Ten resolutions Microsoft should make for 2010

Each year, I offer a list of things Microsoft should do in the coming year, in lieu of making predictions. It's a bit arrogant to tell Microsoft what to do, but I've got a good track record of giving advice that is right. The year ahead will be challenging for Microsoft, as the company struggles against weak global economies and to successfully launch cloud services.

Ten resolutions aren't enough. I had to ignore so many others, such as keeping CEO Steve Ballmer (don't fire him!) or uniting Xbox and Zune (something already underway). The list is in order of importance, from least to most, from 10 to 1.

10. Resume giving financial guidance to Wall Street. In January, a year will have passed since you stopped giving guidance for future earnings. The time has long passed to get with it and give it up, Microsoft. On Tuesday, Microsoft's stock hit a 52-week high of $31.50 a share. Sure there is some risk that weak projections will hurt the stock. But by withholding guidance, you let uncertainty and gossip determine perceptions about sales and earnings performance. Microsoft, take charge of perceptions by giving information, rather than withholding it.

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9. Spend even more on advertising. From February, you hit a series of marketing home runs, each stronger than the last, Microsoft. "I'm a PC," "Bing" and "Windows 7 was my idea" marketing campaigns were exceptionally good. Don't stop, Microsoft. You're on a roll, and there is no better time to advertise than during a recession. If businesses and consumers are spending less during the recession, make sure it's on your products.

8. Engage enthusiasts. OMG, what happened to you 2009, Microsoft? After years of largely ignoring enthusiasts, you reached out to them through blogs, Connect beta programs, forums, social networking services, YouTube and your highly-trafficked Websites. Enthusiasts are any company's best marketers, and they came through for you this year, particularly for Windows 7. Launching an ongoing Security Essentials beta program and releasing such a broad Office 2010 preview are working for the future. Keep up the enthusiast engagement and extend it with more freebees and contests during 2010.

7. Release an iLife-like suite for Windows. Sorry, Windows Live Essentials is nothing close to iLife. Apple's digital content creation suite is simply superb, but much less so in version `09 than `06. Apple has introduced too much complexity without increasing the flexibility. A Windows iLife alternative with the simple, straightforward user interface of Zune 4.0 would be phenomenal. Windows Live Movie Maker is a surprisingly good start towards the kind of simplicity and usability (including lower memory footprint) a Microsoft digital content suite should have.

6. Develop a WebKit browser. Internet Explorer 9 is a waste of development dollars, Microsoft. Your customers and developers need a fast, flexible browser for mobile and the desktop. Internet Explorer is bleeding users on the desktop and picking up nearly nothing on mobile devices. Apple, Google and Palm all offer good mobile WebKit browsers. Microsoft, you should develop one, too, and quickly. IE's future value should be providing legacy support. It's time to admit that commercial open-source is a viable business for you.

5. Choose a Frontman. Microsoft, you need a visionary leader/speaker, someone with stature. Apple has Steve Jobs. You need someone, too. There aren't many candidates within the company. But two men have potential to assume the role, granted without Jobs' stature but they're still good enough: Bill Buxton, chief researcher for Microsoft Research, and Yusuf Mehdi, senior vice president of the Online Audience Business. Buxton is charismatic with a capital "C," and he smartly creates historical context and tells exciting stories when discussing the seemingly boring topic of natural user interfaces. Buxton is brilliant, engaging and likable.

Mehdi is simply believable. He's not flashy and sometimes speaks uncertainly. But his intelligence and honesty (whether or not real) shines through. Mehdi also occupies a key leadership position in an area where Microsoft needs to demonstrate vision. He would grow into the frontman role, and people would grow along with him.

If not these men, choose somebody, Microsoft. But not Craig Mundie. He may be chief researcher and strategy officer and so a seemingly good candidate for the job. Mundie is a boring speaker. Linux and Mac users would switch to Windows if he pitched their products. Mundie is a visionary leader and asset in that role. But he's not a visionary speaker.

4. Open 50 more stores or caf├ęs. In my past two years of resolutions for you, opening retail stores ranked near the top of the lists. The two stores opened in late 2009 are a good start, Microsoft, but they're not nearly enough. Don't be afraid of losing money on the stores, at least early years. They are marketing investments for better building your brand and for selling the Microsoft lifestyle.

Recession is good timing because commercial real estate will be cheaper. Take advantage while you can. In the United States cover major metropolitan areas -- and don't choose them solely based on there being an Apple Store. Among the metro areas: Austin, Boston, Chicago, Chapel Hill-Raleigh-Durham Triangle, Columbus, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New York, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, D.C. Make cities with high student populations a priority.

Internationally, open stores in Beijing, Berlin, London, Mexico City, Moscow, Paris, Rio de Janeiro, Sydney, Seoul and Tokyo. Make cities with large numbers of tourists a priority. Localize the stores -- don't make them all the same like Apple does. Also use them to educate people about the benefits of buying software over pirating it.

3. Buy Facebook -- and not Twitter. So what, if Facebook might not be for sale. Microsoft, make an offer that can't be refused. In a September 2007 blog post, I called Facebook an operating system in the clouds: "Facebook is like Microsoft, only the social networking company's platform is built on the Internet...The operating system in the cloud concept has potential, and Microsoft has the know-how and experience to make the platform successful."

Facebook's cloud OS, with zillions of applications and more than 350 million subscribers is now a vortex sucking in seemingly all Internet traffic. Many people who posted to blogs and photo sharing sites are moving their personal information and content to Facebook -- like they did Windows a computing generation ago. Facebook has huge customer lock-in potential, because the data is so much more personal than that put into Office and Windows a decade ago. The two platforms, Facebook and Windows, united would put Microsoft in a stronger competitive position against Google, for starters.

2. Make incubation projects your top development priority. You really pissed off this journalist when gutting Windows Live Labs in April and later whacking other valuable incubation projects as part of cutbacks. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. Some of the best, recent Microsoft products or services came from incubation projects.

These incubation groups should operate like mini-startups, free to develop unfettered by any requirement to connect any of their work to any other Microsoft product, particularly Office or Windows. Let them run free, run wild, wildly innovate. Google's Gmail Labs has turned Gmail into a modularized e-mail client that raises the question: "Who really needs Outlook?" Make modularity a design priority for incubation groups, which should be compensated for their brilliant work.

1. Create a mobile Manhattan Project. You are so fraked in the mobile device market you don't seem to understand how bad off is the situation. Get with it, Microsoft -- goddamn it! You challenged Netscape in the late 1990s by releasing three Internet Explorer versions -- all greatly improving on the other -- in about 18 months. Your mobile strategy requires an even greater investment in shorter time. Apple and Google are stealing customers, developers and market mindshare. You will lose mobile -- with cloud services the next-generation computing platform -- without taking drastic actions.

On Tuesday, I encouraged you to buy Palm, because nothing short of starting over may be enough to fix your problems fast enough. Apple's secret weapon is multitouch, a beautiful user interface and beaucoop applications (among them, games galore). Google has got search and sync. Research in Motion has push e-mail. You've got what? I've made specific suggestions in the past and will make many more in future post(s). I first made the Manhattan Project recommendation in June 2008. Can you finally listen and get with it?

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