Software Vendors: Talk to your Customers!
I read an article by Mark Gibbs in NetworkWorld yesterday that struck a chord. Entitled, “Microsoft, instead of turning the lights off on XP, make it open source”, it was basically calling out Microsoft to “give back” by making XP freely available (http://www.networkworld.com/columnists/2012/041212-backspin.html?source=NWWNLE_nlt_daily_pm_2012-04-12).
Mark made the great points that “newest” isn’t always best, and that the most innovative features are not necessarily the best fit for every user. So true.
I blogged on a somewhat similar message several years ago when I watched my 80+ year old Mom learning how to use a PC. She was so proud that she had finally mastered “the computer”, and it was great that she could send and receive emails since she lives quite a distance away. She did so well, in fact, that we bought her a new computer. Unfortunately, the new PC came with a “new and better” OS from Microsoft which totally changed the look and feel of the interface.
I wrote down step-by-step instructions for her to send emails—multiple times– drew pictures, and even walked her through the process by phone. But after the first few tries, she never turned on the PC again. For people her age with cognitive issues, it is very difficult to learn new processes. However they still have their pride, and she felt that her failure to “get” it was an embarrassment she didn’t want to repeat.
In my blog, I suggested that Microsoft “freeze” XP for use by people who were not able to learn (or didn’t care to learn) a new way of performing a simple task. Of course, Apple has always seemed to understand what Microsoft did not—that SOFTWARE SHOULD BE DESIGNED FOR USERS, NOT FOR THE SOFTWARE DESIGNERS. And while today I could certainly buy an iPhone or an iPad for Mom for the ease of use factor, she is now beyond the point where she could learn even that simple interface.
At the moment, there is a big flap going on because Microsoft has removed the Start button from Windows 8. This is ostensibly to make the OS more usable on the tablet form factor. So again, this “new and improved” version will require some level of time investment to learn all the nifty new features from Microsoft’s designers.
Here’s the thing. Ninety percent of the time I spend on my PC is for business, and I’ve been working with technology for a very long time. I’ve navigated through assembly language, communications programming, and so many other technologies I can’t name them all. It’s been fun, no doubt about it, and it still is fun to dabble now and then.
HOWEVER, my PC and my phone are business tools, and “latest and greatest” just gets in my way. The time I spend learning a new and “better” interface for Word or Excel is time spent away from “being an analyst”. Can I learn to navigate Windows without a start button? Sure. Do I have the time to deal with one more time sink? No, I just want it to work.
There are a lot of different use cases out there for technology systems, and some vendors (IBM, CA, and HP are some examples I know well) actually spend a great deal of time actually VISITING customers to find out what they want and need. When they introduce products, they often introduce versions for SMBs, Enterprise, and Service Providers, for example, because they understand the use cases are very different.
To bring the discussion back to Mark’s points, there is no “one size fits all” for personal technologies. My needs as a business user are very different from those of a gamer or a grandma. I want stability. The gamer wants power and the latest technology. My Mom just wants to be able to send an email.
While open sourcing XP would be a noble gesture, I don’t expect that to happen. As an alternative, Microsoft could make XP available at nominal cost as a stable platform for people who can’t afford to pay $200 to put an OS on a $300 computer. Or those in nursing homes, the learning disabled, at Boys’ and Girls’ clubs, or anywhere that people really want to “use the computer”—but just don’t have the wherewithal to do so.
A small revenue stream for MS, maybe, and one that may well cannibalize a small portion of sales of whatever “latest and greatest” version Microsoft is selling at any given time. Regardless, it would be a wonderful gesture—that could even make up for the loss of the beloved “Start” button.