Okay, you know my opinions on Microsoft. They’re not exactly private. So yes, I definitely went into yesterday’s announcement with low expectations.
Microsoft has really only done one thing really well in the last decade, in my opinion: Xbox. That was a helluva gamble — I was in the gaming industry still when the first rumours surfaced — and Microsoft could have gone down hard. But the gamble paid off — they invested heavily in content, and (in the end) content helped win their position in the video game battlefield.
But on their software end — their traditional business — it’s a very different story. It’s been a long wait for something “better”. Windows XP has been around for a decade; it finally goes away in 2014. Windows Vista was an utter mess. Windows 7 appears to be decent, but the adoption seems to be more about having to leave XP than “oh, this is so much better than X”. Windows 8? Haven’t played with it yet, admittedly, but I just don’t hear the buzz about it. Office is an ancient standby that’s in need of a serious overhaul (really, a word processor shouldn’t occupy so much RAM). Internet Information Server (IIS) is so overcomplicated as to make me wonder if someone wrote it on a dare. Don’t even get me started on IE.
Microsoft has rested on its corporate laurels for most of its life, continuing along without any real serious change. (Debate me, please! I would love to be proven wrong, but I’m pretty sure I’m right.) We’ve not seen anything truly new.
That includes the Microsoft Surface tablet. It’s a mobile device that runs Windows. It’s been done before — the Microsoft phones, for example. (Windows RT, CE, 8, etc. It’s still Windows, regardless of the flavour.) They’ve not exactly taken off with the popularity of the iPhone or Android-based phones. The platform seems solid, but the overall environment (media integration, for example) is absent.
The tablet itself is … well, just another tablet. There was not one innovative thing announced yesterday. Oh, the keyboard? That’s not part of the tablet — that’s an accessory, and it’s already been done. It’s a smarter implementation, yes, but nothing truly new. The Surface tablet, in fact, reminds me much more of the RIM Playbook than anything else — too complicated to be a simple device, which is what makes the iPad so brilliant.
And this morning, I realised the other thing Microsoft has failed upon — releasing it. They’re taunting people with the next-nearest thing to vapourware: an unfinished product. It was so bad at the launch yesterday, that demo devices were snatched away before anyone could get any significant details on them. By comparison, Apple — the very company Microsoft is attempting to emulate, here — announces hardware by saying you can buy it today. There’s a lot to be said for immediacy. Microsoft’s announcement was the marketing equivalent of premature ejaculation.
Okay, now in Microsoft’s defence — because, yes, I do see where they’re coming from. Although Microsoft has never released a real computer of its own (they’ve done some excellent peripherals; my favourite keyboard next to the original heavy-click IBM PC keyboard was a Microsoft split keyboard), they have heavily influenced PC manufacturers for years. But that influence has … well … if you’ve gone around and looked at the recent PCs, you really have to wonder if anyone has thought outside the beige box. PC designs have changed little, and, frankly, they just ain’t sexy. They’re even more boring now than the old towers of old.
So this is Microsoft telling all their vendors that “enough is enough” — if you’re going to do something right, do it yourself. So kudos to Microsoft to stepping up to that plate, and driving it hard. This is where Microsoft could potentially change the game again — as they did with the Xbox (yes, pun intended) — and revitalise an industry that is sagging like … um … see my above comment about “premature” and draw your own conclusion.
As for my conclusion on the Surface — it changes nothing at this point. The announcement was too early, the environment undefined, and until someone antes up with a real-world demo of how awesome everything together can be, I’ll remain wanting.
Wanting Microsoft to be awesome again. I’ve been waiting a long time.