September 9, 2013

If I were CEO...Microsoft (Updated)

With the announcement that Steve Ballmer will be retiring in the next 12 months, I thought I'd write an update to my "If I were CEO...Microsoft" post from July 2010. Sure, Bill Gates and the board at Microsoft may never see my post (although I feel like the move towards "One Microsoft" announced recently, along with many steps to unify the brand, have been directly from my previous post) I thought I'd spell out what I believe would save the company and make it hugely profitable again.  So straight to it.

IF I WERE CEO of Microsoft, I would really look into the uniform design idea.  I think someone was trying to do this, but with horrible execution.  I would continue the "One Microsoft" mission, to unite the products with uniformity and ease of functionality.  The "User Experience" would be the focus, designing products that help users get work and play done in a familiar way.  The user experience is currently broken.  It has been so disrupted that many people may be switching to Apple's products for the ease of use and familiarity of design.  Rather than updating the Windows system and refreshing the desktop experience, a well known and frankly often copied formats (Apple's OSX, Google's Chrome OS, etc.), Microsoft went in a completely different direction and made the user experience awful.  Instead, the company should have spent time cleaning up it's classic desktop.  The active tiles could have been part of the experience, instead becoming the complete experience.  The active tiles should have been the quick launch icons on the traditional desktop or designed to act as widgets with live information, rather than the redesigned "Stat Menu".  A smarter use of the active tiles would have united the mobile and PC experiences, while not limiting the PC experience to touch screen only.

Going to a system that really requires a touch screen for the main PC operating system was stupid and short sighted.  Touch screens are great for phones, tablets, and some functions on a laptop or desktop, but when I sit down to a full PC with keyboard and mouse, I want the full experience to be designed around the peripherals I'm using.  My fingers on a screen are not the first choice when sitting at my home computer or laptop.  I don't really want to move my arms that much.  Touchscreens are best placed on devices I'm holding in my hands while using, not on those sitting on my desk or in my lap.  The uniform design idea should utilize the active tiles and cleaner look in a way that allows the mouse cursor to quickly move from one item or app to the next.

The updated version of Windows should be a refreshed desktop with more ability for customization, adding widgets and the current active tiles to the more classic desktop experience.  The traditional "Start Menu" should return, with a cleaned up and more simple way to access apps, system settings (a.k.a. control panel), and the launch point for advanced settings.  The real work should be in making the system settings and advanced settings more clear for users.  Clear up the confusion for networking and connecting computers and devices.  Make it simple to setup and change appearances and themes and buttons and folders and all the basic things the average user does.  Move the high end or advanced settings into one area for the more experienced users to access, while not making it so confusing that even the train professionals can't find half of the features they're looking for. 

Currently, it's a big disaster to find even the most basic of settings.  While I personally don't use Apple, Inc. products, many users may be switching to their computer products because it is a more traditional experience, with ease and consistency in settings and preferences.  The Microsoft world of programs and apps should be cleaned up and organized with menus that are laid out with intelligent, common sense designs.  For example, Office 2010.  I daily work with Excel and Word documents.  I usually use a 2003 version of Office, but recently my company is "upgrading" to 2010.  WHAT A HEAD ACHE!  I can't even find half the normal functions in the 2010 version; functions I use on a daily basis in the 2003 version.  The menu system is atrocious and lacks any common sense.

IF I WERE CEO of Microsoft I would work to make the desktop experience familiar and simple, the mobile experience effortless and fluid, and the gaming and automotive systems recognizable as Microsoft.  I would do actual world testing and listen to the feedback.  Touchscreens in cars?  Do we really find that useful and safe?  What about a design that uses some physical buttons, along with some large screen functionality?  Touchscreen workstations?  This slows production.  Redesigned software that confuses the end users?  What is going on at Microsoft?

I would take what worked with previous versions of the products and reintroduce them, with a freshness and simple clean look.  The extended menus and functions would be available for advanced users, but could be hidden for basic users.  The most commonly used functions would be easy to locate and access, while the advanced functions would make sense to those upper end users.  Touch screen would be part of the design thought process, but the use of a keyboard and mouse or track pad and other physical buttons and input points would also be a major part of the design processes.  R&D would be revived.  I would have research and testing completed before during and after product production, to assess the direction of development.  R&D would also listen to the end users, the experts, and the many experienced users out there, along with respected technology and customer interaction sources.  Employees would have the ability to feed the system with ideas and suggestions too.

I would also continue my original plan of "MSONE", a network of everything Microsoft, to unit the services and allow the products to be customized to the users designs, whether on their PC or mobile, vehicle or gaming system.  With cloud-based settings storage and Wi-Fi everywhere this is even more simple to implement than when I wrote about this before.  Even secure systems could be designed so users who work for a secure company with private networks could continue with personalized flow from device to device, a "settings only" type menu that helped with customized experiences.

IF I WERE CEO of Microsoft, I still believe I could change the world.  I would take one of the world's most recognized computer companies and make them the standard again.

One more note, the Nokia purchase was recently announced, and while I would take on that beast as well, I don't have the energy to write about it tonight.

