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Tech Talk

Microsoft steals a page from Apple’s playbook

11/11/2015

One of the fastest ways in business to build your brand is by franchising. Restaurants, hotels, retail stores, hardware stores, car rental companies and so many others have built their fortunes on back of others hustling their wares. For a tech equivalent, look no further than Microsoft, the behemoth of tech franchising. Instead of vertically integrating its entire production line from software, hardware, manufacturing, shipping, all the way to sales, Microsoft has only worried about writing the software, leaving the rest to business partners. This made Microsoft unspeakably rich and helped build up countless manufacturing giants like Hewlett Packard, Dell and Lenovo. Now, after decades of franchising, Microsoft has decided to try something new with its Surface Book Pro line of laptops.

Franchising its Windows operating system and Office Suite of software made sense for Microsoft. The more companies that licensed Microsoft software, the more computer owners became Microsoft users. At the peak of its software franchising empire, Microsoft held a 95 percent computer user market share. In other words, in 1997, no matter if it was at home or for business, 95 percent of computing was done via Microsoft software.tech 11.12

The problem was, Microsoft grew so big that its small problems grew with it. First came the viruses. With everyone learning to program in Microsoft, nefarious programmers used their skills to harm users. Next came multiple iterations of Windows. Between 1995, 2000, XP, ME, NT, Vista, 7.0 and more, Microsoft ended up juggling a mess of software ecosystems, each with its own security flaws and bugs. Most recently the issue has been lack of innovation. With its hoards of employees focused on maintaining the Windows kingdom, smaller companies and startups started manufacturing more interesting and intuitive products, forcing Microsoft to catch up with inferior products. For examples, look no further than the Zune trying to keep with the iPod four years late and Bing going up against Google a decade after the Internet search war ended.

So now, Microsoft is pivoting by taking a crack at producing devices meant to be the pinnacle of Microsoft ecosystems. Sound familiar? Apple has always been a militant keeper of its production line. No matter if you’re using a Macintosh, an iPod, an iPhone, an iPad or Apple Watch, all of Apple’s products have tailored user experiences to emulate the ideal Apple experience. Microsoft’s new Surface Book Pro laptop line took this method of product development, slapped Windows on it, and so far it’s paying off. The Surface Book Pro laptops have received rave reviews for their user experience and top-of-the-line components.

Of course, Microsoft isn’t going full Apple. Windows will continue to be licensed out to HP, Dell, Lenovo and all the others. So, in all honesty, the Surface Book Pro line mirrors Google more than Apple. Google’s Nexus Android line of devices is just like Microsoft. Manufacturers can license Android and tailor to their product, but Google has the Nexus line of devices to create the perfect Android experience.

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The funny thing is, neither Microsoft nor Google need to put out perfect versions of their product. Samsung, Sony and Lenovo have manufactured some amazing devices, many of which are not only better than Apple’s devices, but they’re actually better than Google and Microsoft’s proprietary products. The real reason to put out homegrown devices is the franchised versions they allow are god-awful. If Microsoft wants to be known as a premium device maker like Apple, they need to shut down the assembly Windows products. Creating a handful of quality computers will never overcome the mass of bargain bin garbage devices on the market. CV

Patrick Boberg is a central Iowa creative media specialist. Follow him on Twitter @PatBoBomb.

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