Where the Greatest Opportunity Lies: Microsoft

A thought passed through my mind the other day: if I could take over as CEO of any one company, right now, which would it be? I concluded that I would choose to take over Microsoft – which to many people seems shocking given my love and passion for Apple products. I thought about this for quite a while this weekend while I was away from technology on a hike, and below are my thoughts on what I would do if I somehow lucked into being Microsoft’s CEO.

Step One: Communication

The smartest thing a CEO can do right now is to directly communicate with its customers – this is something that Steve Ballmer has not been very good at. He talks a lot, but most of what he is saying is directed at employees, media and investors. Customers need to come first, the rest will fall into place.

I am not saying that things like emailing customers back needs to happen (though it should as it does go a very long way towards building goodwill) at the very least Microsoft needs to start offering direct support – in person much like Apple has done with it’s Genius bars.

Microsoft also needs to take the time to explain its decisions and actions to customers, to hype up what is going on and to show real products – not concepts. The customer needs to once again be made to feel like they are cared about, like Microsoft is designing its products to take care of them and their needs. Not to pad the bottom line.

Step Two: Time to Simplify

The ribbon is a great tool for those new to Office and for those experienced users it quickly became an annoyance. The one thing we can all agree on is that we need more simplicity in our life and that should start with the amount of stuff that we can see on the screen. Microsoft needs to go through and hide away some of the features and offer a basic view – a view that we can use to really write with no distractions. Then they need to make this view, the default view.

I am not advocating throwing out features – that would alienate far too many existing users. Instead Microsoft needs to start putting billions into the design of the user experience – things just don’t need to be that complicated. Microsoft needs to spend the time and money to make complicated things seem very simple for end users.

Step Three: Reward Creativity

Instead of Ballmer proclaiming that he thinks Microsoft employees should make mobile apps in their free time, he should be allowing them to do so during work hours. Give them the 10-20% free time during the day to help make the Microsoft product stronger (via personal projects such as making mobile applications).

Also the people that came up with the Courier project should not have seen it shut down as a ‘concept’ – they should be pushed to make it real and then to make something else. It seems (from the outside looking in, and those that work there that I have talked to) that Microsoft wants drones and the when you really have creative inspiration Microsoft is slow to support you in that vision (if they ever even get around to that). This is backwards – the innovators need to be given the freedom to innovate, not tossed aside until the defect to another company.

Step Four: Embrace the Courier

This is the real iPad killer, except Microsoft never gave the device a fighting chance. This should not be a concept, it was too well received. The courier needs to be brought to production and fast – when you have something as great as the courier in the dead projects bin it is a bad sign.

Bring it back now.

Step Five: Set the Standard

Microsoft has made it clear over the years that they are software first and want to stay far from the hardware arena – this is counter to what Apple is doing, but doesn’t mean Microsoft has to make hardware. In fact when it comes to hardware Microsoft needs to look at what Google did with the Nexus One.

Google was not happy with the Android phone offerings so they decided to up the ante for all of the manufacturers and set the standard for what an Android phone should be. Microsoft should be doing the same for laptops / smartphones / desktops and all other products.

Setting the standard forces manufacturers to make better products which only helps Microsofts software to look and feel better. Customers are not only switching to Apple because of the software, they are switching because of the beautiful hardware as well. It is no longer about being virus free – it is also now about looking good.

Step Six: Regulate Vendors

Microsoft needs to tell all of its vendors that they better get their act together – start selling quality products or lose the right to sell Windows on your computers. This goes back to the last point about setting a standard, but takes it one step further. If Microsoft forces vendors to use better parts, faster and more reliable components, then it will begin to reach the standard of quality that Apple has in its computers – all without having to make them directly.

Vendors need a swift kick in the ass, and shown the light or the door.

Last Step: Stores

The Microsoft stores need to start a massive rollout. Real estate leasing is at an all time low and spaces can be had for cheap. Microsoft needs to roll out stores across the country that do two things:

First and foremost needs to be free support, just like Apple. Allow customers to bring in any machine with a Microsoft product that needs fixing – and fix it. This is a requirement, you can limit the amount of repairs by limiting the amount of employees dedicated to this task, much like Apple, but you need to get this free support out there to build good will and loyalty.

The second thing these stores should do is to showcase only the best hardware that ships Windows and Mobile. They need to showcase only the top notch products for the hardware, and only sell the software. (this excludes actual hardware products Microsoft may be selling) If a vendor like say Dell wants in the store to show off a new computer – it better blow the doors off the competition or it can stay in the PNG and Dell’s website.

Wrap-Up

Microsoft it is time to get back to the basics. Embrace your customers or slowly watch your huge pile of cash dwindle. There is an opportunity here, the question is: will they grasp it?

Originally posted for members on: July 28, 2010
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