"You're Doing It Wrong!"
There are three important events in the recent life of Microsoft that have sent a clear message to their partners: "You're doing it wrong!" The first of these is the opening of their own retail stores. Nevermind the low-hanging fruit of Apple envy. That somewhat misses the point. The real message was to their retail partners: "You're selling it wrong!" Despite the fact that Microsoft owned the majority of shelf space in the computer retail industry, they seemed to be unsatisfied with their portion. We all had a hard time trying to figure out what they were going after. They didn't actually build enough hardware to feature in a retail store, and providing end-user service for Windows wasn't really their thing. As it happens, rightly or wrongly, it seems they were concerned that PCs running Windows, while taking up a lot of shelf space, were not being sold in a manner that put the company in the best light. Their solution was to find a good template for a successful, boutique, electronics environment, and do it themselves.
The second event (which may have actually preceded the first) was their program to sell a PC with a "clean" copy of Windows. (Sorry, I forget the name of the program. There may have been more than one). We knew there was a problem when OEMs actually started charging money to de-crapify their PCs before shipping them to you. The fact that people were willing to pay extra for a de-crapified computer proved that the problem had become mainstream. The PC experience powered by Microsoft was garbage, and everyone knew it. Microsoft started selling computers online and in their retail stores that had one powerful selling point: there would be no crapware on any machine, regardless of manufacturer. As far as Microsoft was concerned, the OEMs were ruining the PC experience. By taking matters into their own hands, they told the OEMs, "You're loading them wrong!"
Finally, the tension between Microsoft and their partners has risen to the surface, or should I say, Surface. I suppose it was inevitable that Microsoft would eventually have to bring this conflict to the court of public opinion. The Surface announcement was nothing if not a public repudiation of Microsoft's partners. It was a public and brutal dressing down. They pretty much blamed all of their OEM partners for the unqualified failure of the Windows tablet vision for the last decade. Right or wrong, Microsoft is convinced that they have given the industry excellent software tools and every possible advantage to build the Windows tablet empire. We finally know what Microsoft has been thinking during the last two years of iPad hegemony. They have decided that their partners are to blame for everything. Out comes the Surface, and off come the gloves. It's game on. The message from Microsoft was, with very little paraphrase, "You're building it wrong!"
The press has only been focusing on the Surface tension. But my thesis is that this tension has been going on for quite a long time. Microsoft has been unhappy with its partners, and its partners have been unhappy with Microsoft. The only real question is, where do we go from here? I have no idea. I do not believe that Microsoft is ready to dump its lifelong business model, as much as they may want to. The Surface may, however, be an experiment to see if it is feasible. I have no doubt that if the Surface is a hit, they will build their own, AIO PC. And that will be the beginning of the end of Windows as an open platform. Speaking of an open platform, I wonder if the integrated software store in the OS is a message to developers and retailers that they are selling software wrong. Just a thought I've been toying with for a while. Please add yours to the comments.