Now you can tell Microsoft what to do

Microsoft advertising has people claiming that "Windows 7 was my idea." I'd like to make "my idea" more real for Betanews readers, by offering a soapbox to give Microsoft a piece of your mind (be polite, but firm); first some context on why do it now.

For Microsoft, the New Year really is a new beginning. January 1 marks the half-way point in the company's fiscal year and the period leading into the annual review process. Employee reviews can't be good this year, with Microsoft morale low (or so I've been hearing) following calendar 2009 layoffs.

I've been collecting stories from laid-off Microsofties, which I had planned to post on my (languishing) Oddly Together Website but have decided to put at Betanews instead, assuming I can get permission for the site switch from everyone who shared a story. I'll be in touch with the story sharers this week and expect to put together composite stories into two or three different posts really soon. Another, separate post will reveal the trends the former employees' stories reveal about the firing -- eh, layoff -- process. Some advice to Microsoft employees who have long "length and level," now would be a good time to think advancement, unless "brutal" is a word you'd like applied to this year's review; or "pink slip," in worst-case scenario.

The new year also marks the start of Microsoft planning for the new fiscal year, beginning July 1. That's why I regard January 1 such a good time to be telling Microsoft what to do. Each year, rather than make predictions for the year ahead, I take a more arrogant approach: Offer unsolicited advice for the coming calendar year. This year, I am offering Betanews readers a chance to the join in the fun. If you ever wanted a say -- a voice -- you can have it. I will collect the best reader suggestions from this post's comments and put them together in a few weeks. This would be separate from my annual telling-Microsoft-what-to-do post.

Meantime, below I briefly review my 10 suggestions made for 2009, hoping they might be examples for Betanews readers. Did Microsoft listen to me? Here is the shortlist of recommendations with my assessment of Microsoft's response to them, with response ranked low-to-high 1 to 10:

10. Chuck Windows' Software Assurance requirements. Like Vista, Windows 7 requires enterprises to pay extra for Software Assurance upgrade protection to get the Enterprise version. I wrote: "Be sensible, Microsoft. If enterprises have less to spend, do you really think they'll spend more on Windows 7 Enterprise because of Software Assurance?"

Microsoft Response: 0. Microsoft kept the Software Assurance requirement, which is good for the company's bottom line but bad for cash-strapped IT departments.

9. Advertise everywhere. I recommended: "Recession is opportunity for smart companies with strong brands and loads of cash to maximize marketing effectiveness. Less ad chatter means your message will be better heard, and you don't want people to forget your brand."

Microsoft Response: 9. The company's 2009 marketing was outstanding, simply a remarkable turnaround.

8. Fire your ad agency. I contended that ad agency Crispin Porter + Bogusky had squandered first chunk of the $300 marketing budget. Those Microsoft CEO Bill Gates and comedian Jerry Seinfeld TV commercials had about as much appeal as Elaine Benes dancing.

Microsoft Response: 0 -- and good thing. By spring 2009, Microsoft marketing hit its stride, with a series of great campaigns: "The Rookies" and "Laptop Hunters," later followed by the absolutely great "Bing" and "Windows 7 was my idea" campaigns. I was wrong, Microsoft.

7. Expand emerging market programs like "Unlimited Potential." I warned Microsoft: "People will be more likely to steal than buy your software. You've got to make the stuff easier to buy than to steal." The global economic crisis presented Microsoft chance to be the good guy, by offering low-cost solutions and gaining legitimate share in emerging markets.

Microsoft Response: 5. Unlimited Potential wasn't as lively in 2009 as the previous couple of years. Microsoft is still working with local governments, but there is more emphasis on hawking something, such as Microsoft's OneApp or MultiPoint Server.

6. Be real to people. Microsoft has no charismatic leader like Steve Jobs, but the company needs one. I chided Microsoft: "You must choose someone -- and pretty much anyone would be better than the no one you've got now."

Microsoft Response: 6. There still is no charismatic leader, but really great product marketing did make Microsoft more real to people in 2009.

5. Clean up your branding. It's a mess. Microsoft has long defied good branding conventions, by using too many similar brands, having too many sub-brands and by repeatedly changing brand names.

Microsoft Response: 6. New brands like Bing are excellent. Even Windows Phone and Windows 7 are good improvements. But Windows Live/Bing services branding is a mess.

4. Become the world's Web hoster. Economic crisis should be a sales opportunity to bring more businesses to hosted services, and I told Microsoft to ramp them up.

Microsoft Response: 4. Microsoft Online Services execution is OK at best, and pricing could be better, even after recent cost cutting. More importantly, Azure cloud computing platform didn't even make a 2009 debut. Microsoft will launch the service on January 1, but Azure now feels more like an older version of Amazon Web Services than the revolutionary cloud OS promised in October 2008.

3. Make incubation projects the top development priority. Some of Microsoft's best new or emerging products came from incubation projects the previous two years. I contended that these internal startups "engage enthusiasts"; "create positive buzz"; and "show how Microsoft can truly innovate."

Microsoft's Response: 0 -- total fail. During layoffs and cutbacks, Microsoft eliminated most of its best incubation projects and laid off key innovating employees.

2. Open Microsoft retail stores. For the second year in a row, I asked Microsoft to open its own stores -- in 12 cities: "Beijing, Berlin, Boston, Chicago, London, Los Angeles, Moscow, New York, Rio de Janeiro, San Francisco, Sydney and Tokyo (or Seoul)."

Microsoft Response: 7. The company opened two stores, in Arizona and California, and a café in France. Microsoft made a good start, but two stores simply aren't enough.

1. Launch an application store. I strongly recommended: "Your application store should start with development tools for offering Silverlight apps to most any platform: mobile, desktop or Web. Suggestion: Use your Xbox Live/Zune Marketplace infrastructure to get up an initial store fast. Within six months, you'll need a real store, built with Silverlight, that can run on any platform."

Microsoft Response: 4. Microsoft did launch a Windows Mobile app store and combined some Xbox Live/Zune Marketplace features. But integration is scant among the three app stores, and Silverlight looks like a calendar 2010 story.

Now, with that, I once again ask you to offer up your suggestions for Microsoft during calendar 2010. Comments are open.

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