John Y’s Musings from the Middle: Idiot Proofing & Microsoft

Idiot proofing and the decline of Microsoft?

In my old job when we were about to introduce a new online service to the public, it had to pass one final test (after all the technical specifications were met). It had to be what I called, “Idiot Proof.”

And we had one simple test for whether or not something passed the critical “Idiot Proof” test.

I had to be able to figure it out how to use it quickly and easily (intuitively) without reading the directions.

My rationale was that I’m a pretty ordinary consumer and, like many (maybe most) consumers, I have a short attention span and short frustration-tolerance level (before giving up and moving to the next product). And– this is key–I don’t ever read directions first.

So….if I could figure out quickly how to use a new service successfully —it was ready to “Go live.” (And I remember literally sitting with my tech team trying out something new. For them it was probably like watching a child tinker with a new toy. But it was a good threshold test then…and I still think it still is today.)

Which brings me to Microsoft Windows 8. I am now into week 4 (or maybe its week 7 or 8), and I still don’t know what it is that has improved from the previous Windows version. It is not “Idiot Proof” It is not —to me anyway–intuitive. It is confusing and cute and clever and hip-looking but for all the wrong reasons. Namely, because Microsoft wanted it to look cute and clever and hip-looking to cover up any real substantive improvements. And that is —after 4 weeks (or maybe 7 or 8 weeks) confusing. Not to mention disappointing and frustrating.

At least that’s one Idiot’s opinion. But an Idiot who has been a loyal Microsoft user for many years.

Maybe Microsoft is trying too hard to be like Apple (but without seeming like it’s trying to be like Apple). And that doesn’t work. Remember when Al Gore kept trying to reinvent himself in the 2000 presidential campaign? He wasn’t an Apple. He was a PC. Bill Clinton was an Apple using open source code on a wireless and virtual mini tablet. Al would have been much better off just being good ole trusty un-cool and un-hip but smart and reliable dorky Al.

Al was a first rate Al Gore but a 3rd rate Bill Clinton wanna-be.

Some people just can’t dress up in the latest cool fashions and pull it off.

Some companies can’t ever be dressed up like the cool kid either.

But remember, for the cool kid to be the cool kid, there has to be a lot of ordinary (PC students) who begrudgingly admire and aspire to be him/her. The PC kids, so to speak.

But from a market share standpoint, cool kids only make up about 3-5% of the market share. Which means the PC kids make up 95% of the student market. And that’s a much bigger (albeit different) market to sell to. Unless you forget who you are —and who they are (your customer base).

What point am I trying to make with all the gobbledygook rigamarole? I think it is this.
Microsoft can either be a first rate Microsoft or it can keep trying to be a third rate Apple poser.

Microsoft needs to embrace its ordinariness. The world actually needs more ordinariness to function successfully that it does coolness. A lot more. And embrace it before they embarrass themselves. Windows 8 reminds me of the prolonged kiss with Tipper Gore at the convention to demonstrate Al was a passionate, hip and cool guy. (Note: Al and Tipper are split today).

If Microsoft doesn’t learn that lesson soon the entire company may start looking like the Zune. On eBay. Because who wants the Zune when you can have an iPod.

And what the heck is Microsoft doing pretending to be like Apple anyway? They are Microsoft for goodness sakes!

That was a good question a few years ago during the Zune debacle. And it’s an even more pertinent question today.

And it doesn’t take an idiot to see the source code writing on the wall, so to speak.
But I thought I’d offer one idiot’s opinion anyway.



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