When I was an Israeli paratrooper a general stopped by to give us a little speech about strategy. In infantry battles, he told us, there is only one strategy: Fire and Motion. You move towards the enemy while firing your weapon. The firing forces him to keep his head down so he can't fire at you. [...] The motion allows you to conquer territory and get closer to your enemy, where your shots are much more likely to hit their target. If you're not moving, the enemy gets to decide what happens, which is not a good thing.
[...] The companies who stumble are the ones who spend too much time reading tea leaves to figure out the future direction of Microsoft. People get worried about .NET and decide to rewrite their whole architecture for .NET because they think they have to. Microsoft is shooting at you, and it's just cover fire so that they can move forward and you can't, because this is how the game is played, Bubby.
And Chris Pratley of Microsoft:
Understand the market, and the customers, and then go pedal to the metal, with release after release focused on what the customers need, incorporating their feedback. That puts the competition into reaction mode. And of course it helps if they also make a strategic error because they are under so much pressure.
The thing is, who's Microsoft firing at now, with their big, big guns? Pratley's article shows how intense competition and missteps by the other competitors—when Microsoft was the underdog—drove the real improvements in Microsoft Word in the 1980s and 1990s (well, except for Mac Word 6). Now that the competition has largely been shredded by Microsoft's fire, is the company still intelligently defining the motion?
And is a gunfire metaphor the best way to approach making good software that people will like to use?
Just to be clear:
- In a couple of weeks, I'll be paid real money to help people figure out how to use some of Word's editing features, so it's in my interest that people continue to use the program—and also that it's not too easy to figure out.
- I love Microsoft's Entourage e-mail application on the Mac. It holds six years of my accumulated mail, and I prefer it to any competing product, including Eudora, Apple Mail, PowerMail, Mailsmith, Thunderbird, or Outlook. Yes, I've tried them.
- While I prefer Safari and Firefox for web browing, on Mac OS 9, I alternate between Mozilla 1.2 and Microsoft's still-good but no longer actively developed Internet Explorer 5, which continues to be superior to its Windows counterpart in most respects.
- While it's an improvement over previous versions, I think Windows XP looks hideous, and is still a train wreck of a user interface. It sure is way more stable than its predecessors, though.