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Shady Illuminations

The Post-Windows Era

by John Shade

Generic image illustrating the article
  John wonders, if we’re in the post-PC Era, shouldn’t we also be post-Windows?  

Microsoft, now that you’ve killed off Zune, don’t you think it’s time to put Windows out of our misery?

But wait. That’s not right. Before I start offering you advice, I should identify the problem you have that I’m trying to address. That’s just fair and reasonable.

A Serious Lack of Lack

A couple of problems you have, as I see it, are too much money and too much talent.

You’re not alone in these problems. People complain about Facebook making drastic changes in its user interface. When I hear this I think, it's like the weather. If you don't like it, wait a few weeks and it'll change again. It has to. Facebook has a ton of money (at close of market today three quarters of a ton) and lots of clever programmers, and they have to use these resources. And from what I’ve heard about the Facebook code base, tinkering with it is an excellent way to use up a lot of programmer time and investor dollars.

Nobody has a deeper bench of talent than you, but the difference is, what Facebook’s talented programmers inevitably produce is a more annoying version of Facebook. What results from the marriage of marketing and coding at Microsoft is inevitably two things stitched together. Ars Technica said Zune had a “strange schizophrenia of spirit,” but there was nothing strange about it. Everything you do comes out like the front page of a news site where every department thinks it should be above the fold. Your products try to please many masters, unlike Apple’s, which in recent years had to satisfy just one master: Steve Jobs’ mental model of the customer.

Startups don’t have your problem focusing because they don’t have unlimited money and talent. So you fear startups. You should.

So that’s one problem you’ve got. Too much money and talent that you don’t know what to do with.

You Don’t Kill Your Babies

Another problem you have is everything you’ve ever done. Because, unlike Apple, you don’t kill your babies. You did it with Zune, I admit, and that was smart. It also feeds your Xbox business, also smart. But this is not generally what you do. Fundamentally you are in the business of supporting an installed base. You’re not Facebook, you’re MicroFocus.

I know, I cited Apple again. But Apple is obviously doing a lot of things right, and even I can identify some of the more obvious things it’s doing right. You can, too. You just can’t do them.

Much as you might like to, you can’t just sit back and enjoy a nice profit from your healthy Xbox business and ignore the rest. Because “the rest,” especially the Windows brand, is a heavy burden of legacy. It is to you what 8080 instructions are to Intel. You might like to get rid of it, you don’t think it’s helping you move forward, but it’s inextricable. It defines you. It’s your junk DNA.

At least that’s how I think you see it. I suggest you’d be better offf thinking of it as a boat anchor or albatross. Either way, it’s something you can cut loose.

A Few Modest Proposals

So, having identified your problems—too much money and talent and everything you’ve ever done—I’d like to offer some advice.

First, kudos on deciding to go into Iraq. I predict that will help with the too much money and talent problem. Open an office in Afghanistan, too.

Second, the name Windows.

I get it that you are unable to abandon the Windows user base. So you’re going to continue to create schizophrenic products like Windows 8, with its Metro/Rural multiuser experience. (It’s a little bit Country, it’s a little bit Charles Aznavour.) But the name: is that really working to your advantage?

Think about it: If we had started out with smart phones as computing devices rather than with TV sets attached to boxes of electronic parts, would we have thought of overlapping or tiled windows? Or windows at all? Is that a metaphor that would have served us well? And now that we’re abandoning the 1980s vision of what a computing device should look like, shouldn’t we abandon the no longer useful user interface metaphors as well? Or at least quit using the no longer meaningful words?

The Windows code is a different matter entirely, I know. But even there I have a suggestion for you.

Open-source Windows. Could open source developers resist probing that codemaze? And once in, could they extract themselves? Wouldn’t their coding practices be Borged? Think of it as a giant tarbaby. And you could release it as a huge tarbomb.

These are just a few suggestions. I hope you find them useful.

John Shade was born under a cloud in Montreux, Switzerland, in 1962. Subsequent internment in a series of obscure institutions of ostensibly higher learning did nothing to brighten his outlook. Send the author your feedback or discuss the article in the magazine forum.