Microsoft desperately needs a darn good strategy

Most people who can be considered real geeks are often not Microsoft fans. They are either open source fans and usually have their own personal preference for a version of Linux, or they prefer Apple's products (and thus use Mac OS X). Of late the amount of Apple fanboys (or girls) seems to be increasing. Apple is known for always having had an incredibly loyal following but they now have been converting the masses with their iPod, iMac, Macbook, iPhone and iPad success spree. That has lead them to make serious inroads against their 'big' rival, Microsoft.

Microsoft has been 'under attack' for a while now. Not only by Apple but by some other companies (notably Google) as well. The question is, 'how is Microsoft going to defend (or expand) itself'? Mobile computing devices are seen as the new PC, yet Microsoft has a rather weak presence there. People all around us are sporting iPhones, iPads and Android devices and are getting accustomed to new software (Apps) and interfaces. On most of these mobile products, Microsoft does not exist at all.

recent article on how the CIO of Starbucks roughly said that Microsoft really needs to 'pull a rabit out of its hat' with the next version of Windows, really got me thinking about Microsoft's overall strategy.

In the enterprise software market it might still be all about dotNet (.Net), MS-SQL databases and perhaps SharePoint. In our private lives it is more about: iPhones, iPad, Android, WhatsApp, Ping (chat), Gmail, Twitter, Facebook, Spotify or Last.fm, iPhoto or Picasa, Dropbox, iTunes and Netflix, etc.

Microsoft's strongest products are still its Windows operating system and its Office suite. In other areas, they have strong products too but there are alternatives. Windows is still the most common OS but it does not really exist outside PCs and Mac OS X is making strong headways (especially for home users). Windows 7 is a fine version of Windows but it is still Windows. Is it that different from Windows 95/98 in terms of usability and user experience?

Are Apps the way forward?

The recently announced Mac OS X 10.7 Lion (and even sooner the current 10.6 Snow Leopard version) will have an App store just like the one on the iPhone and iPad where you can buy and download Apps (or get free ones) for your computer. The new Macbook Air is trying to bridge the gap between the iPad and a laptop which essentially means that Apple is trying to incorporate the successes of iOS into Mac OS (bringing the two closer together). When Google launches the Chromium Operating System it will surely have some integration with Android and the Android App store.

Microsoft does not have an App store (of any meaning) and it does not seem to have a clear strategy for integrating one in Windows either. Microsoft Live Mail (formerly Hotmail) does not work as well on an iPhone or Android device - so many people switch to Gmail.

Microsoft Office

The basic Office suite (Word, Excel, PowerPoint) is what I still consider Microsoft's greatest products. There are alternatives but they also have their drawbacks and everyone is - generally speaking - still using Office so from the compatibility perspective it is easier to use Office (in the corporate world). Outlook is the number one corporate e-mailprogram (and calendar) in combination with MS Exchange. The question remains whether Microsoft can uphold that strength and whether the succes of Office is totally dependent on the success of Windows (i.e. can they decouple)?

Where is the strategy?

I am at loss what Microsoft's strategy is. As a consumer I am starting to see little use for Microsoft products. I prefer to use Word and Excel for Word processing and financial or tabular data most of the times. At the same time, I am almost as comfortable using Apple's iWork software and Google Docs. I do not need Windows (as a Mac user) at home. If I did own a PC, I might switch to Ubuntu Linux.

Professionally, I am forced to use Microsoft products. I do not see that changing in the near-near future. My point is however: Microsoft's dominant position in the corporate world is changing. Microsoft's products are starting to seem like products in decline. What we use at home is slowly making it's way into our professional life as well. From Google Chrome to privately purchased (but brought to work) iPads.

What is Microsoft's strategy? Where is their sense of the future? Windows Phone 7 might prove to be a small succes but it is not going to kick-ass like the iPhone and Android do.

Let's end this post with another simple question: Why on earth has Microsoft not developed a version of Office (Word, Excel and PowerPoint at the least) that works on iOS (iPad and iPhone versions), Android and RIM Blackberry OS? From what kind of strategy perspective did they decide to miss that opportunity and risk the most powerful dominance they have (the Office productivity one). Simply put: there is no market leading, kick-ass program that can view and edit Word, Excel and PowerPoint files and runs on all major mobile platforms. (I do not like Documents to Go that much).

