Dear Dell and Microsoft: You're not Apple
DNA transplant not an option
Open...and Shut Dell has always been a first-class choice for budget-minded CIOs. The company grew to prominence by shaving everything – including R&D costs – from the bill of materials for its utilitarian, corporate machines. Today, despite four years of attempts to invigorate its brand with consumers, Dell remains a consumer-computing laggard, even as its enterprise business has revived.
Dell's response has been to suggest it never cared much about the consumer market – but its actions belie this argument. Dell's founder and CEO Michael Dell claims that he "didn't see [disappointing sales of Dell's Streak tablet] coming." But everyone else did.
Why? Because Dell isn't a consumer company – and arguably never will be. "Consumer" isn't in Dell's DNA.
Microsoft has also struggled with this problem. I've long argued that Microsoft, despite its exceptional performance in the enterprise market, should not pretend to be relevant in the consumer market. And yet Microsoft keeps trying, to the point that now the company is trying to hire a "Consumer Demand Generation Manager".
Microsoft is, of course, better at consumer products than Dell. Think XBox. Or Kinect. But the heart of Microsoft isn't the XBox. It's Office. It's Windows.
That's why there's often something missing from Microsoft's consumer-facing products such as the Zune: they first have to run the gauntlet of the Office and Windows product managers. They have to "look like" Microsoft's past successes. Those that evade this process, as the Kinect team did, can end up with winning products.
In the past I've suggested that enterprise companies such as Dell and Microsoft get over their infatuation with the consumer market and focus instead on owning the enterprise market. No, enterprise software is not sexy. But massive margins are. As 37Signals' Matt Linderman declares,
We can't all love the products we work with. Someone has to do the jobs and sell the things that don't seem sexy but make the world go round.
Unfortunately, this is only mostly true. Where this sentiment parts with reality is that consumers and consumer technology now increasingly influence the purchasing of enterprise technology. This is perhaps most conspicuous in mobile technology, but it's happening in software, as well.
So what should Dell do? It shouldn't abandon its DNA, which translates into high-volume, low-cost hardware. But perhaps it needs to think about how to sidestep Apple in the market. Apple is not a mass-market brand, the iPod excepted. Apple is a premium brand, and will never sacrifice its margins to compete in low-end, mass-market devices.
A work associate told me that Amazon's Jeff Bezos focuses relentlessly on pursuing low-margin, high-volume markets that no one else wants, because they can't compete with Amazon's efficiency. Dell can do the same. Instead of trying to ape Apple as a premium brand, it can churn out hardware that Apple won't care to follow.
For Microsoft's part, it has a lot more consumer DNA, even if it has been waning over the past few years. But Microsoft, too, must play to its strengths. No one knows personal productivity software better than Microsoft. So why aren't we seeing that expertise translated into devices and associated software?
And why is a company that has in the past built a truly great browsing experience allowed its internet expertise to languish? In terms of the pace of market adoption, Microsoft has been surpassed by Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome in the browser wars. If Microsoft wants to be relevant with consumers, it should start by building a truly great browsing experience.
And by the way, that browsing experience needs to work on more than Windows. It should work on Mac OS X, iOS, Android, and so on.
Apple has succeeded by staying true to its consumer roots. IBM has succeeded by staying true to its enterprise roots. Dell and Microsoft need to bring their own DNA to the consumer market, stop playing copycat, and focus on building software and hardware experiences that are true to their respective DNA. ®
Matt Asay is senior vice president of business development at Strobe, a startup that offers an open source framework for building mobile apps. He was formerly chief operating officer of Ubuntu commercial operation Canonical. With more than a decade spent in open source, Asay served as Alfreso's general manager for the Americas and vice president of business development, and he helped put Novell on its open source track. Asay is an emeritus board member of the Open Source Initiative (OSI). His column, Open...and Shut, appears twice a week on The Register.
"And why is a company that has in the past built a truly great browsing experience allowed its internet expertise to languish?"
I was already sceptical about this article but this just made me stop and give up. I think it was referring to Microsoft.
Arse about face...
Not at all. Not even close. Windows success in the SOHO market is completely down to the fact it was what most people used at work. As a result schools and universities started mainly using Windows and Office because that is what the students were likely to encounter in the workplace. Computing, remember, started before 1995! Windows in the home is why it's successful in the office? Fuck me! Kid's today...
Windows is successful because you can hardly buy a PC without it.
If every car from every manufacturer came with wooden wheels then it would be incorrect to say that wooden wheels are successful because everybody had cars with wooden wheels.
Well, it would actually, but not because wooden wheels are popular or better, but just because people don't have much of a choice in the matter.
It doesn't help that they already have that special wheel changing tool that only works on wooden wheels and sort of know how to use it. A bit. So what if they get a bunch of splinters and the wheel often breaks whenever they have to rotate their tyres? They're used to that happening and probably think they'd have the same problem with alloys anyway so why bother changing?
So yes, say that Windows is successful because of Microsofts strong-arm bully boy behaviour but don't point to the number of people who use Windows and try and tell me that they are all using it by choice.
Lots of contradictions
Asay seems to want to sort these companies into neat little boxes, then dismiss when a company successfully climbs out of the cage he's built.
Microsoft can't do consumer products... Oh, but they have the Xbox and that Kinect thing.
Apple doesn't do mass market products... Except for the iPod (and the iPad?).
Maybe the real world just doesn't fit into your tidy little boxes.
Both are right
Windows is successful because it is used in the home
Windows is successful because it is used in the office
In summary windows is successful because normal people (that is not you and I) aren't really aware that there is anything else.