk is a recovering attorney. He has also worked as a financial advisor and a business coach. His love affair with computing started with his purchase of the original Mac in 1985. His primary interest is the field of personal computing (which includes phones, tablets, notebooks and desktops) and his primary focus is on long-term business strategies: What makes a company unique; How do those unique qualities aid or inhibit the success of the company; and why don’t (or can’t) other companies adopt the successful attributes of their competitors?

17 thoughts on “4 Facts; 3 Acts; 1 Microsoft Mission”

  1. I’ve said this before about MS in that I understand the notion of dancing with the one who brought you. Giving up Windows is essentially throwing away decades of branding and users. Starting from scratch is a difficult and expensive, if not insurmountable, task. But along with decades of branding comes decades of legacy connotations. In that regard, ditching Windows is actually beneficial.

    Kind of like how Cook talks about what only Apple can do, I would think there are many things that only MS can do that consumers would benefit from. Quite frankly I have to say I am quite impressed with Office 365. It works across my devices (none of which are Windows in anyway) quite well. One area I think they have tackled better than Google is juggling multiple accounts. I think Office has infinitely more life left to it than Windows. And I say that as someone who once thought the only compelling function in Office was the long antiquated model of a spreadsheet, sadly a backhanded complement. Before the recent iOS Office offerings, I pretty much wrote off Office as zombie software, deadman walking.

    Apple does well in the enterprise in as much as the users want to bring their Apple devices to work. I think Microsoft could do similarly in the reverse direction. But they have to do so without the misguided notion that they can be a consumer focused company. There are a lot of MS B2B services and applications, if they can handle them eloquently, could transfer to a small but strong consumer base, as opposed to the old form of using MS at home because that was what we used at work. But sadly (or not), I don’t see that being possible with the Windows brand. Or, heck, maybe that is where we are now.

    In other words, I am only restating what you and other writers here have already said, so never mind. 🙂


    1. “I am only restating what you and other writers here have already said, so never mind”

      Writing is thinking. Never be ashamed to write out your thoughts.

      “I think Office has infinitely more life left to it than Windows.”

      In 3 years, what percentage of computer owners will be using Office 365?

          1. I would concur among the consumer segment. Assuming the majority of PCs will stay in businesses, it will likely be higher. In the arts industry, almost all admin staff use Windows. Almost all production staff use Macs. The only cross platform solution for document distribution until recently has been either Office or Google Docs/Drive, most often both since most people have a gmail account and are used to sharing via Google already. The biggest problem with Office has always been the multitude of versions floating around.

            However, the company I am at now just recently switched from an Exchange mail service to Office365 which is being offered for free to non-profits. That pretty much seems to take care of most of the version issues sharing docs internally. Office365 has also, as I’ve mentioned, cleared up account juggling when one wants to keep work sharing and email separate from personal. Google still pretty much blows chunks in that regard. With Office for iOS, no one needs to use any VPN software to access a shared drive, either (except for legacy reasons).

            I would say whatever the share of PCs actively using Office now _could_ continue well into the future with Office 365. Whether or not that happens is another questions. Up until we made this shift I still considered Office365 an experiment that was aimed at Google Drive. They seemed to have progressed more than I knew. Which to me is the problem.


          2. “Assuming the majority of PCs will stay in businesses, it will likely be higher”

            I think – without knowing for certain — that businesses will move away from proprietary solutions if good enough free solutions become available. Microsoft no longer has monopoly lock-in and as time passes, their cachet in Enterprise will fade too.

  2. Microsoft Need to Follow the Amazon and Xiaomi path and come up with a new business model on top of android to Challenge Apple and Google where their are weak.

    A me too smartphone from a new OS wont cut it

    Imagine a Lumia running Android with their Metro design and integrate Microsoft service for 350$ available on all carrier

      1. it means less resources devoted for an entire different operating system.
        Just as Amazon it will provide Microsoft with a new business model and a new platform on which their can innovate to provide Future cloud base solution for business, school, health care etc..

        1. I’m not saying you are wrong or even that I disagree, but I would not consider Amazon an OS company so your argument makes sense for them. MS is an OS company, so I don’t see them as losing resources, or at least not to the extent Amazon would. I would think the difference between MS supporting Android vs their own mobile OS would be at best marginal, more likely a completely new resource hog since it would require MS managing an entirely different OS.

          Are there other advantages you would see for MS other than that?


          1. they can still be an OS company to the extent that it can make them money and convince other component supplier to support it otherwise why not create a cloud base platform with API similar to Google Play service on top on Android and port their metro design and cloud base solution to provide real solution at a lower price.

            why not use their Xbox division to encourage developer to create cross platform cloud base casual game for Xbox, Mobile, tablet and computer.

            other than that i believe that they need to innovate the business model around their entertainment division before the android invasion

    1. Android gives Microsoft nothing. You have to think about what Microsoft wants to achieve. They want to make money somewhere. They were making it with a licensed model. That’s going away. Making it in back-end services makes sense. Using a forked version of the free OS of your fiercest competitor and then trying to differentiate and make money selling hardware is not just ludicrous, it’s flat out madness.

  3. I’ve been saying for years that Microsoft needs to stop writing operating systems and start virtualizing the Windows API. Operating systems are commodities and the fact that Apple is willing to give away OS X should be enough for Microsoft to finally understand this. Windows OS stands alone in a sea of Unix based operating systems. It takes tremendously more resources for Microsoft to maintain their OS because it is not based on the same standards that everyone else uses.

    They lose very little in my opinion by layering the Windows API on top of a commodity OS. They can do what Google did with Android and adopt the Linux kernel and put the Android runtime(s) on top without much of the normal Linux support services that aren’t needed by Android. Or they could adopt Apple’s strategy (Next really) and layer the Windows API on top of a stable version of Unix from another source if Linux isn’t palatable. But continuing to develop their proprietary one-off OS that works differently than the rest of the industry is wasteful and has very little value. The value of Microsoft’s ecosystem is tied up in Win32/Win64 and the rest of the Windows API.

    I don’t think Microsoft could ever do this. As a corporation, one of the things that makes Microsoft who they are is that they create the Windows OS. The effort they’ve put into their failed One Microsoft strategy is staggering. It isn’t likely that they can reverse that course now despite what seems to be an obvious failure.

    1. “Operating systems are commodities”

      Respectfully disagree. Microsoft became the most powerful company on the planet by licensing their operating system. Google brilliantly undercut them in mobile (but not so much on the desktop) by giving away Android for free.

      Apple bundles their operating system with their hardware. They sell the hardware, but it is the operating system — plus the overall ecosystem — that gives Apple’s hardware its value.

      The value in Apple’s operating system is one of the reasons why pundits don’t get Apple. They keep waiting and waiting and waiting for the iPhone’s average sales price to drop and it never does. It’s because Apple is selling a bundle — hardware, software, services — not just commoditized hardware.

      1. Right?! Even I know that a steering wheel is “sold” with the car…
        Special this week! Engines are free! Price is the same.

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