Stunned. That’s the only word to describe my reaction this week after seeing Microsoft turn on all their hardware partners as they reboot their entire strategy. What’s truly ridiculous is it didn’t have to come to this.
Under the Surface
First, they unveiled their own Windows tablet on Monday under the Surface brand marking the first time they are building and selling their own Windows PC. Reaction from techies has been enthusiastic. Not so much from the guys who have been building Windows PCs.
Statements so far have been brief and neutral, stating only that they remain in a committed relationship (but they don’t have much choice, do they?). Word is some hardware partners got a call warning them last week, while others got the news as the rest of us did. Smiles from any vendors on this are undoubtedly forced. It reminds me of when a married politician has been caught having an affair and his wife is stuck standing next to him, gritting her teeth at the press conference.
I still believe Microsoft can turn this around by sharing their unique designs with Windows licensees, but if they don’t, I don’t see how the damage can be undone. Hardware vendors basically paid for the research and development that went into making Surface. They have to be seriously questioning why they should continue to fund projects for a company that’s now competing against them.
Microsoft followed up that announcement with one yesterday of Windows Phone 8, an entirely rebuilt version of the Windows Phone operating system that will not run on any current Windows Phone device, including the recently released Lumia from Nokia.
The Lumia. This year’s flagship Windows Phone. The smartphone that supposedly marked the end of the “smartphone beta test”. The phone that epitomized the Microsoft-Nokia partnership and was supposed to turn things around for the floundering Finnish phone company. This phone, barely a few months old, is not getting upgraded to Windows Phone 8.
Did no one at Microsoft foresee how ridiculous and sad that would look after all the boasting leading up to this point? Microsoft even started their event by pointing out how people love their Windows Phones, and then showed off all the stuff those people won’t get on their beloved phones. Who does that?
Necessary evil, unnecessarily dumb
All that said, I am the first to admit these were necessary steps to move Windows forward in the Post-PC age. Microsoft needed to take control of where the hardware was going. They needed to bring their computing platforms together. This week marks a major turning point in the company’s history in what I believe is the right direction.
What wasn’t necessary was the way it was executed. Again, if Microsoft shares their Surface designs with Windows licensees, then the damage with them can be repaired, but why damage the relationships in the first place? Why keep that secret to themselves instead of partnering with the vendors that have been such loyal customers? Dropping support for “legacy” phones is necessary, but why let Nokia pin their hopes on the Lumia only to make it look like a joke a few months later?
What’s more, that’s only their hardware partners. That doesn’t count the consumers and end-users who feel like Microsoft is cutting them loose to go after other customers. Microsoft is taking all of us for granted, and what’s worse is they can freely get away with it.
Hardware vendors have little choice in what OS runs on their PCs. Android is an option for tablets, but it hasn’t gained serious momentum. Windows Phone owners may love their phones, but they are so few that abandoning them has little consequence (and some will remain loyal no matter what). I too admit to feeling left behind as Microsoft forges a new path away from a forgotten Tablet PC legacy (while repeating many of its mistakes). But too bad. It’s happening and Microsoft doesn’t seem interested in bringing any of us along for the ride.
Microsoft could and should have been the admiral leading the fleet into a new battle, sharing their war plans with their hardware partners so they could sail together under one flag. Instead, they look like an admiral changing course in his flagship without telling his fleet. Yeah, you can expect the other ships to figure things out and turn around, but don’t tell me no one will whisper mutiny. This is not how wars are won.