Original Post 07/07/2010
Microsoft has been around for a long time (as computers go anyway).  It made their previous CEO, Bill Gates, the richest man in the world for a while, they made home computing popular with their MS-DOS systems, and they brought the Graphical User Interface (GUI) to the mainstream as they transitioned from MS-DOS to the point and click, drag and drop ease of Windows.

Microsoft has gone through so many changes since the early 80's, moving from typing cryptic codes on a monochrome screen to simply moving pictures and objects with your hands.  They have many popular/"can't live without" products.  From operating systems to Internet services, hand held music library devices to gaming consoles, Microsoft has their hands in so many technology areas of our lives.  They are the leader in the computer world by leaps and bounds, servicing over 90% of the computers in the world today.  Their history is full of great technological advances over their short 35 years existence.

But, if I were CEO of Microsoft, I would work on stopping the apparent loss of customer base by...well I'll get to that.  Before I share my plan with the world (all 3 of you faithful readers), I want to address some reasons I believe they may be losing market share on purpose, or at least without an attempt to stop it (and let me start this point by admitting that I have done no research what-so-ever on this topic.  Remember, this is my blog, and I can say what I want and believe what I want to believe).  I think Microsoft NEEDS the downsizing.  I believe with all the lawsuits, anti-trust stuff, etc., they can and need to shrink below the 90% range.  If they stay to large (or grow more), the government will slap them back down again, or even worse, make them split the company into multiple companies.  But let's pretend none of this is an issue.

If I were CEO of Microsoft, I would create something I'm calling "MSOne".  MSOne would be the network, the device manager, the hardware, the software, everything you, life connection service, linking everything from hardware to software, that is you (the user), together.  MSOne would be seamless connection and flow.  It would be massive; something only the likes of Microsoft could take on.  MSOne would connect everything from your PC to your phone to your game console to your MP3 player to your vehicle.  MSOne would work like a Remote Desktop for your work PC too, allowing you to access your personal life from work.  Everything in your life would be connected the way you want.  Social networking could be tied to the settings on your devices.  Feeling excited about something?  Your status update would change the wallpaper and color schemes on your devices.  Need to look at that file on your home computer?  Check it on your phone.  Want to listen to an MP3 you were emailed?  Retrieve it from your MP3 player and go.

Right now, Internet devices, cell phones, computers, gaming consoles, etc. all provide us with the information we want and need (and sometimes the information we don't want and don't need), at any minute of the day.  I want to simplify that even more.  Currently, Microsoft has the computer operating system (Windows), the Internet services (Hotmail for email, Bing for search, etc.), the music player (Zune and Media Player), the cell phone software (Windows Phone), the gaming console (Xbox), the word processing and other business tools (Office, including Word, Excel, Power Point, Access, Outlook, etc.), and vehicle integration (Sync).  I want to create the ability to connect all these devices and services together so they are all updated on a constant basis or link to each other at any given moment.  Beyond cloud storage, I want the ability to access something saved in any location from any other location.  As CEO of Microsoft, I would make this happen.

Beyond just software, which is the only thing Microsoft claims to do right now, I would start working on hardware solutions too.  I would create devices that fit together in flow; cellphones that integrate directly into the car stereo system as part of the hardware, PCs that are also your gaming console and link to your TV or PC monitor to allow you to game in either location, MP3 players that can connect to any of these other devices to charge, share files, or for storage.  I want the devices to talk to each other over the Internet, through local and wide area networks, through Bluetooth and other small network protocols, and by directly connecting or linking the devices to each other.  I would design a world of devices that worked together, not limited or strangled from their potential, but free to do things the way the end user sees fit.  High quality, top rated, sturdy, reliable, fast, consistent hardware would be the backbone to a quality experience, customizable with all the features the end users want.  Time and effort would be put into listening to what the true users are looking for.  Work would be done to listen to the people who really know what can and can't be done, and the end result would always be the max of what can be done at the time.  More efforts would be put into providing the very best available, and less time would be spent on figuring out how many things could be left out for later revisions and future models.  By producing the best NOW, we will keep our customer base coming back to us.

I would design a system, where all the information you wanted to access was always available to you.  It would be secure, fast, and affordable.  Easy to set up home networks that saved all your information on your home computer, not in some "cloud" (if desired), would allow users to feel like their information was readily available to them but securely sitting on their home computer.  Cloud infrastructure would also be available and it would be fast, safe, and affordable too.  The network would know the devices allowed to join, helping these devices (cellphones, portable computers, game consoles, etc.) work well and communicate quickly and accurately with each other.  The user interface would be similar and familiar across all the various platforms, with ease of use in mind.  Consistency would be available in personal settings, allowing for customization across the various platforms for a personal feel to any and all devices on a users network.  Devices used by multiple users would have recognition keys or log-ins to allow personal settings to follow the different users.  If a purchase is made of upgraded or new software, the purchase would allow the software to work across all platforms on the network.  No more buying the "phone version" of Office.  Simply adding the purchased software to a user's account would sync the various devices and necessary versions across the network of devices.

If I were CEO of Microsoft,  the wealth of the company would be used to create a new Microsoft, one where customers don't feel like it's a tough choice to choose between a PC or a Mac.  I would lead the company to greatness in quality, quantity, and reliability.  I would provide a service that people trust, and one where people know they are making a choice in a company that cares about their well being.

If I were CEO of Microsoft, I would change the world.

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