What is the consumer value proposition for Windows? Good question

Terry Myerson, who runs Windows engineering at Microsoft now. Credit: Microsoft

Terry Myerson got a big new job this summer at Microsoft, moving from leading Windows Phone to leading core development across all versions of Windows. He's one of the most important executives at the company now, driving development of what used to be Microsoft's flagship product, rationalize different "Windows" technologies across multiple types of devices (Intel and ARM, PC and tablet and game console), and trying to keep the Windows brand relevant as iOS and Android dominate the mobile computing market.

So you might expect Myerson to have a very clear vision why consumers should want Windows. And yet, when asked to explain the value proposition of Windows to consumers at a meeting for financial analysts today, he struggled to give a clear answer.

The meeting was the Credit Suisse Technology Conference (audio here). Around 22 minutes into the event, a questioner in the audience asked a question about the many Windows 8.1 devices coming out this holiday season:

I walked through Best Buy, I thought "wow, there's a lot," but I didn't really -- it was more confusion than clarity. So what exactly is the consumer value proposition of these devices, and how are you communicating that? Because if it's all hinged upon Windows, as a consumer, there's not a lot on Windows that I really want to do on a smaller device that's a mobile device....What's the value proposition on these new devices, and why should Windows Mobile be predicated on the success of Windows, because I feel like they're different experiences.

Here's the main part of Myerson's answer:

There's a billion people or more who feel trust and affinity with the Windows brand, Windows helps them in their lives be more productive. That's the anchor....One reason I'm so excited about the Xbox platform being part of Microsoft is it does ... allow tremendous entertainment assets to be developed within the company. We now need to do some good work to leverage all those entertainment assets across more screens. But it will be a critical part of our strategy about differentiating us across all device categories. 

It's not so much that a Windows laptop will be used at the same time with every Windows Phone. It's the notion that as you move into new adjacent markets or new adjacent device categories, you look at it and say "who are your existing customers today, and how can we extend our delight of those customers or extend our business with those customers?"

The point about Xbox and related services is well taken. But the Xbox brand isn't featured on these devices or the marketing surrounding them -- the Windows brand is. And he never really answered the question.

When I walk into Best Buy and see all kinds of devices running variants of Windows -- two-in-one laptops, tablets, Nokia phones -- why should I pick them? What does a new Windows convertible, Windows tablet, or Windows Phone let me do that I couldn't do better or cheaper on an iPad or iPhone or Android device?

Personally, I could come up with some good answers here, like "get full use out of all those Excel spreadsheets I've created" or "see all the revision tracks and comments my editor is making on my unpublished novel" or "run a highly efficient web browser that doesn't send my data to a company who depends on collecting user data for its core business."

But none of these answers are particularly sexy or universal. Plus I can already do all this with my five-year-old laptop today.

Maybe that's the problem. When Windows was the only computing platform that we had, we used it for everything. But a lot of those uses today -- web surfing, music, video, communication, gaming -- are equally or better served by other platforms. That leaves Windows with the unsexy task of "getting work done."

This is a big problem for Microsoft to solve -- find a few things that consumers really want to do, and that new Windows devices can do better than anything else.

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