I finally got to ask Steve Ballmer, Why Windows?
The world can be a strange place and our paths can take us to unexpected places.
And so it would be a surprise to many, myself included, that I found myself in a room of about 200 executives conducting a live question and answer with Steve Ballmer. Yes me, the Linux loving avowed Microsoft skeptic in a room with Steve Ballmer asking a question directly to the CEO of Microsoft. How did this happen?
As it turns out, every year Microsoft invites a handful of partners to it’s “Partner Executive Summit” (PES) which takes place the day before the Microsoft World Partner Conference (WPC). The invites for PES are given to Microsoft partner companies that have an existing strong relationship with one of Microsoft’s competitors, but have shown a keen interest in switching to use Microsoft products instead. In the case of the company I work for, we have an existing Unified Communications business but recently have embraced Microsoft Lync as the best solution going forward. Thus, Microsoft invited me to attend PES which included the Ballmer Q & A session.
But would I ask a question? Part of me wanted to lay-low in fear that the Microsoft Secret Service (I made that up btw) would say “a-ha! That’s him! Grab him before he says something critical and embarrassing!”. On the other hand I thought it would prove that I was nothing more than an internet Troll if I only criticized Microsoft from a safe distance and not have the guts to voice my opinion in person.
So, as the Q & A session wound down and it was starting to look like there weren’t many more questions, I raised my hand and asked my Steve Ballmer my question. To paraphrase, I asked this “Given that Microsoft is trying to recapture it’s “mojo” in the consumer space, and given all the recent talk about “start of a new era”, “Microsoft re-invented” etc. why didn’t Microsoft take this opportunity to name it’s new operating system, especially on phones something other than “Windows”?
When I asked this, Steve Ballmer kind of chuckled and dropped his head which I interpreted as a look of “I’ve had this argument before”. Then he said the following (again paraphrasing) “First, the number one most important thing is the product. Make an awesome product and it will make it’s own buzz and doesn’t matter what you call it. If we called it “Freeva”, to pick a name at random, it wouldn’t matter if it turns out the product isn’t very good. So if we are fixated on the name, we’re worrying about the wrong thing.”
“Second, intelligent people can have this debate, but ‘Windows’ is an incredibly powerful brand name that still has a ton of value. Something like the top 4th or 5th most recognized brand in the world, so I disagree that it’s something we should abandon.”
Steve Ballmer also revealed that there was an internal discussion about a name change about 2 or 3 years ago, but they decided to stick with the brand.
So there you have it. Straight from Steve Ballmer.
People have asked me what I thought of the answer and to be perfectly honest, I thought it was a great answer. With respect to “make a great product”, I 100% agree and it shows that Steve is focused on the right things. But I still don’t agree that “Windows” was the best name choice. While it may not make-or-break the new products, I believe that Microsoft could have created significantly more buzz if they had created the perception that they were launching a completely new operating system, rather than just an upgrade.
Brand recognition is important, but not as important as what the brand is recognized for. For example, “BP” has very high brand recognition, but unfortunately it’s for flaming drilling platforms and oil spills, so much so that they considered re-branding all of their service stations back to “Amoco”.
Certainly “Windows” is not in the same category as BP, but I think it’s fair to say a Windows upgrade or new device running Windows doesn’t generate anywhere near the kind of hype that Apple, and now even Samsung are getting out of their product launches.
So like Steve said, intelligent people can disagree, but I’ll give him credit for sticking with Windows and believing it can be re-invented.