Value Tax, and the trouble with Vista

Value_tax_wordle Here’s what happened when a guy moved to Vista. 

The worst problem is drivers.  It took me hours to get the right combination of drivers to get my scanner working again. I’m pretty upset that my HP 5150 printer software no longer works.  The driver works fine, but the software that allows me to clean the inkjets fails so now I have horrible looking printouts.  You’d think with all the time Vista has been in development that this wouldn’t be an issue.  My Logitech mouse driver doesn’t install and, believe it or not, it didn’t even install the software for my Microsoft keyboard.  I had to search Microsoft to find it.

And here’s the reply he got from someone on line.

Vista is prime time ready period. It is not Microsoft’s responsibility to make your HP printer drivers work properly. It is HP responsibility and HP responsibility only.  It is not Microsoft’s responsibility there are no drivers for your mouse.  It is Logitech’s only.  Microsoft has published detailed info on how to make drivers and software compatible with Vista.  They had the beta and release candidates out for a long time plenty of time for non Microsoft I repeat non Microsoft companies to get their stuff right.  Microsoft has done everything they possibly can do to help other companies make their products compatible.  So if HP sits on their rear with drivers for your printer it is HP fault not Microsoft’s.  Learn to blame the right people.

"Learn to blame the right people."  Hmm.  That is the problem, isn’t it?   Where does responsibility fall?

When I used Outlook a few years ago, I would spend some time everyday weeding my in-basket, getting rid of the spam.  Apparently, Microsoft believed that spam was my problem.

Enter Gmail.  Google believed that spam was their problem and they created a way to solve the problem.  Instead of 10s and sometimes 100s of spams a day, I now get one or two.

I perfectly understand Microsoft’s point of view.  They are drawing a line in the sand.  This is what we expect corporations to do.  This is what makes them rational economic actors.   Right?

Well, this is not clear.  What is happening here is a weird value scrape back.  Microsoft makes magnificent software in the form of Outlook and Vista, software that creates tremendous value for the consumer, and then it scrapes some of this value back in the form of a value tax. 

And this is of course precisely what Apple and Google have learned: when you create value, you can’t recall any of this value.  You cannot ask Grant to give up several minutes everyday weeding  spam.  You can’t ask the Vista customer to spend a weekend hunting for drivers.  You have to build the product so that it doesn’t expose the consumer to any value tax. 

It is finally a question of boundaries.  And, yes, drawing a line in the sand is the thing that corporations do well.  This is the thing we ask them to do.  We don’t want them to solve all the problems in the world.  We are not asking that Vista come bundled with an answer for world peace.   We are merely saying a consumer good can’t get in its own way.  It can’t impose on us a value tax. 

References

NGC457.  2007.  Vista is Ready For Prime Time Period.  A reply to Silver-Surfer57.  here.  (No permalink.  Please scroll down.)

Silver-Surfer57.  Windows Vista Ultimate: Not Ready for Prime-Time.  CNet Reviews.  January 25, 2007.  here.   

Acknowledgement

Thanks to Wordle for the image. 

10 thoughts on “Value Tax, and the trouble with Vista”

  1. this is a cool post. it reminds me that starbucks, like microsoft, seem to have borne their strategies at a time when they could simply choose to stop providing value at the level of experience.

    that line in the sand is an oddly chivalric, “we have finished our efforts here and we trust you to make best use of our expertise in the way that you want. we would not dare presume to know what you want.”

    i listened to john maeda’s TED talk yesterday and he had a beautiful observation on simplicity and mass. We want more of that which we enjoy and less of that which causes us pain.

    also – i wonder if you had any thoughts on the vista blind experience-test work? it’s called the mojave experiment.

  2. Grant – and so continues the evaluation of a brand, that an ad campaign with Bill and Jerry as the stars can’t just redo with media dollars and cinema-like production.

  3. Hi Grant,

    Great post. Microsoft has some solid products (maybe not Vista), but they seem to have forgotten that none of that matters if they alienate their core customers. Absolutes don’t provide value. I realize that no company will make everyone happy, but why draw a line in the sand that’s pretty much guaranteed to make me unhappy and looking at my options?

    Best,
    Daria (a fellow U of C alum)

  4. Very interesting post. The burden only exists, however, if the option to avoid the burden also exists. It reminds me of Levy’s curse approach to innovation. “If I hear someone curse, it’s a sign to invent something.”

  5. Grant,
    I don’t think that either MS or HP see this as a responsibility. Instead, it is my guess that they see every product as a commodity with a limited shelf-life. It is sold and not repaired but replaced by the next version. This is certainly the case with cell phones. They are expensive throw away items. Don’t you think the first buyers of the IPhone feel that now? If a phone lasts for two years, you are lucky. I just bought a new laptop, and went from Win2000 to Vista Ultimate. One of the things that drove me to get a new one, other than the constant repairs to the old one, was the fact that various software companies stopped updating their programs for Win2000. The laptop I replaced, I used for five and a half years. Doesn’t seem like a long time, but as commodities go, it is a life time.

  6. i agree with ed’s assessment of the commodity mindset of the microsofts and HP’s of the world but would push back against the notion that this is how the iPhone buyers are experiencing their relationship with the product.

    it’s been shown that mac users are much less likely to let others touch and use their macs than a PC owner. (http://scienceblogs.com/cognitivedaily/2008/05/casual_fridays_mac_users_dont.php)

    and while a commodity mindset is justified by relatively old school notions of obsolescence, it seems to be pretty well dismissed by apple’s ability to leverage emotion and designed accomplishment into the equation – precisely by assuming this responsibility.

  7. Microsoft seems to have forgotten that the consumer’s final verdict is based on experience, not blame placement. It’s also interesting to see microsoft adapt to a market environment in which they are still the leading producer of software, but are losing portions of the market to linex and apple. Their reaction seems to be to expect to lead the companion producers (HP, Logitech) around by the nose and blame them for not towing the line.

  8. This is pretty simple. Microsoft’s open systems strategy (a legacy of IBM’s original clone-friendly policies) involves a tradeoff. You get low cost and product variety by giving up some system integrity and coherence. Did MS push this tradeoff frontier as far out as they could in launching Vista? Maybe not. Would there still be a tradeoff even with perfect execution? Absolutely.

    Apple’s stuff works well together because they only allow very limited hardware/software combinations that they tightly control. On the other hand, you have far less choice of equipment, peripherals, etc., and you pay more for the same level of raw performance on average. You’re at the mercy of the decisions of the 120 people or so who decide on products at Apple–Jobs and his Politburo.(I say this as a happy Mac user.) If they decide you won’t have a removable battery, or an on/off switch, or a tablet computer option, you won’t. Period. The Microsoft world, by contrast, has a vast number of competing providers of everything but the core software, which means you get more choices but it’s harder for MS to herd the cats on items like drivers.

    You pay your money and take your choice.

  9. It is interesting to hear a similar attack on Microsoft now. A real truning point. Relentless fighting with backward compatibility problems used to be the Microsoft way, they put layer over layer of compatibility hacks just to make the end user happy. Exactly opposite of what you accuse them here. But that brute force strategy obviously had diminishing returns – the mountains of code kept growing and the complexity of it even faster. I did not have good links to support that – but a quick googling found for example this article: http://haacked.com/archive/2006/10/01/Is_Backward_Compatibility_Holding_Microsoft_Back.aspx

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