Windows Media Center as an Enterprise Sales Tool [or How Microsoft Isn’t Doomed]

I’m struggling right now with the proper way to open this blog post. On the one hand, the inspiration for the post you’re now reading was written by a former podcast co-host of mine, MG Siegler with his usual flair. On the other hand, MG’s diatribe displays a spectacular lack of attention to detail or the tech industry.

You see my quandary. I don’t wanna be a complete jerk, but admitted Apple fanboy Siegler essentially wrote a 1,500 word post where the upshot is “Yeah, imageMicrosoft whipped Apple’s butt for the last 25 years, but I have done no research to try to divine what their next move or idea will be, so they’re most likely doomed to a slow death.”

Not to Detract from His Compelling Post, But Here’s a Summary…

After opening up the post with a brief plug for the upcoming Chris Nolan film Inception, here’s the story as MG lays it down:

– Microsoft has exhibited a long line “spectacular fails” as of late, in particular, the Death of the Kin, and internal struggles. OK, maybe that’s just two things, but to be fair, the way he wrote that paragraph, he made it appear to be four things.

– 25 years ago, Microsoft stole the idea of the graphical user interface from Apple. Or maybe they didn’t. But they probably did. Either way, MG was three years old, and he’s pretty sure he remembers the facts (because he certainly didn’t quote any sources).

– He “recalls” that Apple probably stole the GUI from Xerox’s PARC, but Microsoft was way more evil for stealing it from Apple.

image- All Microsoft ideas are bad ones. Want proof? Microsoft watches are stupid. Also, the Kin. Apparently the failure of these two projects are so monumental that it breaks the laws of mathematics, making the sum of 1 + 1 > 24.

– The idea of a GUI is disappearing, and Microsoft will be left in the dust (yet some how make “a lot of money off Windows”).

About 750 or so words in, MG gets to the point and some actual verifiable facts.

XBox Live and the Zune Marketplace are accounting for nearly 2% of revenue at Microsoft (but, he notes, $1 Billion isn’t anywhere as big of a number as $58 Billion). Obviously, he further remarks, this whole selling movies and music is a dead-end idea.

Google and Apple are competing with Microsoft on the mobile side with the Android and iOS platform.

– Should Microsoft launch a touchscreen pad, they’d be facing the same competitors.

- Steve Ballmer is overseeing the entertainment division, when he should be playing to his strength at the enterprise side of the business. Technically this is a fact mixed with an observation, but we’ll let it slide since we need a couple bullet points to fill out the “fact” section of this post.

image …At about wordcount 1400 or so, MG admits he has no clue what’s next for Microsoft.

He brings it around town. Direct quote:

It’s just not clear where Microsoft’s second inception is going to come from. Where that big idea that will steer the company for the next 25 years is going to pop up. The only thing that is certain is that Microsoft needs that second inception.

As Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) says at one point in the Inception trailer, “The dream is collapsing.

After I read the end of it, my jaw sort of dropped, and my mind flicked back to a comment I had read on a different Techcrunch article earlier that day: “This article is about as prescient as the time my dad said the internet was just a fad after his WebVan stock crashed.”

MG Actually Skirted Part of the Future of Microsoft…

… but it appeared to whoosh right past him as he raced to the next thing he could think of where he could write a sentence intimating a Microsoft failure or idea theft.

He acknowledged Ballmer’s attention to the enterprise and entertainment sector and Microsoft’s recent successes with the XBox Live marketplace. This is a future success and brilliant idea I’ve been hinting around here at SiliconANGLE for quite some time, but very explicitly described the other day. In that post, I image pointed to a recent Microsoft missive in which they framed the XBox platform as a media consumption platform rather than simply a gaming console.

The first number set is interesting because it shows the context in which Microsoft thinks about the XBox. Typically, Microsoft is blasted for taking a loss on the device in the early years. The foresight here is only just now becoming apparent, particularly when you take today’s BusinessWeek estimations in context of the numbers Shaw put out last week. XBox Live and XBox Media income accounts for nearly 2% of Microsoft’s total revenue!

In essence, Microsoft is building an ecosystem both on the macro level (in the same way that iTunes is building a media consumption ecosystem), as well as driving the need for people to keep a home private/public cloud structure. If you’re into collecting movies, TV shows, music and other media with your XBox as any part of that, the need will arise at some point for you to maintain a home media server (something that, quite famously, effortlessly integrates with other Microsoft-based devices).

With current and future versions of the XBox, the console doesn’t really mind where the data sits on your network (be it laptop, network device, media server or what have you), so long as it’s shared out. XBox plays it all as if it exists within the same volume. By corporate IT standards, this isn’t what’s traditionally thought of as private cloud, but it is the consumer equivalent to what’s currently emerging in that world.

