The fundamental question: What is Microsoft?
I've heard this question over and over again and no one seems to get it right. The recent rumblings that kick of this post started with Leo Laporte this weekend on TWiT. He started a rant about all of the issues with Microsoft. His point was they try to do everything! He asked his panel what Microsoft is and no one could answer. I'm not sure of his exact phrasing, but the point stands.
Now there is an article on PocketNow stating that "Microsoft Doesn't Seem to get it even after a decade" were the author, Jamie Rivera, pleads for Microsoft to be Microsoft but never explains what Microsoft is. He talks about products and business strategy but avoids the overarching question.
Let's define a couple companies as examples. Every company has a nuanced gray area that people like to argue about but I'm going to keep this very high level.
Apple is a Product Company. They sell products to customers and offer services to support the products.
Google is an Advertising Company. (Maybe, I'm getting fuzzy on what they are anymore) They build software and services to attract customers and serve them ads.
Now for the question no one can seem to answer.
Microsoft is a Platform Company.
That wasn't so hard, was it? They sell platforms to partners who build products for customers. Everything they build should be focused on making a better platform. Now that we have a starting point for the conversation we can start talking about product strategy.
Windows 8 - Platform for building a personal computing product.
Windows Phone - Platform for building a mobile computing product.
Office - Platform for building your business.
Xbox - Platform for building entertainment and games.
What about the non-platforms?
Bing - Built to support the big data end of all of their platforms (check out Bing for Xbox as a great example of this). It is sort of a search platform for Yahoo but I think more work needs to be done before calling this a platform. Companies need to be able to manipulate the data and resources more to start building new products with it before I call this a platform.
Surface - Built as the ultimate vision of Windows 8.
Every product Microsoft made that wasn't a platform failed. The primary examples are Zune and Kin. These were products. Partners could not manipulate them and build their own products and they did not support Microsoft's existing platforms. They failed. Xbox is a platform. It's full of Games, Media, and Apps that let partners build and grown on it's platform. Xbox is successful.
Courier was not supposed to be a platform either. There was no plan for third party apps or even a 1st party mail app. Take a guess where it was heading.
My recommendation to MS? Make everything a platform.
The hardware platform:
Xbox was the only hardware platform in the list above. Here is an opportunity that no company seems to be following; make a hardware platform for personal computing. Surface should be that platform. Why not take every hardware innovation from Surface and sell it to your partners?
the magnetic data and power connection that power the TypeCover
Package those features up and sell them as a platform. Microsoft could package sell a complete package from software to hardware to their partners to build a product. Think about the ecosystem if Samsung, HP, and Dell started building tablets that had compatible accessories with Microsoft's hardware. Logitech and all those little accessory companies would swarm to a market like that. They would finally have an alternative to Apple and their iDevices. Customers would love having a keyboard cover that could be moved to another device. Microsoft could continue to sell the Surface as the premier example and their partners would not feel as threatened if they had access to the stuff that makes Surface unique.
The service platform:
Turn Bing into a platform. Bing is failing because it's trying to copy Google's strategy. Try using the "Microsoft strategy". Let other companies tie into Bing to manipulate the data and resources to build new products. Not Yahoo powered by Bing but more like what Wolfram Alpha is doing with Apple and Samsung. They use Wolfram Alpha to power Siri and S-Voice. In the future we may not think about going to a search engine anymore. Search and knowledge can inherently be built into everything. Now MS is serving partners with Bing instead of going directly to customers. This is search as a platform.
Staying true to who you are is important and Microsoft needs to remember that. With this way of thinking Microsoft can differentiate itself from its competitors. It needs to be more vocal and more focused to make sure everything is clearly a platform to be used by its partners, and let no company move into its space.