Microsoft's "Cool Hand Luke" Problem...

March 27, 2007

Anyone who has seen Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke, can recite the movie's key tagline. You're probably thinking it right now...

"What we've got here is failure to communicate."

A few years back, Microsoft's mission was simple...."A PC on every desk and in every home." For all intents and purposes...that vision has been met. This is a concrete goal. The question: now what?

I just finished Chip and Dean Heath's book "Made to Stick" about ideas that stay with you vs. those that don't. Microsoft's problem now...we don't have an idea about what we're doing that "sticks."

While I get emotional about the "Your Potential. Our Passion" ads and since I've drunk the Microsoft Kool Aid :-), the idea of "Software for the People-Ready Business" makes sense to me...but I think they are way too ephemeral. They're too hard for customers and partners to grasp as to what's in it for them.

And what's worse....Microsoft has a GREAT story to tell...it just needs to be crystal clear in terms of mission and what it means to customers.

Let me tell you a story about my recent upgrade to my home computer network.

The center of my universe at home was an XPSP2 Media Center Edition PC in my home office (aka the "man cave"). Upstairs in the living room was an XBOX which allowed me to play all of the recorded content from the Media Center. This way, my kids could Backyardigans and Dora the Explorer and we could all watch all of our family pics and listen to music. Not too shabby.

Here's what it looked like...

And if I wanted to work from home....I'd just open my TabletPC (work laptop) to do that.

What it took to upgrade...

Of course, as a good MS employee, I decided I should upgrade the "center of my universe PC" to Windows Vista. Now, I'm not stupid, so I did a dual-boot scenario....keeping my XP install intact...just in case.

But I didn't need it...I was impressed, Vista installed in 30 minutes. Office 2007 is sweet and the new interface works for me really well. Every day, I find something new that I use...and like in both the OS and the apps..

There were two problems (details here).

  1. my Lexmark printer/copier/scanner didn't work (Lexmark isn't going to release a Vista compatible driver)
  2. only the Xbox 360 works with Vista as a 'media center extender,' not the original Xbox

I couldn't blame MS for the Lexmark issue (it is a 4 year old printer). And I'll bite the bullet on the Xbox 360.

So, I figure..."ok, I'll upgrade to the Xbox 360 as well" and sell my old Xbox on eBay.  And I do have to say, it's A LOT better than the original Xbox.

Then, I took it to the next level...

I set up a direct connection (for the geeks, using RPC/HTTP) from my home machine to my work server (Exchange 2007).

What that means...I can read all of my email on my home machine and don't need to open my work laptop to check my email at home. It all synchs. (BTW, I also synch all of my files between my work laptop and home PC using FolderShare)

And, to finish it all off, I bought a T-mobile Dash Smartphone with Windows Mobile 5 and Direct Push (a la Blackberry)..and my previous Audovox smartphone is also up for sale.

It took a few days and, yes, there were a few frustrating glitches at each stage, but when I stepped back and looked at the network and what I accomplished, here's what I found....

No matter what device I am on, be it my

  • T-mobile Dash SmartPhone
  • Tablet PC [work]
  • Vista Ultimate Media Center [home]
  • any browser [incl. Firefox!] via OWA

I have secure access to synchronized and updated

Now, here's what it looks like...

Net cost to me, about $400, thanks to some employee discounts, and probably about 15-20 hours or so of work.

Not inconsequential at all and not easy for everyone (granted, I am more technical than most), but here's what I realized....

What I've got as a result

As a knowledge/information worker...this is what I need more than anything. It's about my network and access to information at any time, from any place...on any device...and keeping everything in harmony. I've got that....and more. And I think many, many people would like this as well.

Is it perfect? No. Could it be easier? Absolutely! Is every Microsoft piece of this puzzle the absolute best of breed? Definitely not.

But you know what?

They all work together pretty damn well. It's the whole thing that is cool, not one piece. A case of the sum being greater than the parts...(and heck, the Dash synchs beautifully with Vista/Windows Media Player 11, so I have synchronized music playlists on my PC and phone as well) and, compared to what it would take if I wasn't using Microsoft, well, I daresay it'd be a lot more difficult (and more expensive)...

Seth Godin, my marketing hero, says a product needs to be REMARKABLE (aka a Purple Cow) for it to be successful. Microsoft's whole set of products when put together, I believe, are that...individually they may not be.

So what?

And here's the rub....how does Microsoft explain the value of all of this software that really is "better together" in a way that doesn't require someone to be super-technical or go through the lengthy explanation you just read?

What's the one concrete sentence that explains why this is so great? I don't know, but I think this is Microsoft's "Cool Hand Luke" Problem.

I'm open to ideas....




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