Come and let me tell you a story.
Roughly two years ago a software company who’d been left out of the innovation game attempted to get back in a big way. Though the changes that it introduced to its operating system and product lines wasn’t without their faults, they were bold. They made sense for a company with the assets it had at its disposal and the vision that it shared with users.
I’m of course talking about Microsoft and the changes it introduced in Windows 8 and I share this story not as a look back at the past, but as a look at what happens when a company who’s overeager to please and too sensitive to public outcry makes itself look like an erratic mess.
After introducing bold changes in Windows 8, Microsoft spent most of Windows 8.1 walking them back. Now users have the options to turn off the Charms Bar and re-add the Start Button to the Desktop taskbar. To be fair, as a staunch proponent of “do the right thing and ignore the haters,” I scratched my head when Microsoft introduced even those changes. However, I brushed the move off as a small attempt to meet users of Windows XP, Windows Vista and Windows 7 halfway. I may enjoy running into the future, but I don’t mind giving users options.
Now new reports from The Verge indicate that Microsoft is preparing to turn off the Start Screen by default in the next major update to Windows 8.
I’ll be frank. Doing so wouldn’t just be clueless. It’d be completely the wrong move.
People whined about the Start Screen in droves but you know what many more people whined about two years ago? Microsoft’s decision to not innovate. They complained of a Windows that didn’t embrace new paradigms. They laughed as Microsoft attempted to shove the Windows desktop into tablets and portables. They also cheered as iOS and Android made serious inroads into the productivity space with tablets. And now people at Microsoft think it’s a smart move to go back to those days?
Oh and to be clear, reversing the Start Screen decision won’t just return Microsoft to those days of being considering a boring company whose stuck in the past and incapable of innovating. No, Microsoft should be so lucky. Doing so would ensure that the company who staked its reputation on actually innovating and following through with Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 would be a laughing-stock. For the next ten years Microsoft wouldn’t be able to make one bold move or innovate on anything less these same people who complained about the Windows Desktop not being forward thinking enough to compete with the iPad rush in and remind everyone that this company didn’t have the chutzpah to follow through.
Of course, they’d be write too. After announcing bold moves about the Xbox One would treat used and digital games, Microsoft was only too happy to backtrack on the idea and potentially set the console’s development back by its own admission. After promising that it would change the way updates are handled with Windows Phone it was only too quick to come back to its senses and admit that updates for the operating system would require carrier approval and take months to reach users. This is also the same company who should have put Windows XP users out of their collective misery but choose to keep extending deadlines to appease the same users and business who refuse to take their own security seriously.
In fact, who am I kidding? You know what Microsoft? They’re right.
In fact, who am I kidding? You know what Microsoft? They’re right. You’ve proven that you don’t have the stomach to be innovative. Time and time again you’ve shown that your corporate team is willing to piss away development time and features that your own employees are passionate about in the name of being everyone’s friend.
As such, I’ve got an idea. How about you just give up now. How about you walk back all the progress you made in Windows 8, Windows Phone, the Xbox One’s original DRM scheme. How about you cancel the Surface tablets too. How about you throw in the towel and cede that you don’t have the stomach for the consumer market.
Those projects took time to develop and design. They changed the way people thought about your products. To make them successful will take courage and a steady hand. It’ll take passion from your executive team and bravado from your leaders.
Clearly, you don’t have any of that.