Jan 27, 2021 • 38M

[LISTEN] 076. Chasing The Low-End Product [Ch. XI]

Would you buy a simplified Office for home, school, or business use? And what would the most important features be? E-mail me, I'll pass the word along to Microsoft and its competitors. —BusinessWeek

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Personal stories and lessons from inside the rise and fall of the PC revolution as narrated by the author.

BIG NEWS! Starting with this chapter, I’ve added an audio reading of each section making Hardcore Software a serialized audiobook! I will be doing the reading, which will follow the text. The podcast will generally drop at the same time as the printed version. You can subscribe via this RSS feed to the audiobook. Add this RSS feed to your podcast app of choice.

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This is the audio for 076. Chasing The Low-End Product [Ch. XI].

Welcome to a new chapter. As we approached the launch of the massive Microsoft Office System 2003, it was time to plan a new release and that started by drawing a proverbial line, at least I felt so. We pivoted way too much to enterprise and clearly lost the “personal” in “personal productivity.” It was not that we needed to go back to just building features for individual users editing documents, but our entire product was just too enterprise focused. While the product group owns responsibility, the whole company focus on enterprise meant that no matter what we did, as the product filtered through marketing to global sales to subsidiaries it became even more enterprise (as we saw with XML rising to the top of the release positioning, for example).

As I later told a Microsoft Board Director, betting on enterprise customers is a Faustian bargain—done right and the business is fantastic, but when you do it right products become rigid, complex, and diverge from the end-user. This next release of Office, Office “12” or Office12, was a chance to rethink the complexity and refocus on end-users.

This necessitated a new approach based on riskier innovation, not more disconnected features in the apps, or a design refresh. Our plan was to combat the notion that productivity tools were “bloated” and “commoditized” with an innovative complete rethink of how users interacted with the product. This was going to be much more than user-experience tweaks or “skinning” as it was called. We set out to invent a new paradigm that built on the classical WIMP (Windows, Icons, Menu, Pointer) taking it to a new level of abstraction more appropriate for modern computing—the use of “modern” would become a big part of everything we did.

As part of Office12, we introduced browser-based versions of many core components of Office in addition to Outlook, added many new features, and dramatically improve the quality and security of the product. As amazing as those would be, the new innovative experience was a “bet the farm” innovation that would dominate all the other features, whether we got it right or not. It wasn’t enough to invent, design, and build the product, but customers had to accept it. Fresh off the success of Outlook’s redesign we were emboldened and confident.