Understanding why Windows RT failed

Let’s face it. Windows RT failed.

Rather than hide our heads in the sand, let’s understand why.

It might seem easy to dogpile on Microsoft regarding their RT project, but there were some key indicators to not only allow us to see retrospectively why it failed, but would have allowed Microsoft to see why it was at enormous risk before it even started the project.

A short history lesson on Microsoft Hardware

Microsoft has an expensive and dismal record when it comes to hardware.

Anyone remember Microsoft Phone?  Not talking cell phones here.  Before that they had a cordless phone.  Still don’t remember?  For good reason.  It died just after they purchased it.

Next up is XBox.  Have they ever made money?  If you roll them up into the entire entertainment section of Microsoft, then maybe it looks good, but just the Xbox portion isn’t too good.

Microsoft Kin.  Maybe you were one of the 503 Kin owners Verizon managed to sell?  This device flopped so hard, the apathy created a singularity somewhere in the universe.

Microsoft Surface RT and to a lesser degree Surface Pro tablets have failed to capture our imaginations.  You can tell Microsoft is desperate, because every commercial compares them to someone else better received.

So, why did all these fail?

In the end, I believe it comes down to several factors:

  • At it’s core, Microsoft innovates software platforms.
    Look at every success Microsoft has had at both capturing the hearts and imaginations of their audience.  They did it by building software platforms that other people were expected to extend.
  • Microsoft has lost their vision
    Where are they going with each one of their hardware experiments?  I think they failed to deliver on something amazing because they had no idea where they are going with this.  Take the last product.  Surface RT and Pro.  Did they really believe people wouldn’t be confused?  RT looks cheaper, until you realize, it won’t run any of your regular windows apps, and oh, by the way software developers, it only has a subset of the programming platform we’ve been selling you on using for over a decade.  Have fun!
  • Microsoft spent too long staring at the backs of their competitors.
    Microsoft will never be able to get their vision back as long as they let their view fill up with the the ground that’s already been paved by competition.
  • Decisions need to become less political.
    It’s very clear (at least to me) that too many projects are taken to completion at Microsoft, only because someone can’t affort to lose face.  Some projects fail.  Some ideas are bad.  Let’s just accept that.  Once we have, we can start making decisions to stop pursuing bad ones earlier.

What can they do about it, now?

Microsoft needs to get back to their roots.

Instead of making XBoxes, they should be making XNA frameworks, and encouraging hardware vendors to make the hardware (or one specific one).  Instead of making Surface RT, they needed to build up their platforms which allow developers not only to target battery powered devices with touch screens, but do it in a way where their applications behave, perform as expected, and easily. Instead of looking for the next, “Me too!” project that competitors have already hit, and hit well, they need to think about where they can be the next leap ahead – where they can win back the confidence of their partners. Microsoft needs more guys in basements to believe that they can innovate with their platforms again.

Last, but not least, Microsoft needs to either replace Steve Ballmer, or he needs to have a big change of heart.  Steve shouldn’t be afraid to surround himself with men greater than himself.  He should embrace the need for greatness in his inner circle.

If you agree or disagree with this article, let me know.

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