Microsoft innovation -- an oxymoron

Saddling the latest version of your company's flagship product with a name that reminds old-timers like me of the Dodge Colt Vista or the even more ancient Oldsmobile Vista-Cruiser? At Microsoft, that's what passes for innovation. In his opening speech at a recent Microsoft analysts meeting, CEO Steve Ballmer uttered the "i" word no less than 24 times.

Excuse me? Microsoft's history is largely about developing (or buying) and then aggressively marketing sometimes-improved variants of other people's ideas. As long as there's competition, Microsoft makes products that are just good enough or cheap enough to stifle it. Then it rests on its laurels and moves on to rework other ideas it didn't originate.

What's been revealed of Windows Vista is particularly sad. Defaulting to a mode that requires users to enter an administrative password before they can install programs? A security-enhancing idea, but one that's been around for ages in Apple's Mac OS X. Integrated search? Apple has it now. The Registry? There's no sign of that monstrosity in OS X, but it'll still be around in Windows Vista to drive users nuts. Copying the competition's good ideas and retaining a bad one that you actually did originate: That's innovation!

With Motorola's Q, there may be a Windows Mobile phone with a keyboard to challenge the BlackBerry and the Treo...sometime in 2006. Finally powering a BlackBerry knockoff: That's innovation!

DataViz's Documents To Go has long been able to round-trip Microsoft Office documents between a PC and a portable device without losing their formatting. So can the new version of Windows Mobile (or so I'm told), after years of Pocket PCs and Smartphones that mucked up Office docs badly. Eventually catching up with a third party's better idea: That's innovation!

And then there's the definition of chutzpah that will soon replace the kid who kills his parents and asks the court to have mercy because he's an orphan: The company that delivers insanely insecure software plans to charge users a subscription fee for a service designed to guard against the viruses and spyware that it welcomes in the door. That's...a protection racket!

When Microsoft does stumble onto something that might pass for innovation, it can't get it right. Tablet PCs still don't consistently do the one thing you might want them to: recognize your handwriting. Subscription-based music services based on Windows Media perform one task IPods can't -- namely, let you pay a low monthly fee for all the tunes you can eat and let you keep them and copy them to mobile players as long as you keep paying. Nice, but device makers and service providers don't support this technology reliably and universally.

Which brings us back to Microsoft's tone-deaf marketing. It delivers concepts such as music that "PlaysForSure" (except maybe not subscription stuff), ads that suggest you're a dinosaur unless you buy "today's Microsoft Office" (even though it has a "2003" in its name and its successor has been announced), and monikers as imaginative as your father's Oldsmobile -- oh, sorry: Vista.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Stephen Manes

PC World
Show Comments

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Tom Pope

Dynabook Portégé X30L-G

Ultimately this laptop has achieved everything I would hope for in a laptop for work, while fitting that into a form factor and weight that is remarkable.

Tom Sellers

MSI P65

This smart laptop was enjoyable to use and great to work on – creating content was super simple.

Lolita Wang

MSI GT76

It really doesn’t get more “gaming laptop” than this.

Jack Jeffries

MSI GS75

As the Maserati or BMW of laptops, it would fit perfectly in the hands of a professional needing firepower under the hood, sophistication and class on the surface, and gaming prowess (sports mode if you will) in between.

Taylor Carr

MSI PS63

The MSI PS63 is an amazing laptop and I would definitely consider buying one in the future.

Christopher Low

Brother RJ-4230B

This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?