Buried deep in John Gruber’s treatise, Microsoft’s Long, Slow Decline is a gem about change. In comparing the late 1990s and the dot com boom with the current state of affairs (Apple and the Mac growing, Microsoft and Windows shrinking), Gruber uncovers the heart of the matter. It’s heart.
I Heart My Mac
Few of us would argue against the axiom things change. We understand why the emperor’s new clothes were no clothes at all. Like Microsoft, the emperor was deluded.
During the late-’90s dot-com boom, it was standard operating procedure at many companies for professional web developers and designers to have two computers on their desks: one Windows, one Mac. One for primary development, one for testing in browsers on the “other” OS.
Starting from early 1998, I built and ran CheapTickets’ online business in exactly that manner. A Mac on one side of my desk and a Dell PC on the other. The primary platform was Windows, because the rest of the company ran Windows PCs, as did most people, regardless of socioeconomic status.
These web developers were not like the people who, in a form of tribalism, claim to despise one or other other platform without having actually used it. Web developers had to know both the Mac and Windows, at least with passing familiarity, and the truth is that many, if not most, preferred Windows.
With the exception of the personal preference, that was the case. Windows ruled.
Where are the leading indicators of coming revolutions? Microsoft has feared change—and the loss of the Windows hegemony—for a decade, flopping and flailing around in one business or another in search of the future, and slowly failing at the present.
Somehow a market opportunity emerged that Microsoft failed, and may still fail, to see. Passion. Heart. Love. Hence Apple’s dominant market and revenue share of computers in the plus $1,000 segment.
Microsoft has lost all but a sliver of this entire market. People who love computers overwhelming prefer to use a Mac today. Microsoft’s core problem is that they have lost the hearts of computer enthusiasts. Regular people don’t think about their choice of computer platform in detail and with passion like nerds do because, duh, they are not nerds. But nerds are leading indicators.
I don’t think of myself as a nerd as much as I think of myself as having practical, discriminating taste, with little tolerance for half-hearted me too products. My wife often accuses me of being on the cutting edge of new trends; sometimes it’s a bleeding edge. Or, maybe a bleeding heart edge. As an enthusiast for what is cool and works are there other industries with similar issues?
Microsoft is looking ever more so like the digital equivalent of General Motors. Car enthusiasts lost interest in GM’s cars long before regular people did; the same is happening with Windows.
Nationalism and flag waving aside, remember when GM stopped making cars that were a pleasure to own? It didn’t happen over night. GM conceded market after market to Toyota, Honda, Nissan, and some European manufacturers until there was nothing left to bleed. The heart was gone.
Microsoft seems to have conceded that the enthusiasts who’ve switched to the Mac in recent years are gone for good. Their apparent goal for Windows 7 was merely to make something better than Windows Vista. If Microsoft were a healthy, functional, competitive company willing and able to honestly assess its own shortcomings — like the Microsoft of the ’90s that conquered the entire industry — their goal would have been to make something not just better than Vista, but better than anything else on the market, including Mac OS X.
So, how does the lumbering, sleeping, clumsy Microsoft giant fight back? By hiring a Walmart guy to fight Apple with price commercials. Sure, the house is burning down, but all Microsoft eyes are on the price tag. Walmart executives must think, “How can people buy at Target when our prices are lower and we offer more products?” How does price advertising work? So well that Microsoft’s exec said they’re “winners”.
And now for the money quote:
Such winners in the marketplace that Apple’s laptop sales went up last quarter, and the rest of the industry’s declined. (Perhaps Microsoft would do better to measure the efficacy of their ads by their effect on sales, rather than by the number of phone calls they prompt from Apple lawyers.)
Many years ago, while living and teaching in Japan, I read an English translation of the book Kokoro by Natsume Soseki. The literal meaning is heart, but a better context translation is the heart of things.
Right up until the moment it went bankrupt, General Motors had the largest market share of all automobiles sold in America. Today GM may still have the single largest market share (in the US) but the heart of the company is gone; customers, me included, have gone elsewhere searching for, and finding, love in an automobile. What of Microsoft?
They’re a software company whose primary platform no longer appeals to people who like computers the most. Their executives are either in denial of, or do not perceive, that there has emerged a consensus — not just among nerds but among a growing number of regular just-plain users — that Windows PCs are second-rate.
That’s the heart of the matter. The product is second rate. The customer base that knows that is growing rapidly and voting with their dollars on other products that they then love, with passion and heart. That can be said of Mac users, iPod users, and iPhone users. Microsoft’s future is in decline because the company lost heart a long time ago. Only now, their customers know it.
Gruber’s commentary is one of his best ever and spot on. Highly recommended.