Daniel Eran Dilger
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If Gartner is wrong, Ed Bott doesn’t even want to be right

Daniel Eran Dilger

Leading Windows Enthusiast Ed Bott of ZDNet generated some laughs today by reminding the world of Gartner’s poor record in many of its analysts’ future predictions. But Bott himself is wrong, even when it comes to Gartner. Here’s why.

As someone who has regularly chided Gartner for its clearly self-serving (or perhaps “client-serving”) predictions, I must point out that Bott’s potshots at Gartner couldn’t have taken much research. A single Googling of “Gartner” should deliver a treasure-trove of stale hot air to poke fun at.

Of course, Bott probably spent more time than I would have looking up examples of Gartner’s flawed predictions because he likely would have used Microsoft’s Bing for the job.

But why was Bott casting derision at a group historically differentiated–since its inception–for inventing good news about Microsoft? Only because this time, Gartner was suggesting that the Windows 8 experience might be “bad” on a non-touch-enabled device, as in the majority of PCs worldwide.

Bott was simply distracting attention away from a pretty basic (and seemingly unanimous) opinion on the likelihood that users who lack a touch screen will be happy with a new edition of Windows 7 wrapped in touchy-feelly buzz to increment it to Windows 8, fully justifying a paid upgrade cycle.

Gartner’s deeming of a spade to be a spade is pretty hard to argue against, any more than saying that if Apple were to release today’s iPad without a functional touch screen, it probably wouldn’t go over very well as a product. Of course it wouldn’t!

But when it comes to a sacrilege against Windows, Ed Bott isn’t interested in critiquing a logical argument. Instead, he attempts to destroy Gartner ad hominem, saying the company is never right and therefore should be ignored when issuing cautiously worded concerns about Windows 8.

In reality, Gartner is a collection of analysts, some of whom say sillier things than others. Overall, as I’ve argued in the past, Gartner’s guidance can be taken with a grain of salt because it’s so transparently written to suit the needs of the companies that support it financially. I’ve been critical of Gartner before, but I like to rip what they’re saying now AND in the past, not just distract away from today’s observations with a trip down memory lane about its past failures in futurism.

Hot and Botted about Windows 8 criticism

Bott recounted how Gartner analysts, among various other things, had recommend that Apple exit the Mac hardware business in 2006 (just as its Mac sales exploded).

“Apple should leverage its close relationship with Intel and team up with Intel’s closest ally, Dell. We recognise that this move would surprise and even shock many. We are aware that Steve Jobs cancelled previous Mac licences when he took over at Apple and that he guards the Apple brand zealously,” wrote one Gartner analyst in British English.

Clearly not the same analyst who delicately took issue with Microsoft’s current Windows 8 strategy, but Bott wants to throw out the baby with the bathwater. One can’t question any aspect of Microsoft’s divine right to unbridled success with Windows 8, lest Bott cut them off at the knees by bringing up claptrap written by a distant peer from over a half decade ago.

In fact, Gunnar Berger–the analyst who dared suggest that Windows 8 would likely be confusing and problematic for desktop enterprise users who make up Microsoft’s primary customers because they use a mouse rather than touch–has only been at Gartner for a year. So he didnt contribute to any of the silly things Bott brought up from his “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!!” Bing search of Gartner flatulanalytics.

Why does the IT industry continue to listen to Gartner? | ZDNet

The Windows 8 Metro-tastrophy

The context of what Berger actually said was: “as you know, I think there are a lot of good things about Windows 8, we’ve been over that, but where the story changes is when you attempt to use Windows 8 from a non-touch device.”

Strike one of the Metropocolypse, according to Berger: “I’ve said already that I am very happy Microsoft sent me a slate device to test with because before they did, I had been trying to understand the logic behind Windows 8 and it was truly lost on me. Extremely important menus in Windows 8 are hidden off screen, easily brought in when using a touch and swiping with your thumbs, are absent when using a mouse. (I was at TechEd when I learned the trick, you have to drag your mouse to the top-right corner, wait a second, and the right thumb menu will pop out.) Prior to this incident, I can’t tell you the last time I had to ask someone how to do something in a client OS.”

So for starters, you have an experienced, advanced Windows Enthusiast user baffled by Windows 8 Metro on a conceptual level until getting some specific training about how the basic user interface is supposed to work. That is not a good sign for the brand new system Microsoft expects to take on Mountain Lion and the iPad in one blow, in a late launch after two years of delivering nothing at all.

Windows 8 Review – Part 3: As seen through the eyes of a desktop user

But wait, it gets worse.

“This problem of the corners being heavily used is multiplied when you access the OS remotely. I often remote into a client OS, I imagine many IT administrators do the same, these menus that are difficult to access locally using a mouse and keyboard become next to impossible to access when the OS is accessed through a remote window. Imagine my frustration of needing to bring up the Metro interface (the new Start Menu) on a remote computing when my local computer would interpret the Windows key and there was no way for me to get this key stroke to be sent to the remote OS. The only way to access the remote OS’s Metro was to get my mouse in the bottom left hand corner of the remote display (which is difficult considering I’m doing this windowed and can’t just drag my mouse to where it stops in the corner), wait a second for the mini Metro icon to pop up, then click on it. This is one of my more disappointing moments in my testing of the new OS because remotely accessing a Windows OS is my thing. I already was struggling using Windows 8 on a local desktop, I gave up using it on a remote desktop, and that was very disappointing considering I’m very excited for the RemoteFX features in Windows 8.”

Congratulations if you made it though that torturous paragraph. If you stopped after a sentence or two, you probably still saw the basic problem being expressed. Microsoft’s core desktop platform, which caters to the remote management/enterprise crowd, is being severely handicapped in ways its own protagonists can’t really figure out just so Microsoft can attempt to make its DOS-boxes look more like iPads to the consumers who don’t even buy Microsoft’s stuff.

Windows 8 is like the Zune taking on the iPod, except that Microsoft is converting its boring office PC platform into an inscrutable Zune interface for no useful reason other than to take on the army of iPads that have already taken over a substantial part of the PC market, in large part because Apple’s iPad is actually cheaper, easier, and simpler to manage by businesses than a conventional “fat client” PC.

Thus, Microsoft is desperately trying to stem the tide of PC defections to iPad by making the PC more iPad-like. Sorry, that’s the wrong strategy, OBVIOUSLY! Microsoft should make the PC better at doing what its buyers want it to do, and perhaps offer a tablet that tries to do what the iPad is doing, but better than Apple’s iPad is.

Instead, Microsoft is taking the shrinking market for PCs and saddling it with an iPad-like feature set that none of its customers have asked to have. Even the happiest of Microsoft’s fold is confused by Metro and what its point is. And consumers in general have not been impressed by the Zune or Windows Phone 7, two very clear data points that should be pinging around between the synapses of Steve Ballmer’s cerebral cortex.

When your customers are not excited about your product, and are defecting to your competitor, you don’t try to copy what your competitor did two years ago. You have to figure out what you’re doing to allow your customers to leave.

Lessons for Microsoft from Steve Jobs

Apple found itself in a similar position to today’s Microsoft back in the mid 1990s. While Apple fans wondered how the company could have squandered its lead in graphical computing to allow Microsoft to virtually take over the entire market within just a few years, the company got lots of advice about how it needed to copy Microsoft to gain back its position.

Apple was repeatedly advised to license out its Mac OS to other hardware makers (much too late), but Apple’s core competency had been in building hardware! At the same, others insisted Apple had to abandon the Mac OS and license Windows for its own Mac hardware. But the real problem was that Microsoft was erasing the value of Apple’s integration, and Apple itself was failing to make any improvements in areas it had historically excelled at.

Instead of trying to be like Microsoft, Jobs brought Apple back from the brink of collapse by focusing what Apple had been good at: thinking up relevant solutions to real problems, and delivering compelling hardware to address them. Jobs returned the Mac OS to its roots in creative content creation, attracting back the first waves of customers to have defected. It took a long time, but Jobs’ strategy was fixed upon returning Apple back to what it was good at, not at trying to be better at what Microsoft had been good at.

Something else Jobs didn’t do: pretend and insist that nothing at Apple was wrong. Jobs rarely agreed with what pundits thought the company should do to fix its ills, but he never claimed that Apple was doing fine when it clearly wasn’t, or that a screwup wasn’t a screwup (MobileMe is a good example of that).

Jobs didn’t always give customers what they thought they wanted (like that “headless iMac”), but he focused on giving customers something he knew they’d want. And that wasn’t always what Jobs just wanted them to want. Mac users initially rejected NeXT, for example, despite its clear edge in technical sophistication. So Jobs gave them another six comfortable years of the Classic Mac OS to transition.

Microsoft may think that all of its PC users want to shop in Apple Stores and buy PCs with IPad-like interfaces (because that’s what Microsoft is focusing on doing right now), but if that were the case its entire customer base would already have shifted to Apple. Only about 15% has.

Most of Microsoft’s most valuable customers want boring Windows boxes with the same Command interface that can boot from a floppy and be remotely backed up via the reliable 10/100 Ethernet they installed 15 to 20 years ago. They want Windows XP with that Hot Dog Stand option, just in case they feel the need to customize their desktop. They don’t want an ARM processor, and they sure don’t want to trade off any of their comfort legacy.

Microsoft needs to give them crap with a bow on it, not attempt to provide highly integrated devices with intuitive user interfaces. That’s never been Microsoft’s strong point.

Bott could take some advice from Apple

Bott should take note of the fact that at no point during Apple’s recovery over the last decade did anyone at Apple insist that a losing strategy was going to work out in the end as long as nobody’s criticism of it could be heard.

Over the last decade, Ed Bott and his colleagues at ZDNet have delivered a non-stop tirade of fear, uncertainly and doubt aimed at Apple, regularly insisting, for example, that the company was due to be consumed with a Microsoft-style malware crisis at any moment, stoking fire under every claim or suggestion that end users might be upset about something, from a minor interface change to a product discontinuation.

These Windows Enthusiasts worked so tirelessly to attack Apple that they likely helped to fashion the company as an unstoppable force, because when somebody attacks your weaknesses, you can identify them and address those weaknesses. Through the firestorm of heckling critics, Apple emerged as a regularly perfected fighting machine, but only because it listened to that criticism and responded.

Microsoft has been shielded from similar criticism. Sure, plenty of people laugh at the company and its foolishness, and I literally spent years describing what was wrong with one failed strategy after another. But nobody listened to me because I didn’t have a pulpit on CNET. Those with a prominent voice used it to make excuses for Microsoft, just as the same crowd is doing the same to make excuses for Google’s Android. They have praised both virtually to death.

So when Bott writes that it’s best to ignore a very serious issue for Windows 8 voiced by a Gartner analyst who is clearly in love with Windows PCs, only because the company that analyst works for has a history of saying stupid things about the tech industry, it’s an example of how Microsoft is being sheltered from smelling its own excrement. For that reason, it’s never going to bathe until it dies of sepsis.

You can be assured, however, that if someone at Gartner or even some random blog voiced some criticism of a yet under development OS feature by Apple (particularly the usability of its primary user interface), Ed Bott and his colleagues would bat it around for weeks, creating a hailstorm of complaint and criticism that would likely be addressed long before it actually shipped to consumers.

Oh poor Ed, he’s saying all the wrong things if he really wants team Microsoft to succeed. What a dummy.

  • Raymond

    Thanks Dan for another great article. The reference to Windows hotdog stand is pure gold.

  • http://themacadvocate.com TheMacAdvocate

    Microsoft’s approach to criticism is to post a 5,000 word entry in their blog detailing how much work they’ve put into Metro. It’s as if the detractors just need it explained to them and then they’ll get it.

  • SkyTree

    Great to have Dan the Man back in form, taking well-deserved Bott shots …..

    At an emotional level, I would like to see Microsoft succeed at something fairly – just like you want those Olympic athletes to win without drugs, they are good athletes anyway, let’s see what they can really do.

    Reading the Microsoft blog (at 4,000 not 5,000 words) see: http://blogs.office.com/b/office-next/archive/2012/07/18/using-the-new-office-with-touch.aspx

    I was struck by the thought that “Microsoft actually started with the premise that a tablet cannot work without a keyboard, that a keyboard is the only effective way to input data into a device” and did their best to make the Surface work.

    There are two fundamental problems with this:

    1. A keyboard is a man-made device. We know that the QWERTY layout is a product of a bygone era when physical keys getting jammed while striking an inked ribbon on to paper was a real problem.

    2. A QWERTY keyboard only makes sense in the English language. Even other European languages use different keyboard layouts. None of them make sense in Japanese.

    Having said that, I have been using an iPad with a Logitech ultrathin keyboard cover as a PC substitute in a corporate environment in Japan for over a month. It probably does exactly what Microsoft is hoping its Surface will do, and I have to say it works quite well.

    The question is, in the three years that Microsoft have spent developing the Surface, have they reproduced what Apple has done with the iPad or have they simply reproduced what Logitech has done with its snap-on keyboard? Does it do “emoji” as well as “emoticons”?

  • http://madhatter.ca The Mad Hatter

    Thus, Microsoft is desperately trying to stem the tide of PC defections to iPad by making the PC more iPad-like. Sorry, that’s the wrong strategy, OBVIOUSLY! Microsoft should make the PC better at doing what its buyers want it to do, and perhaps offer a tablet that tries to do what the iPad is doing, but better than Apple’s iPad is.

    Agreed. Microsoft should play to their strengths, not their weaknesses.

    The big problem that Microsoft has is that their strength has always been copying everyone else, and then using their Monopoly position to kill the company they copied.

    I once went over a list of Microsoft products, and every single one had been produced by someone else first, and often the original was far better than the Microsoft imitation. Microsoft was only able to gain traction in the market place because they could use DOS/Windows as leverage.

    That doesn’t work anymore. When you take a night school course, and the instructor, who isn’t a computer geek recommends OpenOffice instead of Microsoft Office, you know that Microsoft has lost control.


  • gslusher

    Re: Hot Dog Stand

    This is now available for Windows 7:


    Speaking of themes, I rather miss the OS 7-9 extension (or control panel?)–I think it was Kaleidoscope–that changed not only the colors but the shape of the windows. That was about the ultimate in desktop customization.

  • enzos

    Kaleidoscope! Now that was fun. OS7&8&9 may have been a bit flakey but they were a tinkerer’s dream. That, DefaultFolder and the stupendously powerful Finderpop (which I just found seems to have survived into OSX !! http://www.finderpop.com ) .

    All the work (mid 90s) got done on boring old Word 5.1 with Endnote* but, by heck, in terms of usability and productivity, those programs were better, faster, simpler to use and more productive than the ribboned-up Kafka-esque bloated shit we have to use now.

    * And Chemdraw/Chem3D which some genius at CambridgeSoft decided to stop supporting on the Mac with OSX.