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The Business of Investing in Great Companies

Don Valentine, a venture capital investing legend (Sequoia), gave this interesting lecture at Stanford. I especially like his blunt criticism of the boards of large companies.

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Minimalist Manifesto (part 1)

I have been meaning to write this for a while now. As I am sure this will turn out to be a 'work in progress', I added the 'part 1' to the title with some foresight.

In the past years I have become more and more interested in the concept of minimalism. Not in terms of art but in terms of a lifestyle. For some time now, I have started reading up on minimalistic lifestyle approaches through blogs and ebooks.

At the same time, I been feeling weighed down by things - both professionally as in my private life. Both material things (stuff) and non-minimalistic approaches (workflows etc.) have been slowly wearing me down - weighing heavy on my mind.

I long for a simpler, more meaningful approach and believe that minimalism can help me fulfill that longing. Minimalism has already resulted in some major and minor changes in my life(style). Writing this 'minimalist manifesto' is the next step in that process. It can both serve as a future promise to myself and as a list of what I have already accomplished. I do not believe in extreme 'minimalism' (e.g. trying to live with almost no material goods). I also do not think minimalism has all the answers or has to be exclusive as a lifestyle.

My minimalist approach to life:

  • Stuff - I will try and limit the amount of stuff I collect around myself. I love nice things, I love quality things, but they need to serve a purpose. Items that are not used or do not serve any purpose, have to go. As I used to be a packrat/collector, this is sort of a slow process for me. With the help of my wife, I have been throwing out a lot of things. There is still more work to be done though. Sometimes it can also be a tough choice. We like for example to host dinner parties at home and enjoy different kind of foods. That can lead to a lot more stuff: tableware, specialized cooking gear, etc.
    What I do buy, has to meet certain quality standards - better invest in something durable than in junk.
  • Organizing - the things that I do own, have to be organized and stored in such a manner that they do not get in my way while at the same time being easily accessible. That also goes for my digital life.
  • Digital - organizing my digital life has already become harder (more time-consuming) than organizing my offline life. I have tried to find the right tools to help me organize my files, pictures, notes and email. I follow a specific email archiving approach with a (near to) zero-Inbox policy. I use Simplenote (online, iPhone and Ipad) for my notes and ToDo lists. I use Evernote to archive receipts and letters.
  • Mail and receipts - my (snail) mail and receipts archive has been moved online. I try and throw away every single piece of paper that comes in through the mail, now. I take a picture of any important letter or receipt with my iPhone and sync and store it with Evernote. I will probably refrain from doing something similar with my old paper archive. This problem will solve itself in the future as I can throw these papers away eventually.
  • Furniture and decoration - my wife and me both like a clean, tidy and rather sparsely decorated house. At the same time, we like decorating and hosting people. These things are some times at odds with each other. Over the past few years, we have accumulated more and more furniture and accessoires. At least our walls are still almost all empty (white).
  • Clean - having a clean house/work area should be central to any minimalist approach. Having little stuff helps with keeping things clean. I definitely need to do more work on this. Thorough cleaning still comes mostly in spurts.
  • Food - my wife (again) taught me to appreciate food more. Though we enjoy the occasional Big Mac, we try to steer away from the processed 'corn syrup' staples most of the time and invest in good quality food. Finding high-quality (organic) food in the Netherlands, proves quite the challenge however.
  • Time - time is limited, it is the single most important thing that we have to offer. I am a pretty awful time-manager in the sense that I always take on more (tasks) than I can possibly handle in a given amount of time. Though I do end up accomplishing a lot because of this, there is certainly room for improvement here.
  • Health - our body is our vessel. I do not understand why we would not try our best to take care of it. It does not take much, to keep your body in good shape: sufficient sleep, healthy food and plenty of exercise.
  • Wealth - I have the luxury to live a minimal lifestyle (and even write about it, on a blog). Acquiring some wealth to take care of yourself (and people around you), should be a main task for everyone. We are entitled to nothing.
  • Professionally - most of the points above also affect my professional life. More specifically, both in the software that I develop and in the advise that I give, I try to adhere to a minimalist philosophy. For example: I believe in simple, clear software that does not need much explaining (on how to use it) and does not offer more than that what is needed.

That is it for now. I went through the list fairly quickly and could have focused more on every item. Do not be surprised if I revisit some of these points in the future. There is much room for improvement on most of these points - trust me, I will be trying.

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