Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The short-term answer to the question of why I was wrong about Microsoft Surface

On Tuesday afternoon, I published a post in my tymshft blog entitled "The death of real operating systems, continued (and why I was wrong about Microsoft Surface)." While much of the post discussed the changes that have occurred in operating systems since the early 1980s, I opened the post by admitting that I was "100% incorrect" about Microsoft's Monday announcement:

Last week, when rumors started flying that Microsoft was planning to release a tablet that it manufactured itself, I ventured the opinion that they would do no such thing. Why not? Because Microsoft, unlike Apple, depends upon relations with hardware suppliers. I figured that Microsoft would concentrate on getting the operating system right, and then would help Hewlett Packard, Dell, Asus, and the other hardware manufacturers to come up with the best tablets out there.

Then, on Monday afternoon (California time), Steve Ballmer began his presentation...[O]nce Ballmer started talking about Microsoft’s thirty years of hardware experience, I knew that my prediction was 100% incorrect.

When anyone makes an incorrect prediction, my primary interest isn't in laughing at the person who made the bad prediction. What interests me are the factors that led the predictor to share the errant prediction, and the factors that caused something else to happen instead.

So why did Microsoft build its own tablet? Steven Hodson covered this in a FortyTwoTimes post entitled Microsoft Finds Its Balls. A brief excerpt (language warning):

Even though, for all of its history up until this point, Microsoft has maintained, for the most part, a hands-off approach when it came to the hardware side of the computer business it is an attitude that has constantly come back to bite them on the ass....

After all there is no getting around the fact that OEMs operated on slim profit margins and as a result had no qualms about using hardware that was very often just barely able to meet any requirements that Microsoft set for Windows, or their other software, to run on. Then on top of that we were forced into bundling hell with software trials of all kinds being stuffed into the machines creating a frankly shitty user experience.

What about my argument (and the arguments of others) that this could endanger Microsoft's relationship with its OEMs? Hodson had some words about that also:

One of the standard arguments that is always used when it comes to why Microsoft shouldn’t get into the hardware business is because they could potentially turn away their OEM partners that they need in order to sell their Windows operating system.

If this was proved wrong anywhere it is with the success of the Xbox, even though they did have a really rough first generation with the console, and to a lesser degree with Windows Phone. With the Xbox Microsoft ‘designed and engineered’ the complete experience and with Windows Phone they set the phone hardware requirements in stone.

With the imminent launch of Windows 8, and the effort t o bring about their vision of a cohesive ecosystem Microsoft has a lot riding on their efforts and especially when it comes to the tablet. The last thing the company needs is another decade of bad user experience because of OEMs.

We saw this hard stance when it was reported that HTC wouldn’t be getting any licenses for Windows 8 when it comes to their tablets.

Hodson goes on to state:

Personally I have absolutely no sympathy for the OEMs as they are only reaping what they have sown after years of treating consumers as nothing more than cash cows.

Yet while this isn't as drastic a shift for Microsoft than I thought it was a few days ago, it's certainly a shift nevertheless. We'll have to see how consumers - and enterprises - react to Microsoft Surface.

And if the OEMs believe that they could do a better job than Microsoft (or Apple), then perhaps they'll create an earth-shattering Linux tablet that will make both the iPad and Surface seem obsolete.
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