Microsoft, The Jekyll And Hyde Of Companies

Today rapped up Microsoft’s annual Mix Conference in Las Vegas. The event is Microsoft’s web focused get together where they talk coding and development with mostly white, geek guys (the only women seemed to be the Microsoft/ events staff), then there’s the occasional press person thrown in for good measure.

The coverage the event gets pales in significance to say an Apple event (Apple could open a door and probably still get more coverage) but the coverage doesn’t do it full justice because there were some interesting things (see our coverage as follows: keynote 1, keynote 2, Web 2.0 session, Mesh networking).

What I did see during my time at the conference was the stark contrast between the old Microsoft and new Microsoft. The new Microsoft is embracing web standards, providing support for OS X and Linux, and listening and responding to customer feedback. The tech might not always be the absolute best in the market, but its coming ahead in leaps and bounds. I got 20 minutes with Microsoft VP Scott Guthrie (interview here) and the talk was refreshing.

ms21.jpgAnd then there was the old Microsoft. Steve Ballmer at keynote two made fun of Apple products, joked about Apple’s market share, and constantly justified Microsoft’s position based on its domination of the market. No serious talk about moving forward, improving the end user experience with Windows….as long as Microsoft has the dominant market share the rest doesn’t matter much to Ballmer. The fact that Apple is selling more Macs then ever because of Vista’s issues means nothing to him. Old arrogant Microsoft.

Then there’s the other products that are completely lost. As part of my press accreditation I received a free 8gb Zune. They don’t sell Zunes where I come from so I had no negative expectations for it because I’d never seen one before. So I bring it back to my hotel room and on the screen it tells me I have to visit the Zune site to make it work. Great, get to the Zune site, tells me I have to download software to make it work….which is only available for Windows, not OS X (my laptop doesn’t have a copy of Windows on it). There’s an open source alternative that lets you get into the Zune, but doesn’t provide any decent functionality…and it doesn’t unlock it from its default opening state. Zune=brick to me. On one hand people like Scott Guthrie and others are talking cross platform support, on the other the department in Microsoft which makes the Zune has decided that cross platform support isn’t important. The Jekyl and Hype side of Microsoft once again.

Microsoft is a company with a lot of good people doing amazing things, but those people are like a horse that has been handicapped out of the race with the baggage of Microsoft old. They are putting up a good fight to be seen and listened to, but it’s a hard ask. Microsoft is clearly a company that is changing, the only remaining question is will the whole organization transform into the new Microsoft quickly enough to survive the rapidly changing way companies and individuals interact with technology.

disclosure: Microsoft Australia arranged the trip, thanks to Nick Hodge for organizing it