When I was briefed on Microsoft Equipt a few days ago, I couldn't help but take this in context with Bill Gates' departure and reflect on the post-Gates Microsoft. For much of Microsoft's history, the company has been known primarily for two very successful products - Windows and Office.
Sometimes this connection has been less than positive. Back in 2000, I had a conversation with back then new Microsoft president Steve Ballmer and was fascinated that he believed that the market would eventually move to a subscription model. With Equipt, Microsoft takes its biggest step in this direction and it makes me wonder whether Windows will, or should, someday follow.
One of the problems with moving to a new concept like cloud computing is that you have to move your code base and the market has to be ready for the move at the same time. This means that an entrenched firm has to create a transitional product with elements in both the old and the new - I order to create time for the transition of the code base and to allow the installed base, in this case consumers, to make the switch to the new product.
Equipt is a transitional product. Part of the offering is traditional and that is the part you are likely most familiar with: Microsoft Office Home & Student. The software will now check whether you have a subscription, but it basically works just like it always did. There are also outside-the-PC service portions (Office Live Workspace and Windows Live services) and of course there is One Care, which is similar to most of the current generation Anti Virus and security offerings.
But all of this is supplied as part of $69.99 (let's call it $70) subscription and that subscription includes any updates to all of the offerings. In addition, the $70 price covers up to three machines making it one of the first family offerings from Microsoft following the trail blazed by the standalone version of One Care.
I've been running Office Student Edition and One Care on my PC for several months now to get a sense for whether I could actually live with this product. The only thing I missed was Outlook, which I was able to download from my hosted Exchange service provider allowing me to get a "full Office experience". This wouldn't be an issue if you were using another email client.
The result was actually very nice and I didn't seem to miss the parts of Office that are outside the scope of the Home/Student edition. One Care seemed to catch the one Trojan that popped up onto my systems and didn't drive me nuts with alerts or annoying updates (though I'd still like fewer). For $70 a year for three machines, this seemed like a good value before factoring in Office Live Workspace or Windows Live services, which I really haven't started using yet.
One of the big problems Microsoft and the PC OEMs have - and that Apple addresses - is ownership of the customer experience. For the Windows market, one of the biggest problems has been that the experience is divided between the OEMs, parts vendors, and Microsoft. No one is really able to fully own the experience package. The OEMs are increasingly moving to fix that problem with Dell, HP, and Lenovo being the most aggressive at this time.
But One Care allows Microsoft to get into the ownership business and One Care has both call-in support and remote diagnostics, which should help solve problems much more quickly. In addition, it does a decent job both optimizing your system (getting rid of the things that slow down the PC performance) and eliminating malware, which is one of the more common causes of system reliability problems it should dramatically improve the user experience for those that either use Equipt or One Care by itself.
Now the question I struggle with is: Should Windows go the same way and become a subscription? Backing into where I think the problem is I would say no, but it isn't an easy answer and the better one is probably "it depends".
In my mind the OS should be closer to an embedded OS than the heavy application rich thing it has become and be closer to what DOS was then Windows currently is. That would allow folks to focus on making the base more secure, more reliable, and easier to upgrade.
I think we are going to get there once virtualization is cooked with the hypervisor being that new OS core. If that is the case, everything on top of the Hypervisor could be delivered by a subscription and either come directly from someone else (the OEMs, Microsoft, Independent Developers etc.) who would then own both the revenue and the user experience.
I think Equipt is one of the first steps taking us in that direction and that by the end of the next decade we likely will be there. The faster this will be the case, the happier we all are likely to be. In any case, I'm actually surprisingly pleased with Equipt, but think the real value is in the direction that Microsoft is taking now and the better future that will be a result of all of this.
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.
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