We’re not used to thinking in these terms, but Microsoft is turning into a major driver for consumer level adoption of hybrid public/private cloud, in concept, if not reality.

Beyond the consumer side, which I talked about yesterday, Microsoft has had a clear vision when it comes to enterprise adoption of the hybrid private / public cloud with the Azure project – a vision that falls in line with the current corporate slogans of companies like EMC, Citrix, Sun and VMWare. Their roadmap for the enterprise includes a range of options, from the current “roll your own” options, to the private and public IT cloud infrastructure options all the way to the cloud app options like Google and a million Web2 startups offer today.

The point is that Microsoft has been on top of their long term product vision for quite some time now – years, in fact – and has shown amazing prescience on where the enterprise market is headed.

Remember the Kinect Announcement? That Was Only a Couple Weeks Ago.

Their problem, now and in the future, continues to be one of marketing and branding. The problem extends further than the issue Microsoft has with myopic bloggers and tech journalists like MG (who refuse to see the potential of any product designed by a multi-billion dollar company that isn’t Apple or Google). It image extends into the average consumer’s field of vision. In part, this is shaped by the Apple/Google dominated tech press, but is mostly shaped by the recent levels of success Microsoft’s consumer products achieve.

The most recent unmitigated successes for the OS giant have been Windows 7 and the XBox platform (in both perception and sales), which at first blush have very little connection to the world of the enterprise, or even the future of user experience and user interface.

While the Kin may have had a confusing launch and disappointing reception – the one product launch that looks like it’s going to do wonders for Microsoft is the Kinect interface for the XBox, which Microsoft says will also be able to be utilized on the desktop as well, which truly threatens to change the user experience radically for the first time since the keyboard we all use to this day was laid out in the late 1800’s:

We’re stuck with slow internet, but we’re stuck with even slower input devices. The iPad and any smartphone out there doesn’t improve the speed at which  we’re able to digitize what’s in our heads – it slows it down.  The keyboards we all use and view as the optimal way to input information were invented around the late 1800’s. The mouse was created in 1963. We’ve made minor improvements on both, but by and large, we haven’t improved the way we put input into machines for 130 years for text.

That’s why I get excited about technologies like Project Natal / Kinect and to a lesser extent older but interesting innovations like the Twiddler and the Dasher.

Until there is a technology that allows us to, while on the go, achieve input speeds that exceed what’s possible from traditional input devices, the need for a “let’s sit down and get work done” station will always exist.

Like I mentioned above, there’s the connection to cloud computing – where the Xbox acts as a consumer metaphor for the network architecture giants like EMC, SAP, Sun, IBM and dozens of other giants are pushing to their customers now.

If you’re not immersed in that world, though, it’s a difficult set of concepts to grasp. Microsoft has always had an advantage over the other enterprise players, though, in that since the days of Wintel, there’s been a large cross-section of the public that understand the basics of what they have to offer. When it comes to buying an Exchange server or a Microsoft database or Web server, the average buyer in even a small business doesn’t have far to go to understand exactly what that means, because they have some version of exactly what they need on their consumer machine at home.

On the one hand, with the large amounts of data being processed by large organizations, working without the aid of private / public cloud solutions are quickly image becoming pipe-dreams. On the other hand, every solutions provider faces a two or three hour intro segment to their sales pitch while they try to educate potential clients on just what the hell it is they’re trying to sell them. No one on the planet runs an Oracle database or a half-million-dollar EMC data volume in their broom closet so they can better organize their DVD collection.

But it’s becoming increasingly common for folks living in the Microsoft XBox ecosystem to understand the difference between public cloud (Netflix streaming,  Hulu streaming, Last.FM streaming) and private cloud (Downloaded Zune videos and music, downloaded games and add-ons, created media on their local media server or laptop). All a Microsoft solutions provider need do would be to say “Hey, you know how your XBox works with your network? Yeah, like that.”

Let’s Be Realistic Here…

I know it’s hard to imagine for some of us who live in an Apple ecosystem or a Google ecosystem, but Microsoft does have their own ecosystem. By and large, it dwarfs the other two consumer facing tech-ecosystems in many ways, and is out-classed by its competitors in other ways.  Because Google hasn’t yet trounced, well, anyone in the adoption rate of enterprise tools doesn’t mean Google’s doomed. Because Apple hasn’t figured out a way to crack 10% consumer marketshare on their computers doesn’t mean they’re doomed either.

Because Microsoft has a really slick marketing tool in their chest doesn’t guarantee they’ll succeed either – if there’s anyone that can screw up a marketing push, it’s Microsoft.

It’s unfair to focus on two bits of bad press in the last month and say it’s indicative of a culture of IP theft and ultimate doom.

[Mark cross-posted this at SiliconANGLE.]