Buy Microsoft, it’s your patriotic duty

Written By:
Content Copyright © 2006 Bloor. All Rights Reserved.

That seemed to be the message at the London launch of Microsoft
Vista, Office 2007 and Exchange 2007 on 30 November 2006. Gordon
Frazer, Microsoft’s UK managing director, devoted most his
opening speech to a gallimaufry of statistics and quotations
intended to show that buying these new offerings would somehow make
Britain more competitive.

Nowhere (of course) was there any suggestion that making better
use of organisations’ existing computer investments might be
just as effective in improving their efficiency. Nor (ditto) was
there any acknowledgement that the wholesale adoption of these new
products would lead inevitably to a productivity decline for a
period, as it would with any large software installation.

In the dream world proposed by Microsoft, users don’t have
to spend working time and ingenuity getting used to new software;
systems departments don’t need to drive themselves to
distraction ironing out the wrinkles in the new systems; and
trading partners don’t have to run around in ever-decreasing
circles trying to get their systems to work with them. These are
petty details.

Later, there was even the suggestion from one of Frazer’s
colleagues that there was a link between introducing Windows 95 and
a rise in the increase in UK productivity in 1995 (“nearly
doubling” from 1.9% to 2.9%, i.e. increasing by just over
half). I was expecting him to finish by saying, “Coincidence?
I think not.” Anyone who struggled with Win95 at the time
will understand how ludicrous a claim this is. Any rise will have
been despite the introduction of Win95.

Samuel Johnson’s dictum—“patriotism is the
last refuge of a scoundrel”—came to mind while I sat
through this bombardment of dodgy stats and implausible
insinuations. I doubt that Gordon Frazer is a scoundrel, or any of
his colleagues there that day, but I did think they were

There were many references to this being the biggest launch in
Microsoft’s recent history and I think the clue lies there.
The marketing difficulty Microsoft has is simple: Why should people
care? So what if you’ve made a bet-your-company decision? So
what if thousands of programmers have spent millions of hours
producing unimaginable amounts of code? So what if this has been
the most extensive beta testing programme since Neanderthal man
emerged? These things matter to you, Mr (or Ms) Microsoft, but all
we users care about it is whether the software is of value to

This question was not adequately dealt with during the
afternoon. Microsoft had gathered some corporate users there (and I
know how hard that can be) but we didn’t hear enough from
them. There was a short panel session with three of them, from
CapGemini, QinetiQ and Newham Borough Council, and video testimony
from a couple more. What they had to say was interesting but there
was no time for a sensibly paced presentation of their evidence or
for any examination of it. And you can’t cross-question a

Oh, and there were also some glimpses of the products involved,
delivered in high-speed demonstrations and viewable in blurred form
on too few and too small screens. What was the point of that, I
wondered? Admittedly, we were granted a whole 15 minutes afterwards
(gosh!) for a closer look at all the products but I forewent the
opportunity. Another day.

Given that the afternoon was labelled “the launch for
business”, I was hoping for more about business and what this
new software could do for it. Perhaps this trio of products will
have a dramatically beneficial effect on the productivity of the
organizations that use it. If so, Microsoft failed to offer
convincing evidence of it. I also remain sceptical that any piece
of software can have a measurable effect on the performance of the
UK economy.