Microsoft has never understood simplicity

I see a lot of these Microsoft Surface 3 ads comparing the Surface to a MacBook and every time I just shake my head at them. The ads reemphasize that Microsoft through their operating system and their hardware have never understood simplicity. They never build a tool that has a primary use case. It’s 2014 and they’re still worshipping at the altar of the Personal Computer by trying to turn every new thing into a Personal Computer.

Case in point, this dumb ad that attempts to show how useful a Surface 3 is because it has no single use. Microsoft seems to think that iPad owners are really bemoaning the lack of a keyboard or that MacBook users really want to touch their screen. It’s as though Microsoft has never realized that we use our tablets and our laptops for different purposes. I don’t want Photoshop on my tablet. I don’t want to read books on my laptop. They are different tools with different uses.

Microsoft has never understood that tools with a primary use case are incredibly useful. Those tools are experts in themselves. Tools that do too much are Jacks of all trades and masters of none. Those un-opinionated tools never do anything well because they’ve compromised a single use case for a “whatever use may arise” case.

My family watched this scenario play out several years ago with the introduction of the “netbook” into our lexicon. I bought an Ubuntu netbook (from Dell, so I immediately had to un-Dell it and make it pure Ubuntu) with a 4GB solid state drive. It had a primary use case: work on the web. It was a netbook — a browser with a keyboard. When I was going to a coffee shop and wanted to answer emails or surf the web, I took it. I didn’t record music on it. I didn’t edit photos on it.

Meanwhile, my dad bought a Windows netbook with Microsoft Office and a 256GB hard drive. It worked fine for him but it had no purpose. He still had a laptop and a desktop computer. And he still used all 3 computers interchangeably. The only difference between them was screen and keyboard size. Later, when he bought a tablet, he wondered often about attaching a keyboard to it. I asked if he went on a trip, would he only take the tablet and its keyboard. No, he replied, he’d still take his laptop too.

The problem is that Windows Personal Computer way of thinking. They’ve created a culture where the Personal Computer still rules. It prevents their users from approaching tools differently. Every product they make is trying to be a replacement for all their other products so their users end up with a desk full of products that all do the same things. The only difference in Microsoft Windows tools is their size.

There is a sharp disconnect between people who want a Swiss Army knife in their pocket and those who want a Buck knife. Simplicity means recognizing that the tool we carry with us is the tool that covers our primary use at the time not all of our uses all of the time. Microsoft will never reasonably compete with Apple in their devices until they recognize that.

As you can imagine, I have a Buck knife on me all the time. It does have a bottle opener on it. For Mexican sodas.

I’ve recently published a book, good.simple.open, about doing good work by focusing on simplicity and openness. It derides Microsoft’s complexity and Apple’s closed nature in more or less equal measure. A chapter on this principle of having a primary use case is called “Be the pencil.”