TechNet and Xbox One : Microsoft Mistakes?

Microsoft is a huge corporation. It has products spanning video games consoles and enterprise level software. Usually you would expect these divisions to be quite separate, but lately they have been united by gaffes on an epic scale.

Lets take the launch of the new Xbox One console. As a replacement for Xbox 360 much was expected, but Xbox fans got more than they bargained for. Two key features of the Xbox One quickly emerged as the most controversial aspects of perhaps any console launch ever.

  1. Xbox One had to be connected to the Internet to be able to play games, even single-player games that didn’t have Internet connection as a central element to the game (think Metal Gear Solid)
  2. Gamers would only be able to trade in their physical game discs at “participating dealers”

Both measures can be seen to have benefits for the gaming industry, and Microsoft. But the backlash from the gaming community was immediate and unrelenting. Why should I be forced to connect to the Internet to play a game that is largely played offline? And if I want to trade a game with my friend down the road, shouldn’t I be able to?

It took Microsoft about 10 days to reverse the policies that had been touted as major launch features of Xbox One. The gaming community had spoken and Microsoft’s damage control was unequivocal, “Your feedback matters” we were told, as the Xbox One team tried to recover from a PR disaster that was destroying goodwill.

Microsoft simply could not ignore the howls of derision of the millions of paying fans upon which their gaming business rests. For a new console to be succesfull, you need to make it appealing to millions of people. If you don’t, and they don’t buy your hardware, games creators and publishers will quickly move to other platforms to launch their wares. Gaming is a simple yet brutal business. Just ask Sega.

Whilst Microsoft “did a 180” and reversed it’s position, the damage was done. Sony revealed the PS4 to great aplomb, and commentators where left asking why Microsoft has such a startling lack of corporate business sense and empathy for their customers?

Meanwhile, somewhere across the span of the behemoth corporate hierarchy, another Microsoft announcement was made. With no fanfare or showmanship. Few people know or care about it, but the decision by Microsoft to kill off TechNet is no less threatening to future of Microsoft in the corporate sense than placing ill thought out restrictions on gamers.

TechNet allows IT professionals use a huge range of Microsoft software for legitimate purposes, and for a reasonable price. Normally this means that vendors, trainers, bloggers, freelancers and such like can download and test Microsoft software for specific projects. These projects could eventually see the roll out of Microsoft software to huge user base installations, or support the Microsoft eco-system by allowing IT professionals to learn new products as and when they need to.

The removal of the TechNet service will, in fact, affect a small population of Microsoft customers, perhaps even a tiny proportion of their corporate customer base. But these people are the ones out on the edge of the envelope. The tinkerers and the experimenters. The thought leaders and strategy shapers. Microsoft has done nothing less than undercut the thousands of Trojan Horses that sell Microsoft products into the enterprise.

I understand that Microsft offers time-limited trial software. However some projects start, and stop, and start, and stop again as an organisation switch focus across multiple projects.

A single-shot 30 day trial won’t cut it for everyone. And not everyone is a software pirate. We want to pay for the damn software, but not before we know it does exactly what we need it to do. Which is no small task when we consider the sophistication of enterprise level software.

Sure, Microsoft points to alternative subscription package and methods, but none of these give the traditional TechNet subscriber what they want, namely:

  1. The ability to test unlimited Microsoft software in our own “test lab” environment – and this could be a single box on a desk, a Virtual Machine, or a full-on network of machines
  2. A price that does not assume budget is boundless

Not too much to ask?

But unlike with the Xbox One, Microsoft doesn’t seem to be about to reverse this decision. Which is a shame, because they are making it harder for the innovators to, well, innovate.

It’s hard to predict how many loyal customers Microsoft will shed once TechNet is laid to rest. One thing is for sure: the goodwill TechNet was worth to Microsoft is now eroded. Hundreds, if not thousands of Microsoft customers will now see a valid reason to seriously look at alternatives to Microsoft software. Once those experts start to look at other vendors, who knows what possibilities they will see?

With the Xbox One launch, Microsoft made it harder to play games. By dropping TechNet Microsoft is making it harder to do business. I know I’m buying a PS4, how about you?

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