At the 2011 Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC 2011) today, Steve Ballmer ended with a typical Windows mantra, saying that Microsoft is built on Windows, and that it represents the future of the company as well. But that's exactly why Microsoft can't seem to gain any traction in important markets like search and mobile. It's time for the company to move on.
Ballmer gave the opending speech today at WPC 2011, and he ended with this:
"Windows is the backbone product of Microsoft. Windows PCs, Windows Phones, Windows slates. Windows Windows Windows Windows Windows."
Yes, it's typical Ballmer hyperbole. But he also believes every word of it. And that's the core of Microsoft's problem.
Windows has certainly been a spectacular success over its lifetime, and will continue to be the primary operating system for desktop and laptop computers well into the foreseeable future. Microsoft will continue to reap enormous profits from it as far as the eye can see.
But an operating system built for desktops and laptops is not necessarily the best one for tablets. And the use of the name Windows may even scare away people from buying smartphones with Microsoft's operating system. As for Microsoft's penchant for slapping the word "Windows" on products that have no relation to Windows, that's pointless and counterproductive as well.
Let's start off with tablets. Windows 7 wasn't built for tablets, and is poorly suited for them. It carries too much overhead and hasn't been designed for touch input. Microsoft says all that will change with Windows 8. But by the time Windows 8 hits, the tablet market will be sewn up between the iPad and Android tablets. So relying on Windows hurts Microsoft in a high-growth market.
As for smartphones, the use of the Windows name for them does Microsoft no good. The operating system itself isn't really Windows; Microsoft calls it Windows Phone 7 for marketing purposes. In fact, the use of the name Windows on smartphones may well be hurting their sales. A report from Gartner found that Windows Phone 7 suffers from the "Your-dad-uses-it" syndrome. The perception that their fathers use it at work makes younger people less likely to want to use it, the report says. And younger people are the ones buying smartphones in droves.
Microsoft has for years been outdone by Google and others on the Internet. Microsoft's response? Put all of its online efforts under the brand "Windows Live." What does Windows have to do with Microsoft's Hotmail service, with its syncing Live Mesh service, or with the SkyDrive cloud-based storage service? Absolutely nothing, except a name. Calling those services "Windows" even though they have nothing to do with Windows only confuses people, and most likely chases them away.
Windows has certainly helped build Microsoft into the behemoth it is today. But making Windows the core of its efforts to build the company in the future only hurts Microsoft, not helps it.