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Customer culture

With so many projects, if the customer is willing to go without a small subset of the functionality they think they need, it can save a massive amount of effort, cost, and complexity and result in a much more elegant, hassle-free solution that makes them much happier in the long run.

This option isn’t always feasible. Sometimes, “needs” really are needs. But often, people’s “needs” are much more flexible than they think.

Apple’s customers are often the sort of people willing to make these tradeoffs, because that’s how most of Apple’s products are designed: if you can compromise on some of the features and capabilities you think you need, you can get a product that works better and makes you happier with far less aggravation. And for most people, the benefits will outweigh the missing features.

This culture of compromise has been cultivated by Apple’s relentless pace of forcing progress and killing legacy support. Apple’s implicit message is simple: “We know what’s best. If you do things our way, everything will work very well and you’ll be happy. If you don’t like it, that’s fine with us.”

People who aren’t willing or able to compromise on their needs regularly are much more likely to be Windows customers. The Windows message is much more palatable to corporate buyers, committees, middlemen, and people who don’t like to be told what’s best for them: “You can do whatever you want, and we’ll attempt to glue it together. It won’t always work very well, and you might not like the results, but we will do exactly what you asked for.”

For many (or even most) of Apple’s products, the forced compromises are critical to their greatness. There’s no way to achieve delightful, well-designed, deeply integrated platforms with highly polished software and very few problems, but that are also generous with access rights, open to deep modification by middlemen or end users, and able to run on a large, diverse, and unregulated pool of hardware.

For Windows 8 to succeed, especially for its tablets to compete well against the iPad, it will need to adopt a more Apple-like confidence to say “no” to its customers when they ask for everything under the sun. And, surprisingly, they might be doing exactly that.

One of the reasons Metro is interesting to people like me who usually ignore Microsoft is that it’s full of very un-Microsoft-like decisions, generally for the better.

The question isn’t whether Metro will be good: it probably will be. And that’s a huge accomplishment for Microsoft that they should be commended for.

But how will their customers react?

Will Metro be meaningfully adopted by PC users? Or will it be a layer that most users disable immediately or use briefly and then forget about, like Mac OS X’s Dashboard, in which case they’ll deride the Metro-only tablets as “useless” and keep using Windows like they always have?

How will Windows developers react to the restrictive Metro environment after being able to do almost whatever they wanted for nearly two decades?

And how well will the many groups within Microsoft, a company famous for infighting, adopt a fundamental shift toward simplicity and restraint when so many of them seem to be going in the other direction?

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