Musings on Microsoft’s identity crisis

Some people say simplicity is beauty but when does simplicity become obtrusive?

I’m aware that sounds like an oxymoron because most people equate simplicity with austerity but I must ask: are the two invariably equivalent?

In other words, complexity and functionality should be inversely proportional right?  As clutter dissolves, functionality should inevitably increase… or so I thought.

I find myself contemplating the threshold where, flat and barren design becomes useless.  I mean, think about it: when does simplicity become futile? What does it look like when you reach the nadir of simplicity; the very bottom of usability?

I keep pondering these questions as I click through the happy tiles on the Windows 8.1 Start Screen and have to perform silly tricks on my non-touch laptop to close full screen Apps.

If you find yourself vilifying Microsoft for removing and hiding everything you loved about the operating system then you’ll quickly find that you’re not alone.

With the advent of Windows 8 and the concomitant “enhancements” inaugurated with Windows 8.1, Microsoft made sweeping changes to the graphical user interface (GUI) and millions of people in web forums around the globe are uttering all kinds of vitriolic comments about how Microsoft sucks and so on…

My take is that Microsoft may suck, but it’s not just for the rudimentary user interface.  The vacuous Start Screen leaves customers hunting for buttons that felt omnipresent in previous versions but the bigger issue I have is this: who does Microsoft want to be?

Who exactly does Microsoft want to be?

When Bill Gates and Paul Allen founded Microsoft in Albuquerque, New Mexico they had a vision to sell programming software to the Altair microcomputer in the 70’s.

Fast forward to today and study the balance sheet, read the press releases and look at the products and you’ll see a monolithic company with almost 100,000 employees and almost 100,000 billion dollars in revenue for 2013.

Superficially speaking, it looks great, but is such stellar growth a propitious sign success?

I guess that’s contingent on how you define success.  Microsoft has made abortive forays into almost every major business sector it entered.  Take the Zune player in 2008, where is it now?

I know I’ve only adduced one example, but my point is that the sheer mass of Microsoft makes it less agile and therefore impedes it’s ability to respond to market trends with same dexterity of smaller competitors.

Ultimately, I feel like Microsoft is working assiduously to match the Zeitgeist of the times.  Everyone is going for the flat-UI, (think iOS 7) so Microsoft follows what’s vogue, but at the same time, I think Microsoft has unwittingly lost focus of the immutable principles that got it to where it is today.

Am I wrong?

I don’t see genuine innovation.  I see duplication.

I don’t see originality, I see banality.

I don’t get the euphoric feelings of excitement that Apple has mastered.  Instead, I feel chronic disappointment as Microsoft continually fails to surmount the status quo.

It seems like Microsoft will never gain the inimitable style that Apple has perfected.  Perhaps the new CEO will infuse fresh life into the company; however, in my estimation, Microsoft feels like a vapid organism pining over what it could have been but never could obtain.

Who does Microsoft want to be?

Maybe it should stop trying to be like everyone else and just be itself.


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