Right now, Microsoft is in a battle. Not necessarily a battle, for survival (not yet anyway), but a battle for relevance. There is an astonishing amount of innovation happening at the moment, and I think it’s safe to say that almost none of it is coming from Microsoft. Instead, it’s fast companies like Google, Yahoo!, and Apple along with small bootstrapped companies like 37Signals and Jot who are really bringing us the amazing stuff we love using.
Microsoft is aware of the problem, and is saying most of the right things, but it’s not walking the talk. Yesterday, Nicholas Carr wrote a very insightful blog post titled “The Geek’s Paradise“, that highlights one of the company’s fundamental problems. He talks about the presentation Bill Gates gave earlier this week at the annual Consumer Electronics Show. Here is one snippet:
So what does Gates talk about? The “digital lifestyle” with “software at its center.” Maybe robots want digital lifestyles, but human beings don’t. Human beings want lives. This digital lifestyle, as Gates envisions it, is just another big pile of software features that we have to sort through and make sense of.
What’s revealing about Gates’s vision of the future is that it is completely devoid of direct human contact. It’s a geek’s paradise. You get to fiddle with software all day, from the moment you get out of bed to the moment you fall back into it. We’re not freed from the box; we’re trapped inside it. Endlessly.
This is very important, if you think about it. What most people want, whether they realize it or not, is less software, not more. We’re using the computer for a reason, and we want tools that help us accomplish our tasks and goals, not get in the way with technology for its own sake.
I strongly believe that unless Microsoft can make the leap from being technology focused (which is what got it to the top) to being people focused, it’s doomed to irrelevance. Using computers, gadgets, and other technology shouldn’t have to make our lives a living hell. People put up with them before because there weren’t a lot of good alternatives, but that’s changing. The sooner people realize they don’t need to be held captive to technology in their “digital lives”, the sooner they can get back to their real lives.