Why Microsoft absolutely DOESN'T need its own Steve Jobs
It should differentiate itself by not copying Apple
OMG Steve Jobs!!11eleventyone
Regardless of failures or successes past, this is the reality that Microsoft's next CEO is inheriting. Microsoft is heavily entrenched on the corporate desktop because of decades of legacy apps that are going to be around for a long time. Nobody is even bothering to compete seriously in this space because the only way to capture corporate users is greenfield deployments, and there are precious few of those.
In the consumer content-consumption-device space Microsoft are facing the exact same problem in reverse. Here Microsoft is the also-ran with roughly a snowball's chance in a neutron star of convincing consumers to rebuy everything "just because." Redmondian fondleslabs just don't offer enough "wow" for anyone to make that kind of investment.
Market share matters. Don't let anyone tell you different. Ask an iPhone user why they don't switch to Android, or vice the versa. After some hemming and hawing about UI and the typical circular reasoning it will very quickly come down to apps.
It would cost me hundreds, if not thousands to re-buy all my apps and devices. I suspect that there are a great many iOS and Android users who now feel the same.
Here is where my deep disagreement with my fellow journalists comes in. Microsoft does not need a Steve Jobs. Apple under Jobs succeeded because Jobs has a vision of how a given product was going to be and he delivered that on that vision with as little outside council as corporately possible.
In some cases, Jobs' personal tastes regarding design and implementation were wild successes. Jobs also oversaw many failures. Microsoft has already tried own version of the Jobsian approach – using metrics to justify decisions already taken – and it has failed spectacularly.
Microsoft's failures are not because Microsoft has lacked vision, good ideas or great technology. Microsoft's failures have occurred due to a combination of inability to recognise great ideas when handed to them and a lack of understanding in how to present good ideas to an increasingly skeptical and disinterested public.
Under Tim Cook, Apple is persisting with its Jobsian "our way or the highway" philosophy. Google, Samsung and Amazon are engaged in a bitter Android cold war that threatens to tear the platform apart with internecine fighting. Google's other operating system, ChromeOS, takes the Jobsian diktat and wraps it up in added privacy invasion and even less user choice than the other available options.
There is a niche in consumer electronics to be filled, but it would require a complete 180 of Redmondian corporate culture for Microsoft to exploit it. Microsoft needs to listen to its user base and deliver them the software, services and devices they actually want. No tricks. No "here's a start button, but we said nothing about the menu."
Microsoft devoted itself to security and over the course of a decade became a world leader in secure software design and implementation. It's time it rewrote its corporate culture to embed change management at the same fundamental level.
Everyone else is selling a "vision" manacled to an app store buried in a walled garden. If Microsoft wants to differentiate themselves then their shtick needs to become actively engaging with customers and critics alike. That includes building things people clamor for and guaranteeing the preservation of choice regarding everything from UIs to APIs.
This is expensive. It can mean maintaining multiple UIs and APIs for each product. It means thinking about product lifecycles in terms of decades, not quarters. Engaging care in this area, however, will also lead to Microsoft regaining something it has lost: trust.
Eenie, meenie, miney…
Microsoft doesn't need a "visionary" like Steve Jobs. Microsoft's own customers are more than capable of telling it what they want and need. R&D departments, skunkworks and the entire startup scene exist to think up "the next big thing." Relying on one man at the top to be the primary inspiration driving a machine as complex and diverse as Microsoft is madness.
Microsoft's next CEO needs to steal the key ingredient from Apple's success story that Apple has itself forgotten: a religious devotion to making sure the product that ships "just works," and works as users expect it to.
The list of candidates under consideration is shrinking. If any of them strike you as able to do the job, add your thoughts, as always, in the comments below. ®