Thursday, July 3, 2008

De-Innovation by Greed

"Greed Is Good" - Gordon Gecko

Something just dawned on me while I was trying to ascertain where Microsoft put some of the well established functions in the New Version of Excel that comes with Vista.

I have been moaning about our office's transition to Vista for the past few months. It has been a headache, not so much because of the operating system, but because of our staff's very low functioning when it comes to automation. Example: they all have Excel on their desktops, but 90% still prefer to use the small paper adding machine calculators on their desks. As I have stated before, change comes slow to some, extremely slowly to others.

But back to Excel. From my perspective, the most frustrating thing about Vista and it applications buddy, Office 2007, is that they have changed things around for no apparent reason. Instead of having thing all in one logical place, they have placed them all over the place in hidden 'ribbons' along the top of the application window. This makes no sense. I thought that after a couple of weeks I would start to see the grand design philosophy, but a couple of weeks have gone by and I am still not seeing the light.

I am a big beleiver in speed. I rarely use the mouse and prefer to manipulate data with hot-key combinations. My hands rarely leave the keyboard. This was NOT a key design concept when they created Vista.

Then today, while I was hunting for the data sort functions in Excel it sort of dawned on my. They changed this stuff, not because of some design group study or because they were trying to force users to learn more efficient ways of doing things, they changed it because they 'could'. They wanted to change it just to make it different than the competition. However, this does not mean they changed it to be 'better'.

Microsoft controls the global PC market because they have become entrenched in every business and household in America and most of the developed world. In the beginning, they did this by solving problems and being innovative. They improved on Lotus 1-2-3 and made Excel. They integrated Internet Explorer into the operating system and came up with some interesting design concepts with Windows 95. After that they slowly ran out of steam. However, they had the market share which means that they could dictate what we do in the office and at home. Sort of like a puppet master yanking the string attached to your right wrist.

You don't want to jerk your right hand around, but you no longer have a say in the matter. If you want to get your job done, move that right hand. Never mind that you never had to move it before.

They have made these changes because they have to do something to stay a head of the pack. They can't just sit on their accomplishments or Apple and Linux will start to catch up. So short of coming up with the next big thing....just come up with something and 'force' your customers to buy it.

This sort of reminds me of Kodak, the great American film / camera company. Kodak is gone now and exists in name only. They were innovative with the Brownie camera back in the 1920s. Then went on to make some really nice cameras up through the 1950s. Then things changed. The rest of the world set the standard with 35mm film in the 1950s but Kodak didn't want the competition. Instead they forced their market share to move to 'cartridge film', and then onto 'disk' film, and finally, who remembers the 'Advantix' system that came out about 10 years ago. They are all gone, and so is Kodak. Now they sell their brand name to dozens of third party manufacturers that sell everything from computer paper to digital cameras.

I have the funny feeling that 'Vista' is the 'Advantix' of the computer age. The 'next big thing' that was 'something new' but in the end, offered nothing that the world wanted and the world found out there were better things out there. Vista won't be leaving us anytime soon, just like the thousands of Polaroid and Kodak cameras that linger in thrift stores. But it isn't leading the pack anymore. It is making Microsoft more money, but isn't doing the end user much good at all.

Aging companys that fail to innovate make money based on the standard that they have established. Even when the standard is no longer relevant. I believe that I might see the day, before I die, when Microsoft is no longer a relevant player in world automation.