The Register echos my thoughts from yesterday – Microsoft need a new product to stay relevant

I talked yesterday that Microsoft have been resting on their laurels for far too long and need a new product to keep them relevant. Seems The Register are thinking along the same lines – Microsoft continue to milk their two cash cows of Windows and Office, but fail miserably in every other area they have tried to enter, mainly with me-too releases of products trying to cash in on others success but not making any headway (e.g. the Zune, search, mobile devices, mobile phone operating systems). The Register suggest more drastic changes for Microsoft to get them back in the game, but embracing something like Linux does not seem like it will ever be a choice that Ballmer will have the guts to do.

Ballmer says Microsoft is working on an iPad competitor as ‘job number 1’ but who cares?

Ballmer talked a lot today on their annual financial analysts call about how they are targeting a Windows based slate/tablet device which will ship “as soon as they are ready”. Great. We’ll sit around and wait then – can’t wait ‘until it’s ready’.

Ballmer stated that it’s their ‘job number 1’ priority to work on a Windows based slate/tablet device to compete with the iPad, as the device has already sold more than he would have liked. The thing is though, ok, so competition is great to promote development of new ideas and push the boundaries of technology, but Microsoft isn’t doing any of this… they’re playing catch up to Apple, they’re trying to catch up with a ‘me too’ game. Microsoft – where’s the innovation gone? Have you so truly lost your direction that you need to play catch-up to Apple?

That said though, when was the last time Microsoft came out with a new product that was revolutionary? How far back do you have to go before you get to their last ‘wow’ product? Here’s some reminders – in my opinion you’ve got to go back pretty far to get the last time Microsoft released anything that was revolutionary and ground breaking:

  • Windows 7? No – it makes up for mistakes made with Vista. It’s really Vista SP1
  • Vista? No – probably the worst received operating system ever released and a massive black eye for Microsoft
  • XP? Not really. It improved PC operating system stability, but was a mix of the UI success of Windows 95 and the robustness of Windows NT, combining both code lines into a common product. Nothing revolutionary there when you think about it, despite how long it has lived.
  • Windows ME? No – it was a consumer disaster in backwards compatibility
  • Windows 98? No – it was an incremental improvement of ’95
  • Windows 95? Yes – this really was a major step forward from Windows 3.1, but really it stole from IBM’s OS/2 in terms of user interface features but lacked everything in terms of stability and reliability that OS/2 had
  • Windows NT? Yes, probably the first of the reliable PC based operating systems for running back-office business systems, but still not close to the reliability of any Unix based system. The core kernel code for early versions of NT was originally from OS/2. Nothing revolutionary there. Microsoft and IBM originally partnered to co-develop the original version of OS/2. Microsoft lifted the kernel and made it the foundation for NT.
  • Windows 3.1? Yes, truly a step forward in graphical user interfaces, but stole everything from the Mac
  • MS-DOS? The success of MS-DOS is really overshadowed by how Gates masterminded one of the most impressive business deals ever buying the rights to Q-DOS/86-DOS from Seattle Computer Products (for only $10k) and supplying it to IBM for the the operating system to be shipped with the first IBM PC. But a revolutionary product from Microsoft? Not really, the original product was licensed from SCP, and only enhanced later in the incremental versions sold by Microsoft

Ok, so Ballmer, you’re going to come out with a Windows based version of an iPad. Great. If I wanted/needed an iPad I would buy an iPad. Ok, so we’re still waiting? Just when is Microsoft going to hit it out of the park and wow us with a revolutionary new product? I think the slow decline of Microsoft has already started…