Awkward Questions for Microsoft & Apple

A few big industry changes happened this week. Windows 8 and Microsoft Surface are now part of our world; the two Apple executives who were committed to, respectively, poor customer service in Apple’s stores and an even poorer Maps product are no longer part of our world.

The Surface was previewed with a clumsy “kickstand” that drew a few hoots and catcalls from the peanut gallery. Doubling down, Microsoft now brings new meaning to the phrase “it’s a feature, not a bug” by making the kickstand the central feature of the Surface’s initial advertising campaign.

Windows 8, meanwhile, has drawn praise for its all-new look and condemnation for an interface that seems better designed for mobile rather than laptop/desktop systems. Again doubling down, Microsoft shows people pointing at Windows 8 on traditional systems, bringing back the disastrous notion of gorilla arms.

It’s hard to know what to make of all this. A few basic questions:

What was the highest level at which Maps was tested? Did Tim Cook see it before it launched? Did Scott Forstall? Who knew what about Maps and when did they know it?
What was Tim Cook thinking in hiring a downmarket slash-and-burner to run Apple’s stores? Will John Browett’s replacement come from Walmart?
Will Microsoft’s “kickstand” some day take its place in the IT Hall of Shame alongside IBM’s “chiclets”?
Why would Steve Ballmer revive a definitively failed idea like pointing at computer screens? Is Microsoft Bob 2.0 next?

The good news for the cloud computing industry is that the real innovation continues to come from the dozens, perhaps hundreds, of companies who are building out stacks, frameworks, and enterprise ecosystems.

As I prepare for Cloud Expo next week in Santa Clara, I’m glad that the awkward peregrinations of the current failures of industry’s two most iconic consumer brands has little effect on what’s really going on in the IT industry today.

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