I’m at the xChange event in Dallas this week, and Sunday watched the keynote presented by Microsoft.  Now keep in mind that I’ve got a long history of Microsoft presentations. I’ve probably owned over 100 t-shirts from Redmond, and have sat through thousands of PowerPoint slides.  I’ve drank the Kool Aid enough times so that I look like a cross between Microsoft Bob and the Kool Aid guy (nope, not pretty).  So Sunday was just another one.  In too many ways, it seems.

Spoiler alert:  Their products are actually pretty darn good.  That ain’t the problem.

The Microsoft presentation was two-fold.  Actually it was classic Microsoft.  First we’ll get a mid-level exec to get up and talk about what a big year it was (or will be), and how Microsoft’s commitment is to increase/decrease the good/bad thing about the desktop/server environment.  Then we’ll get a technical wonk to get up and demonstrate some aspects about the new stuff that used to get us going “ooh” and “aah.”  Then there’ll be a call to action, wrap up and life is good.  A fine presentation, demonstrating fine features.

Here’s the challenge.  There are two areas that Microsoft desperately wants to compete in.  Cloud services and tablets.  Software/services and hardware/platform.  And although Microsoft has made great strides in the first, there’s still a long way to go.  And let’s not talk about Windows tablets to date, shall we?  They would make the Zune look like…well, an iPad.

So, what’s Microsoft’s answer to these challenges?  A combination of technologies:

  • Windows 8, especially the versions for a full and limited featured table platform
  • Office 2013 (for, um…Office stuff)
  • SkyDrive (cloud storage)

Back to the presentation.  When the wonk demoed the products, he demonstrated primarily the core functionality of the products.  “Look at this new feature in PowerPoint.”  “See how the Outlook keeps the number of open windows to a minimum.”

Seriously?  Yes.  There are some nice new features in Office 2013.  There are nice new features in Windows 8.

But a lot of people, a large, large lot of people don’t care.  These are the people for whom XP and Office 2003 are “good enough.”  The people who got an iPad because “they’re really easy to use.”

People who just want to get their work done.

We’ve all heard end users say “I just use Word for letters and memos.”  So the spinning widget thingie feature that every new version of this stuff includes is really not all that critical.  But:

  • “I want to use Word (for the following examples, Word can be replaced by Excel, PowerPoint, etc) on my tablet.”
  • “I want to use Word on my laptop/desktop.”
  • “I want to access my Word documents that I changed on my tablet from my laptop.”
  • “I want to access my Word documents that I changed on my tablet from a desktop at the library.”
  • “I only want to learn one version of Windows.”
  • “I only want to learn one version of Word.”

You know what the answer is for all these questions and needs?  It’s “Okey-dokey.”  Or as Microsoft would say “The capability exists within the differing layers of application cross-functionality within the diverse and yet tangentially cohesive…zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz”

And we’re not even touching the savings of singular platform from a support standpoint.

This is the cool stuff.  This is the discussion that Microsoft should be having, should be screaming at the public.  “Our tablets can be powerful enough that you won’t need a laptop or desktop.  Or they’ll be more limited, but priced to compete with iPads (and still have a derivative of Word).  And with some licensing (say Office 365), one software license will suffice for several devices.”

And you’ll only have to learn it once.

This is big time stuff.  Standardizing an effective (critical point) tool across several platforms without sacrificing cost, training or productivity.  Incredibly cool.

This point was brought up at the end of the discussion almost as an afterthought.  And it seems that’s the placement of this particular message from Microsoft.

And I just don’t get it.  For years Microsoft has been looking around for the killer app to get back to the top of their game.  And it’s staring them right in the face.

Also, while we’re at it, why did you get everybody used to the concept of “Windows Metro” and decide 2 months before release that it should be called “Windows UI?”  I assume someone high up at Redmond said “Whoa, Metro sounds too much like a branding normal people would understand…let’s throw in a geeky acronym…hey, it worked for Windows NT, right?”