In 2004 Microsoft completely owned tech consumers. Over 95% of consumers used Microsoft OS based computers with MS Office. 91% of consumers used Microsoft Internet Explorer to access the web, and held a segment leading 33% of webmail with MS Hotmail. The past 6 years have been a disaster for MS on the web due to a terrible lack of focus on overall consumer experience. IE market share has fallen below 60%, while Hotmail has dropped to 22%.
Back in 2008 Microsoft’s Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie knew that his strategy was broken. Internet startup were threatening MS’s core product areas. Google’s launch of Gmail in 2004 immediately stole market share from Hotmail, while Google Docs posed a direct threat to MS Office. In response Ray wrote his infamous Mesh Memo.
For Ray’s vision to work, Microsoft needed to transition their core products from being beautiful standalone products, to interconnected web services. As Ray said [Our mission is to provide], “seamless experiences that combine the power of the internet, with the magic of software, across a world of devices.” Someone forgot to tell the product managers. Instead of transitioning their products, Microsoft simply created more products.
Today MS has two products for every type of content; the legacy desktop tool, or a newer web tool. After creating some content, I can choose to save the content on my computer, or on the cloud (via SkyDrive). Later, if I want to edit content, the legacy desktop tools can only reliably pull content from my desktop, while the web tools pull data from SkyDrive. That’s not seamless. To bridge the gap between these tools, Microsoft created yet another tool called Mesh to synchronize desktop files with SkyDrive files. This solution could work, but Microsoft effectively killed any utility of the product by creating a 5 gig limit in its usage (the cloud solution has a 25 gig limit). So how does this play out in practice?
Over Thanksgiving I took 600 photos with my Nikon DSLR camera. These photos took over 2.5 gigs of space which I transferred to my desktop. I viewed and touched up these photos with Windows Live Photo Gallery. I then wanted to share these photos with my relatives. Mesh isn’t an effective choice because one weekend of photos is 50% of total capacity. Skydrive isn’t effective because Photo Gallery can’t view the photos after they are saved. UGH!
Microsoft can get itself out of this mess by reviewing Ray’s 2.5 year old memo and building usable seamless experiences. This means either killing Mesh, or making it unlimited. If MS kills mesh, they need to fully integrate SkyDrive into all desktop products (not just saving). SkyDrive also needs a premium tier for additional storage space. In a world where everyone has a TB hard drive, the idea of limiting me to 25 gigs of hard drive space is silly. Last, the product management for the desktop and web tools needs to be unified.