Analyst Opinion - You really don’t get a sense for Microsoft’s breadth of products unless you attend an event like TechEd. At the conference you are introduced and trained on a product list longer than your arm only to realize that TechEd basically represents only one division of the company. The respective keynotes of Steve Jobs and Bob Muglia, who runs Microsoft’s server and tools business, are showcasing the fundamental differences between the two companies.
One of the things that always strikes me about an Apple event where Steve Jobs is speaking is that it always appears to be perfect. Steve Jobs personally will not allow anything to be out of place and he will micro-manage most aspects of his own presentation. This may seem like overkill to the novice but the result is almost always an event that people will never forget, even when, like this time, his primary product, the new 3G iPhone isn’t actually ready. The word "breathtaking" can commonly be applied to the events Apple puts on.
He is focused, keeps the presentation elegant and simple, and I doubt there is a single Apple employee, either current or past, who doesn’t feel a moment of pride. The end result is you leave an Apple event generally exhilarated and excited about what was presented and sometimes more than a little amazed. For this recent show, so much had leaked about the new iPhone that there was little in the way of new news and not having the product ready to go was very unusual. What wasn’t unusual was that Steve Jobs is the star of the show and the products he announces are the costar. Microsoft was generally mentioned as comic relief.
For TechEd, the customer is the star. It was not Muglia, who acted more as a moderator/coordinator, but Hunter Ely, initially it was the IT manager who used a number of Microsoft technologies to connect families after the Katrina disaster. He mostly spoke about the difficulties of that time and how the Microsoft products were critical to his efforts to put families in touch with each other. At the end he was grateful to Microsoft but praised his LSU compatriots who made the project possible.
This was followed by a number of customers and product managers in a sequential representation of product advocacy and demonstration. One of the most interesting was on interoperability where WS02, an Open Source company that competes with Microsoft, came up on stage and demonstrated how their tools could be swapped with Microsoft’s similar offerings on the fly with no loss of resolution or efficiency. I can’t think of any other vendor that would allow a competitor on their stage, let alone allow them to showcase how good their own offering was. Yet, this was the exact right thing to do to convey the message that Microsoft was aggressively addressing interoperability IT requirements.
While they didn’t have VMware on stage to talk about virtualization, they did bring up the VMware offering but didn’t disparage it. In fact they showcased a rapid transition function that VMware has that Microsoft’s offering, Hyper-V, doesn’t and pointed out that customers may want to swap on the fly to make use of this unique VMware capability. Microsoft closed that segment by demonstrating that the Microsoft management tool could manage both equally well and allow customers to easily use the competitive offering. They never disparaged a single competitor during the entire event and for virtualization the principal architect for Kroll Factual Data praised HyperV.
Contrasting the differences
While the Microsoft keynote was well orchestrated, Bob Muglia struggled with his script and didn’t seem to be well enough rehearsed, Steve Jobs in contrast hit every mark and line. Steve’s two products, Snow Leopard and the new iPhone were showcased in their best light and I doubt there were many in the audience that didn’t personally want them. Bob’s many products were thinly covered and I doubt if many will even remember all of them or what the key benefits of each single one are.
On the other hand you got the strong feeling from Microsoft’s presentation that the company admired and respected the IT managers they had on stage and, by proxy, the other IT managers who were in the audience. Each capability showcased addressed a specific identified need these IT managers actually had with the undercurrent that Microsoft’s offerings were generally easier to implement and less expensive to use.
Nothing Microsoft presented was targeted directly at consumers and everything Apple presented had consumers as a target. Interesting enough, both Microsoft and Apple folks spoke to customer needs but only Microsoft had actual customers articulate some of these needs.
Snow Leopard vs. Windows 7
In many ways at both shows the OS took a back seat to everything else that was going on. For both companies this is because they want buyers focused on products that are in the market and not on products that wouldn’t show up until late 2009 at the earliest.
Still, and this is outside of the keynotes, it wasn’t hard to pick up an undercurrent of where both offerings were headed and how similar some aspects of them might be. For Windows it was a seamless integrated virtual machine based on Kidaro which allows you to open applications that use other supported OSs and make them look like they are running natively in Vista. In addition there were quiet discussions on major improvements in performance and on the new multi-touch interface.
On the Snow Leopard side, much of the discussion was on massive improvements to graphics performance once again suggesting gaming may be coming to that platform and future compliance with a number of desktop and network management tools which would allow future Apple products to easily co-reside right next to Windows products. Some of the specs being talked about were just short of unbelievable making me wonder if Snow Leopard would run on anything but future brand new Apple hardware.
In short, when these products make their run at each other (and right now both look like they will actually show up at almost the same time) we’ll see a head-to-head fight with both parties drifting into areas of traditional strength for the other.
I’m not sure that Apple really gets the IT thing, even though they are clearly altering both the iPhone and Leopard to address IT needs. IT buyers aren’t consumers and they need to believe the vendors that serve them (and this is key because they don’t like vendors who think the IT managers are servants). On the other hand, I’m not sure Microsoft understands the need for simplicity and how incredibly powerful it is to be able to stand up and say something that drives people to line up to buy products after getting deeply excited about them because these products are perceived as almost magical in capability.
I’m still left with the impression that if Bob Muglia and Microsoft could understand and do what Steve Jobs does to create magic or Steve Jobs and Apple learned to embrace IT and turn them into stars, the result would be amazing and probably unstoppable.
Rob Enderle is one of the last Inquiry Analysts. Inquiry Analysts are paid to stay up to date on current events and identify trends and either explain the trends or make suggestions, tactical and strategic, on how to best take advantage of them. Currently he provides his services to most of the major technology and media companies.