Monday, May 15, 2006

Dvorak: Microsoft Search Tar Pit

Writing in PC Magazine, the always-controversial-and-interesting™ John Dvorak has some noteworthy observations about Microsoft's stated direction. Most intriguing: that thick-client software (e.g., Microsoft Office) is far from dead:

Microsoft and the entire computer industry have been convinced by boneheads that Microsoft Office in particular and perhaps the Windows OS were short-term products that would eventually stagnate and die. In fact it is generally believed that all shrink-wrapped software is a short-term phenomenon. I think I first saw shrink-wrapped software back in 1976. So this is the 30th year of shrink-wrapped software. The total sales of shrink-wrapped software have never been higher. But according to the experts, it's dead. And apparently it died around 1996. Reports of its death are greatly exaggerated...'s interesting to note that nearly all the executives at Sun and Oracle use PowerPoint, don't they?

Actually, I'm not sure that they do anymore. When Novell does corporate presentations, they use SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop (SLED) and OpenOffice Impress (the PowerPoint-replacement) exclusively. That doesn't detract from Dvorak's overall advice, however.

His counsel regarding where Microsoft should be concentrating is probably sound. He advocates that MSFT stick with what they do best: delivering mass-market software. He asks, for instance, why dilly-dally around with search and advertising when Vista is running so late?

Let's examine another corporate behemoth who, instead of fighting Google and open-source software, was instead fighting Johnson & Johnson and Kimberly-Clark.

If we look at P&G's resurgence since its Durk Jager days (circa 1999), it was spearheaded primarily by laser-focusing on expansion of core brands, not trying to invent new brands. Jager's initiatives were exactly that: high-risk, cash-sucking efforts to build new brands. The Swiffer dust mop and Fit fruit & vegetable wash were classic examples of his strategy. Anyone use Fit these days to wash apples?

Jager's replacement, A.G. Lafley, quickly changed the corporate focus to renewing and expanding the core brands: Crest, Tide, Pampers, Olay, etc. That strategy -- combined with aggressive acquisitions such as Gillette -- has reinvigorated P&G, which is a newly resurgent and utterly dominant force in CPG.

Methinks there may be a lesson there for Microsoft.

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