Category Archives: Microsoft

Microsoft – Great Customer Service

Since I blogged about my poor experience with Netgear, today I had a much better experience with technology. Well, sort of anyway. I was finally able to locate Windows 7 drivers for a couple of arcane devices on my desktop server, so decided to upgrade from Vista to Win 7. After cloning my drive, I put in the Windows 7 installation disk and ran it. After about 30 min, it returned an obscure error about missing files. So.. I tried it a second time telling it not to go online and get the latest update. Again it failed. That was the bad news.

It took me quite a while to find the number I could call, but eventually did. With that number in hand, I called Microsoft customer service. The first person I spoke with just took my info, gave me a case number, said that I qualified for free support, and transferred me to tech support. My call immediately dropped and I had to call back. With my case number in hand, I got right through to Jeff, who spent the next hour on the phone with me to fix the problem. First, he took the error code I had received and did some research. Within a couple of minutes, he knew exactly what caused the problem – it was my optical drive which (while working for files) would occasionally fail and not find a file. He then suggested that I copy the installation files, which my drive wouldn’t do. So, he recommended going to another computer on my network, copying the disk there and then using the network to install it. That worked! And then it installed perfectly.

Through all of this, Jeff from Microsoft in the Philippines, could not have been more knowledgeable, friendly, or helpful. Not happy that the install didn’t work on the first try, but very happy to have such a good level of support.

Apple Overtakes Microsoft as the Most Valuable Tech Company

John Cook from Tech Flash asked me to comment on the following question:What should Microsoft do to reposition itself as the most dominant and valuable tech company on the planet?

This is not a problem that has appeared over night; it has been decades in the making and can’t be cured with a single act.  The industry has matured, and Microsoft is still run like the company it was 20 years ago.  It lacks the visionary who can anticipate what its customers will desire and the ability to delight and surprise (in a positive way) those customers with a clean and crisp innovation.

Microsoft has become the IBM of the last generation – it is a de facto enterprise solution and “no one will get fired for selecting Microsoft.”  Microsoft had the ability to lead the way in the Internet, but it instead focused on the competition inside and didn’t dream the big dream.  Worse – it became boring!

Look at Windows Vista and Office 2007.  Neither were improvements on previous versions, nor were they more stable or easier to use.  And, of course, Microsoft had the clear shot at the Smartphone operating system.  Instead, it tried to bring us Windows on our phones.

Customers wanted new thinking, sleek products, and ones that were much easier to use.  The iPhone was really a breakthrough – a browser-based phone that was truly useful and enabled 1000’s of cheap, easy, and imaginative apps.  Apple unleashed the imagination and creativity of an entire generation.  And then they extended it to the iPad.  They took leadership of the entire industry.  They earned the mantle.

The fact that a large company loses its ability to innovate is not a surprise.  I call this the  “$0B Business Problem.”    As an illustration, I was the first GM of the Microsoft Search team.  We had a great plan to lead the search business that would grow to a new $250M business in 3 years. (Any VC would have funded this business; it returned over 50x ROI.)  But we competed for resources with Excel, which needed the same 25 headcount, and had an net present value of $4B.  In that context, my $250M rounded to $0B, and we didn’t get the people.

Microsoft needs to find a way to unleash it’s innovation.  It needs to behave more like  a startup.  When I was there, I suggested Microsoft form a group called “The Idea Factory,” where innovative and entrepreneurial employees could “spin in” (rather than spin out) a new idea, and create a startup around that idea.  The notion was that an internal VC group would vet and fund a portfolio of ideas, in exchange for ownership in the new company(newco)  and a right to acquire the entire company at a later date at a market price.  The employees who transferred to newco would exchange their options/restricted shares for newco stock.   And the newco would hire a great startup CEO to build the company.  These newcos shouldn’t be constrained to “work within the existing system,” or you will get another Windows Mobile instead of an iPhone.

Changing leadership at Microsoft, but keeping the system, won’t change the company’s trajectory.  Acquiring a large and already successful company won’t solve the problem.  Nor will decreeing that it is going to “kill Google,” or “kill iPhone.”  Microsoft still has the most formidable research and intellectual ability in the industry.  Microsoft needs a better vision, one that is tied to delighting customers.  Technology that is easier to use and just works.  And technology that surprises it customers.  If Microsoft can’t make this transition, it risks becoming irrelevant in the industry. That would be sad.

Google & the Future of Search

I just read the Business Week article on Google (BW, October 12, 2009, p44) and believe it misses the key point – the threat against Google is that its search just isn’t very good.  Unfortunately no one is yet much better.  Someone will be, and it may be Google itself, but I believe it is just as likely to be another startup.

First, a little background.  I was the first General Manager of Microsoft’s search group in 1995.  That was at the beginning of search and almost all of the players lost their way.  Microsoft focused on its “shows,” believing that content was king.  Yahoo believed it was a portal.  Alta Vista couldn’t decide what it wanted to be.  Etc.  I knew at the time that finding what you wanted on the Internet would be a daunting challenge.  It would be hard to distinguish your search intent from a key word or two to deliver a result that both high precision (missing no positive searches without lots of false negatives), while prioritizing the search with the responses that really met your intent.

What Google has done exceptionally well is keeping its search simple – its interface is clean, uncluttered, and easy to use.  Comparing it to Bing, it is easy to see why it remains on top.

What it does poorly: giving results that match what its users are really looking for – too many irrelevant results.  Why?  It’s core page ranking thesis.  Google believes that the most popular links are the ones that are most relevant.  This is true sometimes, but equally false at other times.

So.. where does this go?  I believe that some very clever work will be done that allows for more precise search results based on a better algorithm than page ranking.  Who will do this work?  My bet is on a startup, where “NIH” isn’t a factor.