Saturday, December 27, 2008

Windows 7 or Windows Vista Enhanced ?

After reading numerous reviews of Windows 7 beta builds, like Paul Thurrott's recent review, I had to step back and think about what the prospects might be for this bouncing baby, er, something or other, which is soon to be delivered.

There are two sides to every Microsoft product release: The Tangible and the Intangible.

The tangible aspects would be the products themselves.  How they look and feel.  How they perform.  How they behave.  How well they play with other products and services in the real world.

The intangible aspects would be marketing and partner channel movement.  If Microsoft does the same marketing for W7 they did for Vista, oh boy.  Not only would that be "bad", it would be "horrific".  Why?  Because all indications are that W7 is going to be perceived more of an enhanced Vista than a distinct new version release.  Going from NT4 to 2000 was significant.  Going from 2000 to XP was also significant.  Going from XP to Vista was significant and also poorly executed (marketing, partner channels).  Going from Vista to W7 is going to be, well, it would seem: nothing to write home about.  The features and UI changes will be noticeable, but so far they all appear to be cosmetic.  Changes to Network and Sharing, Action Center, Explorer,  Aero and Aero Peak, and the ribbon menus.  Excuse me, but: yawn?

Consumers aren't what put the breaks on Earth-shattering sales.  It was enterprise customers.  "XP is good enough" became the official IT department mantra across the landscape.   Microsoft didn't do a good job of selling the true under-the-hood features to the right customers.  They focused on the consumer features, which is where they stumble in the face of the masters of consumer computing marketing: Apple.  Even they know that.  But they persevere regardless.  Admirable, but not good for the bottom line.  Rather than touting the improvements gained from WIM, new Group Policy capabilities, recovery features, event log management, task scheduling, and so on, they spent their money on Aero, and a bunch of aimless commercials with Gates and Seinfeld.  It makes my head spin.

So, unless two things happen at the same time:  A truly "fantastic" product, AND, absolutely flawless and genius marketing execution (to the appropriate customers) - it will launch off the catapult and fall into the ocean.

If anyone at Microsoft actually bothers to read this, please, just consider the following:

Enterprise customers WANT a better operating system from you than XP.  Vista might be that product, but hardly any IT folks I know ever saw a convincing pitch.  Ever.  You need to aim your sales pitch at your true core customer base: business users.  Microsoft is known for that and respected for that (believe it or not).  The problem is that business customers seriously feel let down.  It's like watching your home team march into the final bowl game with a perfect record and watching them lose from dumb mistakes.  Businesses WANT something better and simpler (and cheaper) than XP, but none of the rocks floating by look solid enough for them to step onto with both feet yet.
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