An Open Letter to Microsoft

by Kevin Bedell

I used to say that there were two types of successful software companies: Great Technology companies, and Great Marketing companies.

It seemed like companies when they started didn't have the money or time to immediately be great at both. But if they were really good at one or the other, they could survive.

I also used to hold up Oracle as a company that eventually became great at both. Oracle started out a great marketing company and that allowed them to hold on to market share long enough that their products eventually became great too. (Of course, they have so many products now that not all of them are great - but that's a different story!)

Microsoft I used to hold up as an example of a Great Marketing Company. No, a Brilliant Marketing Company. Leave behind for a moment that when they signed the deal to supply DOS to IBM they got themselves a franchise that that they're still riding. Look at what they've done since.

"Windows" is now one of the most powerful brands in the world. (Name one other brand name less than 25 years old that even comes close.)

Many other markets they didn't initially own they took away using great marketing.

For example, they largely took away business networking from Novell by providing an easier to use product (Windows NT). It wasn't particularly superior from a technical standpoint - but they knew that "ease of use" was the most important product feature at that time. Stealing the market by focusing on a feature set that's more important to the customer is just good marketing.

And they ate the collective lunches of Lotus and WordPerfect when they came out with MS Office. Combining existing products into a new package like Office was purely a marketing play. Again, brilliant - they now totally dominate that business.

So what's with this new server product? In the last few years it's been called:

  • Windows 2002 Server

  • Windows .Net Server

  • Windows .Net Server 2003

  • Windows Server 2003

So, are there chinks in the Marketing armour now? Are they at risk of becoming a 'not so good' technology company with 'not so good' marketing too?

To be honest, I really don't care about their Marketing right now. Flopping names around really isn't a big deal. In the end, it doesn't matter what's written on the box. And besides, that's not what I wanted to talk about anyway.

Here's my real question: When is MS going to become a Great Technology Company too?

The technical challenges they are facing are the real chinks in their armour. This is the big problem at the core.

All the issues that are being addressed in their "Trustworthy Computing" initiative really stem from the fact that the quality of their marketing has always been better than the quality of their products. The "Trustworthy Computing" initiative itself is a classic example - great positioning but questionable technical execution.

While I'm not an expert, here are a couple suggestions:

  1. Bite the bullet and focus on quality at the expense of marketing for a while. We don't care what it's called if it works.
  2. Slow down. Get this set of technology solid before you move to the Next Big Thing. I don't care if Marketing is bored with a technology after 2-3 years - I need to know that a technology will last my ROI timeframe (5 years or more) before I'm comfortable building mission-critical apps on it.

Wouldn't it be a breath of fresh air if Microsoft came out with a new product and said "We don't have a fancy name for it - we just put our efforts into making it work right."


2003-01-13 11:39:02
whine: "but our budgets were cut"
In a recent Microsoft SEC filing, they stated "Sales and marketing expenses were $1.22 billion in the September quarter, or 15.7% of revenue, compared to $1.15 billion in the September quarter of the prior year, or 18.7% of revenue. "

In their 2002 Annual Report, they say, "Sales and marketing expense as a percentage of revenue was 18.0% in 2000, 19.3% in 2001, and 19.1% in 2002. "

That's the reason marketing has failed-their budgets have been reduced. Groan.

That's an insane amount of money. It is also an insane percentage of revenue that goes to S&M.

2003-01-14 10:44:00
Well said
Although only in the last 25 years if a mass market sense, "Cell" Phones seems to be a similarly saturated branding term.

2003-01-14 15:03:58
whine: "but our budgets were cut"

And that's back when a billion dollars was a lot of money!

But seriously - pouring these huge sums of money into marketing and sales helps them a great deal no doubt. Though probably a lot of this goes into making goofy commercials with guys dressed up in butterfly outfits.

But on the other hand, the negative press that they have to overcome from the security flaws in their web servers, browser and operating systems must be significant.

My feeling is that a quiet buzz about a good, solid product would go probably much further among the people who make decisions about architectures and platforms.

Bad press from a major bug sure gets around fast - and builds a reputation that costs a lot to overcome.

2003-01-14 15:45:55
Well said


2003-01-15 18:22:54
*nix peons, stop kiddding yourselves!
Humbly accept the nirvana of .Net.
2003-01-15 20:14:39
*nix peons, stop kiddding yourselves!
Hey - I'll try anything once!

(Now sitting with eyes closed and legs crossed in Lotus Position.)

Hmmm. Nothing.

Maybe you've been using too much of the .Net version of this program.

2003-01-22 10:36:25
Microsoft S&M
Since Tim O'Reilly buried my previous comment, I'll try again. Here is how an honest Microsoft ad might read: