Ok, first of all, a few corrections need to be made with regards to the success of MS Office. It’s success had nothing to do with price. It had everything to do with the failures of WordPerfect and the defeat of Lotus 1-2-3.
Though MS Word was one of the oldest word processors on the market (I came across my 1983 Word 1.0 floppies a few weeks ago) it was WordPefect that had become the behemoth standard for word processing after WordStar. Mostly due to things like no more “dot codes,” print preview, reveal codes, that wonderful empty screen and legendary tech support. By the late 80’s the WP 4/5 file format had become the standard in healthcare, medical devices/pharma, defense and most important, government regulatory agencies. Sure, you could use other processors, but export compatibility with WordPerfect was essential.
Skip to 1993. Both Word and WordPerfect release version 6 for Windows. In their effort to beat Microsoft to market, they rushed the release and set loose a disaster. I remember the bug list – I’m sorry… Issues list (WP Corp as a policy did not admit to bugs) – reported at over 6000; including such things as deletion of files upon save. That happened to me once — not fun. To compound matters, WP changed the file format from the v. 4/5 standard. This wouldn’t have been too back, except that essential backward compatibility was rather weak.
True, Word 6.0 was also buggy, but at about 1/2 the rate of WordPerfect and at least it wasn’t deleting your documents without warning. It also turned out that Microsoft provided better WordPerfect compatibility than WordPerfect. They also provided WP keyboard mapping to reduce the learning curve. I had access to both products and got to do extensive comparisons. At the end of the day stability, data integrity and compatibility won out over reveal codes and it’s been almost 20 years since I’ve used WordPerfect. I heard the same story over and over on Usenet.
The breaking of the 1-2-3 stranglehold actually had nothing to do with Microsoft. Excel was #3 at the time. Borland’s Quattro Pro was the product that finally beat Lotus 1-2-3 and to this day, I still consider it the best spreadsheet on the market. Much of the analytical capabilities we take for granted originated in the mass market with Quattro Pro. However, in making the jump to Quattro Pro for Windows, Borland famously botch the marketing allowing Excel to move past and into the lead. Of course PowerPoint simply blew away Harvard Graphics in the marketplace.
With the #1 app in three critical business areas, the office suite became the nail in the coffin establishing Microsoft dominance in the business suite for the last 15+ years. Long, I know, but I’ve been seeing enough comments on history that I figured an eyewitness report appropriate.
Second, I think people need to take a second look at what James is saying. It has nothing to do with quality, though a quality product is a must. He’s talking simple market economics. We call it “investing in a market.” Microsoft doesn’t NEED to make a profit on the Surface. At least not if the Surface can be used to leverage sales in their other business units. Remember, Surface Pro is a full-blown Windows 8 box. I’ll be able to plug in an USB hub and have access to a full suite of peripherals, not to mention the massive base of Windows software. To have full blown Word or Powerpoint functionality on a tablet would be extremely valuable to me. From the Pro version, at least, there already is a huge established software base.
Those who delegate tablets as mere “consumption” devices are seriously short-selling their capabilities regardless if your talking iOS or Android. Word processing, spreadsheets, Visio, mind mapping, scheduling, note taking, ink-to-text, document review/markup… all my creative tasks… I’m able to do effectively – mostly – on my iPad. It’s very much a content creation tool. Enough so that I have been very successful in using it to replace my laptop.
To do this brings me to my final point. To get that level of productivity I’ve added 3 items to my iPad’s travel bag: a Wacom Bamboo stylus, VGA/HDMI output and a good Bluetooth keyboard. Apple’s acceptance of these has been grudging. If Microsoft get this – and it’s too early to tell – then provides what is a good tablet first and includes excellent solutions for these three second they have a potential winner.
Simply providing that kind of solution is not enough in a single-product dominated market. It’s necessary, but not sufficient. In many ways, Microsoft is introducing a changed paradigm with the Surface. That means a willingness to subsidize the paradigm shift. It can be done. It has been done in the past. Microsoft has done it in the past. They’ve made their share of mistakes, but they DO know how to do this. It’s really a matter of will. It will be interesting to see if they are willing to do it again.