Note to Microsoft: Focus on Software, not tablets

iPad 2 was announced yesterday and the business and technology world (and mainstream media who bends over backwards for Steve Jobs) stopped and gazed at the double rainbow that is Apple.
I responded there but I thought I would take the opportunity to drill down a bit further.
First, Microsoft should stop trying to be a hardware maker. Their expertise is in software – so they should attempt to provide the BEST applications available in the App Store, even out-doing Apple. Microsoft’s forays into hardware with the exception of the xBox have been fairly laughable – not many people recommend their webcams or mice without offering just as good alternatives.
Imagine what would happen if Microsoft actually GAVE businesses a reason to buy iPads or other tablets? Because Microsoft felt that their focus should be on the software – the BUSINESS software.
Where is the MS CRM iPAD client ? That could be Microsoft’s killer intro into this marketplace. If they did it right, they could crush Salesforce. Oh, I know, CRM is a web-based product – but it has a terrible mobile interface. Why? Because it thinks it is still in the Windows desktop world.
Apple rebuilt iWorks for the iPad to try and show it as a great “office” tool – Microsoft should take Office and show why Office is the king of Office tools. Excel defined the office spreadsheet – should Apple’s Numbers define the mobile spreadsheet?
Microsoft has to realize that the days of their owning the desktop hardware due to licensing is over. Projects like WinPhone 7, Kin and possibly moving to tablets should be treated for what they are – hobbies, much like the AppleTV was. Build the best software for the devices and people will use them (provided you don’t kill them with licensing).
Microsoft’s greatest strength (and profits) are in tools like Office, SharePoint and others. Their developers rock at this.
Jobs had it right in that Apple’s strength is that they have always tried to be the cross-roads between Technology and the Liberal Arts. Microsoft has never been that – they make business software. Period.
So Microsoft should get their own developers making the best damn business software for the platforms they want to support. If they don’t want to support the devices that are becoming more popular, then it’s a losing business and they should realize they are eroding their customer base.
Consider the Server Tools market, That’s a battle with Linux and Unix – and while it’s a tough one, it’s one that Microsoft currently does arguably well. The majority of small to mid-sized businesses run on a Microsoft back end.
The desktop? I think even the biggest Linux proponents would just as soon say “take it” – the new battle is on the mobile devices. But the one thing we’ve seen is that what matters on these devices are the “apps”.
Want an instant way in here? Find a way to build “Lightswitch” apps for these next generation mobile devices ON the devices themselves. (focus on getting that trademark from someone where you can bully them). Corporate developers would fall over themselves if they could build it – and think of how cool it would be to be able to “build” the application on the device itself. (as long as Apple or other device makers allow you to do this, of course – but there’s the in).
If Microsoft wants to keep relevant, they should focus on their strengths, not their weaknesses. This being my last year as a Microsoft MVP, I really wish I had gone to the MVP summit to promote this attitude.
They have started a little bit – the latest contest is to build great HTML5 applications. Great – we already know that Silverlight is not the end game for web-based applications.
And another thing, Microsoft – really?!? “App Store” is a generic term – much like “Windows”? Grow up. They beat you to it – you should have trademarked “Tablet” when you had the chance.

2 thoughts on “Note to Microsoft: Focus on Software, not tablets”

  1. Don't kid yourself, Andrew. Going to the summit would not have enabled you to share a message with anyone at Microsoft. After two summits, I have to admit that MS invites MVPs to Redmond to tell, not to listen.

  2. Good point.

    I agree that those attending the summit are there to be spoken to. However, I do believe (or like to believe in my little rose-colored world) that the teams at Microsoft would like to do a little more in these areas. I can't see an MS tablet cutting it.

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