Who’s naughty and who’s nice? The average computer geek of the last decade would have placed Microsoft atop the naughty list. The average corporate IT manager’s nice list probably wouldn’t have included EMC and Oracle. Yet Google, Apple, Sun, HP and even IBM don’t have this frequent negativity directed towards them. What’s the difference between naughty and nice when it comes to IT companies? I’ve heard complaints of the greed and arrogance of these companies, though their boosters would point out that it’s easy to envy the success of others.
But things are changing. Microsoft has a bona fide hit on their hands, with Windows 7, Xbox, and Bing re-introducing the company to new customers that don’t harbor old grudges. Inside corporate IT, the halo cast by VMware seems to highlight the re-energized EMC in much the same way. With their competition taking dents in the ongoing battles, Microsoft and EMC just don’t look so bad anymore.
Microsoft: Hearts and Minds
The blooms in many Microsoft competitors’ rose gardens seem to be fading. With “do no evil” Google only finding lucre in the filthy advertising business and the naughtiness of “evil as we wanna be” Apple peaking, Microsoft’s Internet and consumer efforts are starting to seem downright approachable. That’s one way to change your image: Wait for your competitors to catch up and your customers will catch on. The geek parade still loves Google and Apple, but their ambitious drive and massive revenue are distasteful to many.
Every time I write about Apple products, at least one credible geek has to call me out for being a fanboy. The core of their arguments seem to combine scorn for friendly interfaces and pretty hardware, a distaste for Apple’s huge profit margins, and a belief that the faithful wear Apple-tinted glasses when looking at alternatives. I guess Apple users look like a bunch of sissies to the more manly geeks in the audience.
In fact, it’s become something of a badge of pride to stick by Microsoft, even as the UNIX weenies and Apple-heads wander off. They ask “who’s got the most market share in desktops and servers?” Windows Vista’s appetite for hardware and unstable nature might have challenged them, but the quick, slick, solid Windows 7 has reaffirmed their faith. And they know that those who throw stones at Windows Server are living in the past: Ridiculous naming aside, Windows Server 2008 R2 is every bit as great in the data center as Windows 7 is on the desktop.
But there’s more to Microsoft than Windows. Even ardent Microsoft haters have to admit Bing is solid, functional, and even clever. Indeed, Microsoft has taken the search battle right to Google and is working hard to innovate past their rival. Xbox has a solid beachhead in the gaming world, challenging successful and innovative products from Nintendo and Sony. Azure puts a developer-friendly face on the nascent cloud computing market and is anything but a “me-too” to Amazon EC2 and VMware. Barring any major product or PR disasters, Microsoft is well on the way to renovating their sagging corporate image.
EMC: Keeping It Real
What Microsoft is to average computer users, EMC is to enterprise data storage folks. No one denies that they make great products, and have dominated the market for two decades. Although they don’t have the massive share Microsoft has in the desktop OS market, no one comes close to EMC in enterprise storage. They spent the last decade steadily growing to control 25% of the market leaving a wealth of competitors fighting it out far below.
Through all this growth, however, EMC has never been loved by their customers. I’ve known literally dozens of IT shops who refused to buy from EMC, even though the sleazy sales tactics that turned them off (and indeed the sales reps themselves) are reportedly long gone from the company. Like Microsoft, EMC hasn’t softened its approach as much as their competitors have hardened theirs. With the market getting tougher, the tough guy doesn’t look so bad anymore.
I hear that things have improved inside the company, too. All giant corporations have their share of intrigue, politics, and dead weight, and EMC is certainly no exception. But the reports I hear from insiders are positive, and improving all the time. EMC is making some smart moves, giving acquisitions the independence to thrive and building revenue outside their enterprise storage base. Hiring great folks like Scott Lowe, Christopher Kusek, and Ed Saipetch doesn’t hurt, either.
Customers seem to be sensing a change, too. It’s hard to hate VMware, RSA, Legato, and the rest of EMC all at once, though some have grudges against two or three. EMC is successfully diversifying into other areas of information technology. Like Microsoft, EMC’s new customers never learned the old stereotypes. Now that they’re swimming in a much larger pond, EMC looks neither as big or as bad as it once did.
You Will Decide
Are EMC and Microsoft really turning the corner? We will all know in a few years. If the geeks of tomorrow no longer resent their success and hold past mistakes against them, both companies could enter a renaissance not only of credibility but of business success.
Santa Claus image: Public domain from Project Gutenberg
Gorilla image: public domain from Pearson Scott Foresman