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The following is a guest post by “Joe Harvard”. Due to the sensitivity of the post, Joe would prefer to not be identified at this point. Feel free to leave your comments for Joe below.
A friend of mine, who is a theoretical physicist, informed me that the universe will eventually evaporate into oblivion. He said that over many googol years, all the protons will decay to nothing and so goes the universe. I find that concept hard to believe because the universe is so vast and pervasive (we all live in it), and it has been around forever. To me, Microsoft is kind of like the universe.
As we all know, Microsoft is huge, extremely profitable, and it’s on everybody’s computers; just its Office Suite division alone generates as much revenue as Google. But all of that will evaporate (much like protons) because of Web 2.0, specifically SAAS (software as a service). The concept of software-on-the-tap is nothing new. It has been around since the advent of the internet. But no one has been able to pull it off for retail consumers on a mass scale profitably until now…until Google. When you examine Google’s service/product at its core, it is built around a SAAS model. When you want to search from something over the internet or read your email, you access their search or email application service over the web. Google even allow their users to open up email attachments such as excel formatted spreadsheet over the web via their version of Google Office. The whole thing is quick, easy to use, robust, and without complicated and expensive installs. The exact opposite of Microsoft’s shrink wrap software model.
With SAAS, a company like Google will eventually displace MSFT’s Office suites, and even more importantly, Window OS. Web 2.0 is OS agnostics, and its MSFT’s worst nightmare. For that reason alone, MSFT’s hostile bid for Yahoo must succeed because MSFT need a platform, like Yahoo, with vast existing users, as a launch point into the SAAS business model. I think Steve Balmer knows that Microsoft’s current dominant position in the consumer applications vertical is untenable. Although for MSFT to move into SAAS will cannibalize its core OS and office suites business, I think for Balmer, it is still a far better scenario than having its clock cleaned by Google (or the next Google etc.). Moreover, investing additional capital in MSN as a final attempt to improve the unit’s paltry competitiveness will simply be a further waste. Therefore, the purchase of Yahoo will hold the best hope for instant gain in web advertisement market share, and most importantly, access to a 250 MM of registered users (who are all potential SAAS customers). Yahoo can be the perfect launch platform for Microsoft’s future SAAS solution suites.
The surest way to win anything in life is to be irresistible. In the world of marketing, I can think of two ways to become irresistible. One way is to be something that everybody wants; the other way is to be what everybody needs. To illustrate this point, I will use the classic Apple vs. Microsoft example.
Apple makes products that are irresistible because their products are exactly what people want – simple, intuitive to use, clean, and stylish. Apple is able to do that because they understand their customers to the core. Some people say Steve Jobs has a heavy hand in all of Apple’s product designs. But if you don’t have a Steve Jobs equivalent at your disposal, you can use market research data to understand your customers. Yet so many companies I know don’t fully leverage market research to plan their product design. That’s really a shame.
Microsoft also makes irresistible products, except their irresistibility comes not from designing products that people really want but from what people need. Even as open source operating systems become more prevalent, the majority of the people still rely on Windows to run their PCs today. Need to write articles or build a data model? You need MS Office.
Apple is very much beloved; Microsoft, not so much. Everybody wants to be like Apple, yet most companies don’t want to put in the effort. If you don’t want to put in the effort to create the darling products that people drool over, then you must think outside of the box and create products that people cannot live without. Short of that, all you will manage is mediocrity and become an also-run company.