MSFT Sells One Egg At A Time

By Edward Cone  |  Posted Monday, August 01, 2011 17:08 PM

By Samuel Greengard

Maybe I just don't understand the real world of product development, but when I glance at new software applications I often see all sorts of missing tools and features. It makes me wonder whether these companies really understand the concept of innovation.

Why hasn't Microsoft added tags to Word? I use a third party program on my Mac, aptly called Tags, that overlays tags and allows me to search for them in a browser (Windows programs such as TaggedFrog and Taggtool do the same thing). Yet Microsoft is still stuck with an incredibly clunky keyword and folder system that didn't work well 20 years ago. Memo to Redmond: have you noticed that blogs, websites, photo management programs and all sorts of other tools now include tags?

And why doesn't Word include a tabbed interface, similar to a browser or, ahem, "sheets" in Excel that can contain multiple files for the same project? Having to manage each file from the system tray is like going to the grocery store to buy one egg at a time. It's a pain in the fingers when you're trying to work on a number of documents at the same time.

Microsoft isn't the worst offender. In fact, Word and other Office products have gotten a lot better over the last few years.

Meanwhile, I've watched Quicken decline from a thoroughly innovative financial management tool into a massive hodgepodge of disjointed capabilities. The last version of Quicken for Mac even stripped out key reporting features. As a result, I recently switched to a different program, iBank, which accomplishes everything in what seems like 80 percent fewer clicks.

I could go on.

What's amazing is how businesses--not just software firms--start out with incredible ideas and unbridled creativity. Over time, and with success, they lapse into a protectionist mindset rather than an innovative approach. Whatever happens behind the scenes, it doesn't always feel that vendors are deconstructing competitor's products, or listening to real-world users, or looking for ways to adapt and adopt tools used in other software categories.

Innovation involves more than new features or a tweaked interface. Thinking like the people who actually use the products has to be part of the process.