Over at PCWorld, there are some real gems every now and then.

I used to think that this was a second class magazine because there was not a constant flow of articles coming out. This goes back to the heydays of the magazine – before the internet era, PCWorld never had quite as much to talk about as PCMagazine. The magazines both had lots of ads, but PCMagazine was always twice as thick, and had 22 issues per year, versus 12 for PCWorld.

Today, I came upon a gem from Harry McCracken. He gives 15 ways Microsoft can do things differently to keep fresh, and the customers coming back.

the entire article deserves your attention, but I’ll give a couple of them here.

1. Stop trying to be everything to everybody. Microsoft makes software and services for everyone from humongous companies to little kids. It provides applications for PCs, servers, industrial devices, phones, GPS units, and cars. It’s trying to be a major force in online advertising. It manufactures gaming consoles and audio players and mice and keyboards and touch-sensitive tables, and owns part of a cable news channel. No company on the planet could do all these things well, and Microsoft doesn’t even do many of them profitably. Rather than jumping on every imaginable bandwagon, it would be smart to focus on core businesses such as operating systems, productivity applications and services, and programming tools. Possible role model: IBM, which is so disciplined about the opportunities it pursues that it decided to exit the PC business it created.

I’ve said this before, right here in this column. It’s good to know someone else is watching. There are no companies I can think of that are great at everything – and those who try become good at nothing.

2. Upgrade continuously, not once every few years. Windows Vista is a tad stale in part because it feels like its features were determined years ago, in an earlier era of computing–which they were. That’s a by-product of Microsoft’s decades-old approach to software development and distribution. Google, by contrast, can push out fresh new features onto the Web almost as quickly as it can think of them. Even if Microsoft’s bread-and-butter products remain desktop applications rather than Web-based services, they need to move to a model of ongoing evolution rather than once-in-awhile revolutions. Couldn’t Microsoft Update evolve from a tedious patching system to a cool way to make Windows, Office, and other applications better on a day-by-day basis?

Here Harry and I part company. This is precisely what Microsoft wants; to be able to collect on a continuous basis, and I am not sure that customers would be getting full value for the money, as the Microsoft schedule of updates has never been good.

And perhaps the most salient point –

4. Treat customers like kings, not peons. Microsoft rolls out copy-protection technologies that cause headaches for paying customers, then tells those customers it’s doing so for their own good. It insists on doing away with Windows XP when there are legions of users who still want it. Even its corporate motto–“Your Potential. Our Passion”–is patronizing. The company that utterly dominated the computing world could get away with that attitude; the one which faces real competition on all fronts will have to treat customers and potential customers with more respect.

This is a major reason why many I know do not want to get cozy with Vista, no matter what the alleged benefits. Also, Microsoft did not help their case any when the validation servers screwed up, and started letting people know that they had problems. The outage was not long enough to put anyone’s machine completely down, but it certainly put a bad taste in many mouths.

The rest of the points are worth talking about, and hopefully someone who might be in a position to do something at Microsoft will read them – and take them to heart.

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