Microsoft has never been a company which could outrightly claim they were the harbingers of innovation. Whether it was with DOS or Windows 98 or any other glorious achievement in the company’s three decade long history, they were more or less the company which made the best use of opportunity available to them at that given point to become who they are today.
Whether it was making DOS one of the key operating systems by pushing for its use in workplaces across the USA or whether it was grabbing opportunity off the rising trend of “Personal Computers” in the mid-90s by bringing out a customer-friendly Windows 95 and capturing a market while creating it at the same time.
At any point of time, Microsoft was always one step behind in terms of innovation to one of its numerous rivals, yet it had more or less always managed to make the best use of a rising trend and managed to stay popular.
Yet when it came to innovating, Microsoft were left confused. There’s no doubt the company has had many visionaries and forward-thinking tech masters over its history but it has been the *implementation* of that said innovation which has become highly questionable. Microsoft has always had a questionable user feedback and their failure to implement many features which users asked for in its subsequent OS particularly the glorious disaster which was Windows Vista speaks volumes about how uninformed the R&D within Microsoft are to user feedback.
The recent reveal of their next-generation all-in-one “media centre” device for the living room that does a part-time job as a gaming console – Xbox One – once again shows signs of a company that is clueless when it comes to innovation.
Xbox One’s integration of media devices into a single, common device with its use of multiple OS may seem like a cool concept on paper but anyone with the slightest iota of technical know-how would know that putting multiple OS into a single system would mean it is going to eat up your system memory and drag down your processing speed by a considerable amount. Yet, Microsoft –leaders in home computing apparently failed to realize that.
I don’t believe that and I believe the problem lies deeper – one within the company itself.
To understand that problem, we need to first historically see how Microsoft has treated “innovation” on the rare occasion they have found themselves ahead in the race. For instance, their transition from DOS to Windows 95 may be now remembered as the dawn of a glorious age, back then there was a lot of resistance to it. DOS provided its current users – most of which happened to be well-versed with basic computing knowledge and asking them to shift to a “grandma-friendly” Windows 95 seemed appalling. Yet, Microsoft were bullish about this. They realized that in order to capture the growing demand for “home PCs”, Windows 95 would be the ideal fit and a user-friendly interface was a must.
In retrospect, we cannot see how one would prefer DOS to Windows 95, but MS’ bullishness was One of the earliest signs of a company for whom bullying its users was the only way it knew to convince them it was actually “innovating”.Fast-forward to recent times and the introduction of Windows 8. From the moment it was revealed, it was met with strong opposition from Microsoft faithfuls, some of them even calling it the company’s “Achilles Heel”.
While the notion behind Windows 8 – that of device integration was indeed quite noble and dare I say visionary, since it is becoming increasingly cumbersome managing multiple devices – smartphones, tablets and PC – in a distinct manner. Integrating them via something like what Apple did with iCloud but only in a more profound manner would only make sense.
MS’ tried doing it with Windows 8 but their implementation was half-baked. Where the lines were drawn between different devices – the user and control interface – Microsoft did nothing different. Keeping the touch-centric Metro interface common for all its devices essentially threatened them to isolate their chief user-base on PCs and laptops.
Xbox One is a device born out of similar misconceptions. It tries integrating media devices without taking into account whether it *needs* to. It tries managing the said devices with multiple OS without understanding the processing and memory costs it will have. If four years down the line, you start seeing multi-platforms run slower on Xbox One than on PS4 just because your Xbox One is too busy catering to the OS running the TV, then you have no right to complain. It was a decision MS chose and you decided to in popular words – deal with it.
It also amazes me why would people in Microsoft associate the word “television” in a traditional context in a time when services like NetFlix are becoming increasingly popular especially in North America — which was judging from the amount of ESPN and America-only services was the only region Microsoft was interested catering to. Not Europe nor Asia.
In their disillusionment, Microsoft continues to be very bullish about Xbox One. Despite largely alienating the indie crowd with the likes of Jonathan Blow, Phil Fish and Team Meat – three developers who had their breakout hits on Xbox Live Arcade but due to mistreatment were eventually lured by Sony’s continual pro-indie approach. This doesn’t bode well for a console that is already coming out in a time when the traditional AAA “gaming industry” is sliding towards a collapse and the small-time indie development is turning out to be an increasingly sustainable model.
MS has repeatedly distanced themselves from their users by creating a “Us vs the Corporates” mentality which in times of trouble has alienated their fans instantly. Contrast this with the personalized approach Sony did for PS4. Granted, both the consoles’ reveals were underwhelming but if the #NoPS4DRM hashtag is any indication, gamers still believe Sony wants to listen to them. Whether they will or will not include DRM is besides the point. What matters is that they wouldn’t do the same for MS because they know how arrogant the company can be for their supposed “innovation”.
Microsoft is built on a history of key decisions – where none of them were about innovating. When they were, the company was always bullish about it. The kind of bullishness where they thought they knew more about what their customers wanted than the customers themselves. When a company gets into such an egoistic mindset where it *thinks* it understands its customers better than they do, disasters like Windows Vista and Windows 8 are just around the corner. Don’t be surprised if Xbox One turns out to be part of that infamous lineup.