3 Reasons Microsoft Is Losing The Plot [Opinion]

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Are we in the midst of the final days of Microsoft as we know it? Feedback from tech professionals about Metro UI has been predominantly negative so far, but that’s the least of our worries if recent trends are any indication of the future. Here, dear readers, are 3 reasons why I think Microsoft is truly losing, if it has not lost already, the proverbial plot.

Taking DVD Playback and Media Center Out of Windows 8

In a bold move to apparently benefit consumers, Microsoft announced that DVD playback would not be a part of Windows 8. This saves a whopping $2 in licensing fees, which would be unfair to consumers purchasing Windows 8 for netbooks and other DVD-less devices.

In order to get DVD playback, and the Media Center add-on, you’ll need to upgrade with the Windows 8 Pro Pack. Unless you already have Windows 8 Pro pre-installed, in which case you’ll still need to buy the Windows 8 Media Center Pack. Wait, what? Yes, regardless of which version you’ll buy, the Media Center and DVD playback upgrade will only be available via a – dare I say itin app upgrade. There is no ‘ultimate’ version which includes everything.

Now while I accept their claim that Media Center itself – a wonderful PVC solution for your living room that I lauded before – is only used by a very small percentage of users; I believe those users are incredibly loyal, and quite vocal in the community at large – the kind of people you really want on your side, in fact. For them, upgrading from Windows 7 will mean losing that functionality. As one commenter on Microsoft’s blog put it:

This is another extraordinarily bad move with Windows 8. What will happen to people who upgrade from Windows 7? Will [they] lose the ability to playback DVD’s with Windows Media Player? Will they lose Windows Media Centre? What happens to their recorded TV shows? What about their schedules, libraries? Media Centre Extenders?

Futhermore, it’s downright confusing for consumers. If they go and purchase a computer, with a DVD drive, they would reasonably expect it to play DVDs.

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For me, they’re going to have to provide an incredibly compelling reason to upgrade and then pay the extra for Media Center. I actually think the new Metro UI is a perfect fit for a media center machine powering a 50″ plasma TV, which is why the decision to not include it by default is even more troubling. Unless there are new features and a beautiful UI, I’m not upgrading. Simple. So far, there’s been absolutely nothing said, or shown, about the new Media Center – if it is indeed new at all.

Ridiculous Branding Strategies

Remember MSN Messenger and Microsoft Hotmail? Then Hotmail become Windows Live Hotmail; not to be confused with Windows Live Mail (easy to mix the two there, isn’t it?), which is in fact the desktop application that superseded Outlook Express. Windows Live Mail can be used to access your Windows Live Hotmail, or regular old Hotmail, or any other email for that matter. MSN Messenger became just Messenger, but part of the Windows Live Essentials package. Add in Xbox LIVE to the mix, just for funsies.

It did finally seem like a consistent branding was emerging though – you use a Windows Live ID to access everything, from Live Hotmail and Xbox Live, to Skydrive. Excellent.

But now Windows Live ID is no more. It’s all going to be rebranded under the new Microsoft Account. Not the catchiest of names, but at least the issues associated with simply tacking on the word Live to every service will be fixed, right?

Err, no. You see, you’ve actually just replaced the rather catchy Live name, with Account. That doesn’t really solve anything, Microsoft. Rather than working to strengthen the Live brand and make everything more consistent, you’ve simply confused consumers. Again. You’re going to have people using Windows Live Mail on their desktop to log in to their MSN Hotmail accounts, using their Microsoft Account ID.

Chris Jones, group VP for the Windows Live team writes:

“Windows 8 provides us with an opportunity to re-imagine our approach to services and software and to design them to be a seamless part of the Windows experience, accessible in Windows desktop apps, Windows Metro style apps, standard web browsers, and on mobile devices,”

It might all be a seamless experience for users running Windows 8, but if initial impressions are anything to go by, very few people are going to buy into your brightly colored tiles for their home PC; you’ll be left with an even more fragmented and confused user base. Not a problem for you of course – but it is for those of us who deal in any kind of tech support; so thanks for that.

Full of Innovation, and Very Little Else

Over the years, we’ve seen so much unbelievable cool stuff come out of Microsoft Research. The Photosynth tool for making pseudo 3D tours from thousands of static images; that was immensely cool. It was also built using Silverlight, which is now dead.  Apologies to all those developers who spent years learning the amazing new rich media platform; that’s what you get for backing Microsoft. Are you going to risk developing for Windows 8?

How about Microsoft Surface,  the incredible interactive table that first “surfaced” to light (sorry) in mid-2007; one would have thought it would have been commercialized to the point of being in every home right now. Instead, it retains the old $9000 price tag – as an obscure and niche product, and I can’t honestly say I’ve ever seen one in the wild. Imagine all the developers who might have jumped on board with that. Luckily the NUI community is always on hand to help with DIY Surface-clones; and the iPad is doing a pretty good job of satisfying everyone’s touchable computing desires. Here’s hoping the Google Glass project won’t go the same route.

Should we dare to mention the Courier? It was an amazing prototype device that would have rivaled the iPad had it have been released within a few months; sadly it was killed mid 2010, for reasons that it didn’t “align with the Windows and Office franchises” (it was running a customized version of Windows). Never fear though, at least a Courier-like app arrived on the iPad.

In fairness to Microsoft, Apple has also made some pretty dramatic decisions that seemed insane at the time, and later turned out to be spot on. Users lamented the lack of Flash on the iPad, but Adobe themselves ceased development of Flash on mobile; everyone is moving to the HTML5 media standards. No physical keyboard on the iPhone? Apparently that wasn’t such a big deal after all.

So I say good for you Microsoft, for finally plucking up enough courage to make these bold, and seemingly insane decisions. I commend your efforts; I just happen to think you’ve made all the wrong bold decisions – and it’s going to cost you dearly.

What do you think dear reader? Let me know in the comments about how little I actually know about the tech industry; then feel free to steer the discussion to how Apple is an evil corporation that hires child labor and churns out locked consumer devices that are ruining the open-technology foundations upon which all of modern computing was built – at least Microsoft isn’t Apple, eh?!

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