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Analysis

Buy Microsoft, it's your patriotic duty
Roger Whitehead By: Roger Whitehead, Associate Analyst - Collaboration, Bloor Research
Published: 5th December 2006
Copyright Bloor Research © 2006
Logo for Bloor Research

That seemed to be the message at the London launch of Microsoft Vista, Office 2007 and Exchange 2007 on 30 November 2006. Gordon Frazer, Microsoft’s UK managing director, devoted most his opening speech to a gallimaufry of statistics and quotations intended to show that buying these new offerings would somehow make Britain more competitive.

Nowhere (of course) was there any suggestion that making better use of organisations’ existing computer investments might be just as effective in improving their efficiency. Nor (ditto) was there any acknowledgement that the wholesale adoption of these new products would lead inevitably to a productivity decline for a period, as it would with any large software installation.

In the dream world proposed by Microsoft, users don’t have to spend working time and ingenuity getting used to new software; systems departments don’t need to drive themselves to distraction ironing out the wrinkles in the new systems; and trading partners don’t have to run around in ever-decreasing circles trying to get their systems to work with them. These are petty details.

Later, there was even the suggestion from one of Frazer’s colleagues that there was a link between introducing Windows 95 and a rise in the increase in UK productivity in 1995 (“nearly doubling” from 1.9% to 2.9%, i.e. increasing by just over half). I was expecting him to finish by saying, “Coincidence? I think not.” Anyone who struggled with Win95 at the time will understand how ludicrous a claim this is. Any rise will have been despite the introduction of Win95.

Samuel Johnson’s dictum—“patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel”—came to mind while I sat through this bombardment of dodgy stats and implausible insinuations. I doubt that Gordon Frazer is a scoundrel, or any of his colleagues there that day, but I did think they were desperate.

There were many references to this being the biggest launch in Microsoft’s recent history and I think the clue lies there. The marketing difficulty Microsoft has is simple: Why should people care? So what if you’ve made a bet-your-company decision? So what if thousands of programmers have spent millions of hours producing unimaginable amounts of code? So what if this has been the most extensive beta testing programme since Neanderthal man emerged? These things matter to you, Mr (or Ms) Microsoft, but all we users care about it is whether the software is of value to us.

This question was not adequately dealt with during the afternoon. Microsoft had gathered some corporate users there (and I know how hard that can be) but we didn’t hear enough from them. There was a short panel session with three of them, from CapGemini, QinetiQ and Newham Borough Council, and video testimony from a couple more. What they had to say was interesting but there was no time for a sensibly paced presentation of their evidence or for any examination of it. And you can’t cross-question a video.

Oh, and there were also some glimpses of the products involved, delivered in high-speed demonstrations and viewable in blurred form on too few and too small screens. What was the point of that, I wondered? Admittedly, we were granted a whole 15 minutes afterwards (gosh!) for a closer look at all the products but I forewent the opportunity. Another day.

Given that the afternoon was labelled “the launch for business”, I was hoping for more about business and what this new software could do for it. Perhaps this trio of products will have a dramatically beneficial effect on the productivity of the organizations that use it. If so, Microsoft failed to offer convincing evidence of it. I also remain sceptical that any piece of software can have a measurable effect on the performance of the UK economy.

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