Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Windows 7 and a Grab Bag of Microsoftness Before FY10Q1 Results

October 22nd 2009. Windows 7. The circle is now complete.

What is Windows 7? There's a lot that Windows 7 is (oh, it's faster, it has an improved task bar, peeking, snapping, homegroupin', stable drivers and some pretty freaky desktop pictures) but the big thing that it isn't is that Windows 7 is not Vista. It didn't suffer Vista's raging dysfunctional mismanagement and broken windows. It didn't require a reset. Sure, it wasn't perfect and there's a lot of improvements yet to be made in focus and team productivity, but the Windows team delivered. So toot that damn horn, because this here train is arriving on time.

With FY10Q1 announcements coming this week and along with Windows 7, I hope we have a lot of good things to talk about with the analysts. Google and Apple and Yahoo! certainly did. Usually we release our quarterly earnings on the appropriate Thursday afternoon, after closing. It is unfortunately disturbing that we've decided to release our FY10Q1 earning results instead on this Friday morning before trading. I say disturbing only because the last time we did this, a whole bunch of Microsofties were pulled into a layoff. Now... hopefully this earnings report is delayed so that we can have this Thursday the 22nd be all about Windows 7 and not our financials. And I can not imagine that we (and by "we" I mean the Microsoft Senior Leadership Team) would be so dumb as to release our flagship product on a Thursday and turn around and fire a bunch of people the next day.

So, anyway, what's in the mix as the financials come up this week?

Windows 7: check. Thank goodness for SteveSi. I certainly hope he gets paid a lot more than Robbie Bach this year.

Within the Windows 7 reviews, there's going to be a point-of-view that the operating system is dead, which is, ah, kinda dumb. Your web browser isn't going to bootstrap that Intel CPU on its own. What might be dead is rich applications, which is a fair argument and Microsoft is failing to provide much in the way of new rich applications. In fact, we are cutting them one by one (Money, Encarta... Streets, you best watch your back). Sure, there's a transformation to online replicated services and all, but we really need to convince our consumers that there is a strong worth in having a Windows 7 on your laptop so that it's not a fancy glowy brick when the internet is down.

Kindle? Wouldn't it be sweet if we had a nice ebook reader application? We could call it... mmm, Reader?

Windows Live is supposed to help with building value via rich applications. Live has been broken out of Windows to free it from the consent decree and all ('cept for sneaking a Win7 component out early, wink-wink). Messenger, Mail, Photos, Movies, and an awkward online service. And Live Writer (though rumored a dead-man walking per comments).

It's a fair start, and if I had my druthers OneNote would move out of Office and into Windows Live to be the essential authoring companion to the Windows experience. Windows Live Essentials is a good start, but to add some joy into owning a Windows machine, what we need just as urgently is Windows Live Non-Essentials.

Joy. There's a concept just asking for a planning pillar. How strangely would your coworkers look at you during spec reviews if you asked how joyful the feature happened to be?

Windows 8: speaking of planning! The Sinofskyfication of Windows continues, along with alignment around his good lieutenants.

Office: hey, hey, hey, there's a Beta on the way. The Office train lost its conductor but it mostly seems to be still on track. Though trust me: Office wants its Steven back. Bad.

Mobile: Holy. Crap. I don't think we have any unbruised skin left on our body to take any more lumps regarding our mobile strategy. The Microsoft Mismanagement theory is in full force as we throw any willing body into the Mobile effort. Something good has to come out of those typing monkeys, rights? Windows Mobile Phone 6.5 or whatever the hell it's called didn't win any "Wows" and I discovered 1:1 the worst question to ask is, "So, can I upgrade it to Windows Phone 7?"

Look. Let's talk about device loyalty. I first started with owning PocketPCs. An HP Jornada. I loved it. When upgrade time came, HP had bought Compaq and abandoned the Jornada for the iPAQ (what, they had the iThing first?). So, unable to upgrade to the next CE, I cursed a little and bought one of those iPAQs. But HP decided not to allow it to be upgraded. So I switched to Dell to get their latest Axim PocketPC. Dell would be a safe bet, right? And Dell gave up on the line. My latest act of company loyalty: getting a powerful HTC WinMo 6 device. It was cut-off the 6.5 train, and soon, I'm going to be buying a new phone.

And I'm going to buy an iPhone.

I hate it. I hate to think that I'll be installing Apple software on one of my computers because their PC software is so inelegant and buggy (check Watson). I hate that I've been so loyal to the PocketPC platform and Windows Mobile but I've finally had my chain yanked for the last time. I'm not buying a 6.5 device only to have it abandoned when 7 comes out. Microsoft is doing nothing to convince me that it's going to get any better. We suffer through rumors that Pink is imploding and issues with Sidekick data doing disappearing acts while our CEO has conniption fits over Microsofties sporting iPhones. Dude, this is why.

In this case, Microsoft is going to have to earn me back and convince that not only do they have a better experience and better quality phone but that they also won't kick me off to the side of the road when a new release comes along, spinning a sad tale that the carriers make all the decisions.

Dev Div: If I had to sit down tomorrow and write a casual application for the PC, my mind would fork itself in about five different directions. Native with ATL? WPF? Silverlight? An HTA? And what's up with XNA? If I want to write an app for the Zune (which Zune?) what do I do? And can it run on some future mobile device? And the PC? And Xbox?

And how do I share it? How do I sell it? And, ah, crap, you mean you just released a whole new version of C# / Silverlight / XNA that I have to go and relearn? Maybe those free Starbucks coffee dispensers wasn't a good idea...

If anything, I'd probably be pretty damn tempted to invest time learning Adobe AIR. And I'm thinking that while smack dab in the middle of the Microsoft bubble. There are a lot of Partners in Dev Div, and I'm not seeing any benefit from their concentration. The Windows client should be the premiere development platform. It's not. What am I missing?

Are We There Yet? Are the layoffs over? Has Microsoft stabilized? Of course, I'd be satisfied with another 10,000 or more positions being eliminated. But I want it done in one fell swoop, like all the conventional wisdom out there dictates, so that the remaining work force can align itself and get to work and not constantly worry if their group is next. If we're going to continue this quarterly rhythm of maybe-layoffs, maybe-not then morale is going to get seriously poisoned. Let's finish this round and call it done.

Ballmer: well, Mr. Ballmer, if you ever wanted to leave on a high-note, this is it. I'm frustrated because when you hear Steve 1:1 you know that he gets it. He knows some key strategies and things that need to get done. But then Yahoo! happens. Vista happens. Over-exuberant hiring happens. Layoffs happen to shed off the over-hiring. And a flat stock price happens. So something is seriously not connecting between (a) when you hear Steve talking and (b) when he makes major decisions. Hmm. Maybe it's something about guys named Steve having localized reality distortion fields.

This week, as we celebrate Windows 7, you do see an undercurrent of knife-sharpening while examining Mr. Ballmer.

The biggest question still out there: just who would you replace Ballmer with? If a shareholder revolt was to actually happen (shyeah, right) who would be the right choice to lead Microsoft? There is no heir apparent. And no obvious motivation to find one. But wait. Maybe, just maybe... you know, we'll have to wait and see and discover if Steven Sinofsky's upcoming book One Strategy! has a chapter on 'How To Become the CEO of a 100,000 Employee Company' (hopefully followed by the chapter 'More With Less - How To Transform a 100,000 Employee Company Into a 70,000 Employee Company').

Any fireworks you're expecting this week of Windows 7 and Quarterly results?

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