Leopard vs. Vista: Litigation Email Points to Apple's Advantage

Wednesday Mar 5th 2008 by Rob Enderle
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Apple can focus on the end user because they sell a complete system to that end user. But Intel, AMD, and Microsoft all have PC OEMs who own the solution as clients. That’s a problem.

I’ve been reading some of the coverage of the Vista Capable Lawsuit. Litigation often reveals correspondence between parties that showcases how folks were actually thinking. In the Windows Vista correspondence you see the corporate typical disagreement between those who made the policies, sometimes without executive support (as in the case with the Intel deal that apparently goes to the core of the litigation) and those that may have actually been right, who lost the policy decisions.

(In looking at that part I have to wonder what graveyard would house an executive that bypassed Larry Ellison or Steve Jobs in this way).

As in most companies I imagine there is a lot of finger pointing going on and I’ll bet the folks that were right are actually being pounded more for writing the memos than being congratulated for getting it right. This would be like the Democratic primaries criticizing Obama for voting against the war because he made the other Democrats who voted for it look stupid. Personally I think the focus should be on eliminating the tendency to do stupid things, but then what do I know?

In the end, however, these memos point to one sustaining advantage that Apple seems to have: they know who their customer is.

Microsoft, on the other hand, seems to have trouble telling whether their customer is a chip vendor, an OEM, the IT executive, or the end user. What seems to come through is whichever one is connected to the decision maker with the most power is the one who drives the decision. And that seems, particularly with the OS, to lead to serious problems and a conflicted product. Forget getting the product right, it is amazing they were (given these contradictory alliances) able to get the thing out the door.

For the Windows OS the OEM is the Only Customer that Should Matter

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Apple can focus on the end user because they sell a complete system, hardware and software, to that end user. But Intel, AMD, and Microsoft, all of which sell parts of a solution, have as their primary customers (primary customers being defined as those which actually are responsible for sending you a check) PC OEMs who own the solution.

I should point out that on the Server side the focus is clearly on IT and that, I think, helps point to why the Windows Server 2008 launch is doing substantially better.

The secondary customer is the user who has to live with the platform and clearly there has to be some effort to ensure that the OEMs will be as successful as possible if Microsoft is to be successful. But, since Microsoft only sells a fraction of their OS volume directly to end users, the OEMs should be their primary focus. And where there’s a disagreement the OEMs should win out because they own their own success.

Developers are partners, who drive their own solutions, and they too must be considered particularly if you want a rich application base. But if you look at the success of the new iPhone – which has no developers yet – the customer experience is vastly better than any phone with them, which clearly indicates where the priorities should reside.

In Apple, which is a hardware company, you know that the hardware side drives how much the OS can push hardware. As Leopard came to market it was less and less backwards compatible with old hardware, which made it a better engine for new hardware sales, and created a greater opportunity to sell this new hardware. Apple customers appear to like this approach.

(Although it did get the short-term nick name “Leoptard” suggesting that even Apple had issues, generally its reception has been very positive.)

On the PC side, HP was the most aggressive on trying to create an Apple-like connection between Vista, their hardware, and related marketing and they were rewarded with the strongest growth. This further showcases the power of connecting the dots and letting the OEMs take the lead in providing direction. If Microsoft had focused on supporting HP and other OEMs more with Vista, the result would have likely been far more powerful.

Why Shouldn’t IT Get A Vote?

Actually IT does get a vote but that vote needs to come through the OEMs who will be delivering the related solution, not come in around them. IT has as a primary responsibility containing costs. Even if they wanted to drive though a new OS, if the user doesn’t want it, the line organizations they report to can easily say no (as we have seen in the Vista early adopter sites which stalled).

For some time now IT analysts have recommended that new OSes primarily come in on new hardware. This avoids much of the related support problems that seem to result when putting a new OS on hardware that wasn't designed for the OS and couldn’t be tested by the OEM with it. In my experience much of the cost and most of the problems associated with a new OS, including Apple’s platforms, have to do with upgrading hardware.

IT is not generic and every company has different requirements. To address these requirements each OEM has specific tools they use, for instance Lenovo has ThinkVantage Technologies. If the OEM’s needs are the focus then the OEM solutions become optimized to overcome the IT objections. When Microsoft goes directly to the IT managers the solutions they have and the solutions that OEMs have come into conflict. And conflict lowers adoption.

SP1/Windows 7 Signs That Things May be Getting Better

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In the months that preceded the launch of Windows Vista the OEMs increasingly reported their frustration with Microsoft and felt the firm simply wasn’t listening to them. The end result was that Vista has not been a launch anyone has been particularly proud of. These same OEMs are saying that Microsoft is listening to them now which suggests SP1 (to some degree) and Windows 7 (to a great degree) will benefit from this thinking.

Love or hate Apple they clearly lead in the user experience department and that is primarily because they can focus on one customer and this customer rewards them with loyalty unmatched in the technology space. Apple isn’t perfect however, and often seems to take these customers for granted, which suggests another firm could do better. The OEMs led by HP, Dell, and Lenovo are trying but they can’t get there without Microsoft stepping up. At a recent meeting with one of them it became clear that their biggest impediment to being successful was Microsoft.

At the core of the Vista problem is complexity. In this case it is complexity of direction, but it extends to the complexity of the organization itself.

So, in the end, in many ways, I do see Microsoft getting better but it is taking longer than it should. At some point, they are really going to have to start treating the OEMs as their primary customers if they want to avoid a repeat of the problems they have seen with Vista. The fact that it appears to take large fines and litigation to focus Microsoft on making needed changes is troubling and probably should be the focus of some of the thinking there.

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