Robert Cringely writes the best article about Microsoft and Apple I’ve come across in a long time. I’ve had many discussions with friends who are current and former employees of Microsoft and they can’t seem to grasp what Cringely explains in exquisite detail:
In every business there is some version of the 80-20 rule that says 80 percent of the business comes from 20 percent of the customers. Smart businesses do whatever they can to play to that powerful 20 percent…There’s another kind of company, however, that applies the 80-20 rule in a different manner and Apple is one of those companies. They aim everything they do at that top 20 percent and ignore the rest…There are other companies that take a similar market approach to Apple, but few of them are in the computer business. BMW and Porsche are good examples…If Microsoft gets only 20 percent of any market it enters, they consider that effort a failure and it would be, because Microsoft’s business is scaled and its cost structure is optimized for really, really big numbers of mindless and fairly undemanding customers
This describes the differences between Microsoft and Apple better than anything I’ve come across. This explains why Microsoft products like Zune and Live Search haven’t been widely accepted. Those products aren’t aimed at the top 20%. They are products aimed as the masses which might work when your previous version has a huge installed based for a product like Vista. But it’s an uphill battle when your product doesn’t stand out against the likes of the iPod or Google search.
Microsoft isn’t the Porsche or the BMW of software. They are the Toyota Camry: cheap, lots of features, reliable, but not very exciting. But good enough to meet the needs for the majority of drivers.
And when I listen to Balmer and Gates keynotes all I hear are references about OEMs and partners and resellers. You seldom hear either of them talk about products for the consumer. I find it interesting that my two favorite Microsoft products are ones they give away for free and don’t have giant armies of programmers and marketers behind: Windows Live Photo Gallery and Windows Live Writer. They are both simple and fun to use programs.
As I read the Cringely article I was reminded of a blog post Seth Godin wrote a while back about titled, “Why Downloading Firefox is like getting into College”. Very similar concept.