It seems quite trendy to deride Microsoft for being stale, unimaginative and a has-been titan of tech - a place where good ideas go to die. I must admit, for a time I was persuaded by the echo-chamber consensus until I noticed that again and again, they produce some pretty cool stuff.
- Photosynth - 5-star rated photo app
- Pivot - Innovative data/web browser
- Xbox Kinect - open source compatible
- Windows Phone 7 - “social” is undeniably the DNA of their design.
- Seadragon [zoomit] - Image viewer
Part of me thinks that this is because Microsoft lacks a messiah. A single visionary for others to identify with the same way fashionistas align themselves with the “it” designer of the day (in Apple’s case, Steve Jobs). They lose the early adopters, they lose the brand advocates and they lose the social cred that may help to source the best coders, but they also gain one very important advantage: the permission to experiment.
It is ok if Microsoft launches a product that fails, nothing less is expected. Microsoft has never been perfect, IE is a pig that no amount of lipstick can change, and Windows is forever buggy. But there they are, lumbering in the background; experimenting, shipping, distributing*.
Being underestimated is a marvelous thing and as contrarian as it sounds, Microsoft is poised for innovation, risk and bold maneuvers. So don’t laugh - the next big thing could come courtesy of your old friend Bill.
*Oft-overlooked is that when Microsoft lands a hit they have the ability to distribute it everywhere. That’s powerful.
[Disclaimer: I own an HP computer which runs Windows. It cost ~$350, has a decent battery life and runs a web browser. I also use paint and live movie maker - they do everything they’re supposed to do.]