Thursday, November 29, 2007

Evil Plan: How to kill the most successful product in history

Recently, both Vlad ( and Mark ( have been blogging about Microsoft's misstep regarding hosted (non-)services and Comcast.

Here's my speculation about what's going on in the background:

Nestled deep in the dark woods of Washington state, in a cold and forbidding building at the top of a mountain, you'll find the home of the Microsoft Department of Scheming (DOS).

And in the Department of Scheming there is large office with tall, steel windows. There you will find a man dressed all in black, in a large captain's chair, petting a cat. He is chuckling to himself. Because, in addition to being the Vice President of Scheming, he is also a mole placed inside of Microsoft by a coalition that plans to destroy Microsoft from the inside.

This coalition consists of Google (the founding organization), Linux, Open Source, and Yahoo. Together they are known as GLOSY.

The logic behind their plan goes like this:

1) Microsoft Office, as it exists today, is an unstoppable force.

Office is not successful because of it's feature set. Wordpad does 98% of what 98% of the population will ever need to do with word processing. Wordperfect and Open Office do 100% of what 99.9% of the population will ever do with office products. Even Google Docs and Spreadsheets does a pretty good job.

So why are businesses willing to pay $400 or $500 for a copy of Microsoft Office? Because MS owns the mind share. Everyone uses MS Office. The only worries are about compatibility. The only concerns are about exchanging documents with ease.

Having another brand that's "compatible" isn't the same. MS Office just is the standard and it just works.

2) For competition to gain a significant share of this market, Microsoft will have to open the door to competition. There are really only two ways to do this. First, they can adopt a file format that is easily opened by any program and saved seamlessly. If business owners can be convinced that any office system can open any file from any other office system, then Microsoft's dominance can be assailed.

Action Item: Get Microsoft to move to .xml file formats.

Second, if biz owners can be convinced that they don't need to "buy" the software, then they can use it on a month-to-month basis and always have the latest features. If this mindset prevails, it will be easy to provide cheaper alternatives that "just work." One month, a business owner will use a non-Microsoft product and it will just work. If the coalition is good at marketing, business owners won't even know that they're not using a Microsoft product. Once this happens, it's a commodity market.

Action Item: Get Microsoft to offer office products over the internet for a subscription fee.

3) The greatest challenge to making all of this happen over the internet is the realiability of the internet connection. The second greatest challenge is to provide adequate customer support during the important transition phase. For Microsoft's online software service to work, they need to choose the right partner. GLOSY must do whatever is necessary to make sure Microsoft chooses poorly here.

Action Item: Get Microsoft to partner with an unreliable cable company whose customer service reputation is among the worst in modern memory.

4) Changing the business owners' mindset will take time. Years. They will need to see a variety of examples where online document handling works. Once they use Wordpress (whether they know it or not) and other online editing tools, their mindset will begin to shift. The explosion of blogging should help considerably on this front.

The industry must go through a period of confusion. At the end of it, business owners will go to a web site, edit a document, send it to a colleague, and never know what program they used.

Time and confusion can only be had if Microsoft agrees to the action items above. These will result in a 1- or 2-year period in which customers won't "get" what's happening to them, Microsoft's delivery will suck out loud, and the GLOSY community will be able to go through at least two generations of products.

By the time Microsoft figures out how to deliver their products in sufficient quantity and quality to deserve a piece of this market, they will no longer dominate the market.

5) Next item: Get Dell of offer the following choice.
- Pick an office product
- -> 100% Microsoft-compatible GLOSY docs = $10
- -> Genuine Microsoft Office Professional = $400

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The man with the cat walks to the window and gazes out. He chuckles to himself. He won't stop until Microsoft is worth a Million Dollars!

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Why is Microsoft playing someone else's game when they don't need to?

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