In covering Microsoft I always seem to return to a few large themes. One is user interface and experience. The second is about the consumer space. And the third is Windows. In many ways these topics meld and follow each other. I return to them because they are part of the question no one ever asks or answers to my satisfaction (including myself).
To quote new Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, “The question that must be asked and answered”, is what will Microsoft do about Windows. It such an easy question. The problem is the answer isn’t as simple.
From my perspective the problem is around Windows as a consumer product. Its about the PC displayed in the store that people in recent years are less inclined to buy. Its about Windows competing in a market with competitors who are just as well back, and at times the better options for most users. Its about the shift that occurred with the type if users that buy devices and the device types that moves the market.
This puts me in the minority when discussing Windows and Microsoft because most of the discussions are around the enterprise, developers, and the back end. This is the half that makes Redmond its money and its the part most think should be the primary focus of the company. And while I don’t disagree about the need for this perspective, I think its shortsighted.
We talk about the decline in PC sales and we site the numbers and check for upticks and plunges. We talk about the competition from new devices and operating systems. What we, and by we I mean the community that follows Microsoft, don’t discuss is why.
(that was loaded wasn’t it.)
Windows is a consumer product. I know its the software by which a lot of businesses large and small swear by, but its still sold to people who’ll use it solely for Facebook and YouTube. And sometimes I think its important to remind everyone of this fact.
As a product sold to consumers Windows has a reputation and a history; both of which I think has led to a level of apathy that effects sales. Windows is Windows; people got upset with Windows 8 because it wasn’t the Windows people expect. It runs on a PC which people buy and keep until it breaks. You go to the store to buy a PC and the demo unit might work. The salesperson might know what they’re talking about. With Windows you have to talk maintenance, antivirus, and extra software you buy before walking out the store. This is the experience buying a Windows device.
And you wonder why sales are declining.
Windows and the PC it runs on were developed for a type of user that no longer makes up the majority buying them. Today’s audience isn’t looking for something they have to manage or hack to make it work. They also are not looking to build out machines, They want something that works and has the software they need out of the box for no additional costs.
Windows is still considered something prone to viruses and complexities; requiring users to constantly tend to it. This image is why Macs and Chromebooks focus on selling themselves as simple alternatives.
The issue facing Nadella and his head of Operating Systems Terry Myerson is dealing with shifting tastes in computing while also catering to its strongest customers.