Microsoft: 'We're the underdogs now'

Frank Shaw tells us how Microsoft plans to claw back the market in 2013

With the Windows interface still highly disputed, we wondered whether a future version of Windows might change the controversial elements. "I think when you are asking people to learn new things, whether it's Start or the ribbon in Office, you have to be committed to your course. But being committed to your course also means you continue to take input and feedback and react to it the appropriate ways.

Is 2013 the year Microsoft takes the living room
There are strong feelings about Windows 8, but also a lot of satisfied users, says Shaw

"When you have as many users as we do, you get phenomenal feedback. [Sometimes] they say how much they love you! And then some of it is feedback like, 'Jeez, have you thought about this?' Sometimes we have thought about it and sometimes we should take a look at what we can do in that specific case. We don't ever want to say we're not taking feedback any more."

The amount of feedback Microsoft has been getting about Windows 8 is a question of scale, he points out. "The thing that people miss sometimes: we sold 60 million licenses to Windows users and if 1 per cent of those users are disgruntled in some way, that's a big overall number. The beauty of the world today is that everybody has a voice. In the past some of those conversations took place for any product but they weren't visible. And now we live in this transparent world where everything is visible and people with a concern can express it very loudly. And that's good! It's good to have input - but you always have to calibrate. Is this universal input, is this an edge case? How do we think about this? All our products have many, many users and so we get lots and lots of feedback that we have to judge."

Taking on Google

One thing we'll definitely see more of this year is Microsoft giving Google a hard time. It's no accident that Shaw calls new developments in Bing "provocative". Remember the Gmail Man video? "There are places where we are underdogs," he says. "And we're either real underdogs, as we are in Bing, or we're perceptual underdogs. There are people out there who think we are not doing as well as we are."

Being the underdog forces Microsoft to innovate: "If you have an entrenched market leader like Google is in search and you have a different point of view, you have to break through on that.

"And you can't just break through against people who already use you; you have to break through against people who use the other guy. And to do that have to say why you are different and why you are better. And that also means that you have to be willing to be more comparative in how you do that. You've seen that with the Bing it on Google challenge. We know that when people do this in a blind test that they like what we've done and we have to break the habit that people have built up and show them there is a different way."

And that's where the Google+ rowboat comes in: "There's the work we've done with Facebook and real social search." Facebook chose Bing over Google when choosing a search partner for its new Graph Search, and Facebook is where you probably have your real friends, Shaw suggests - and rather more of them than on Google+. (Although he notes, "Google is working very hard to pull people into that Google+ ecosystem. They are committed to getting people to sign up to that thing…")

Will we get more of the self-deprecating Internet Explorer ads? "The best thing about the Internet Explorer ads is reading the comments and the stories. It was like, 'Are we paying these people to make these comments? Because they are making our point way better than we did.' We were not. People liked it and they responded to it."

A refreshed MS

It's not just that the ads are funny. It's that they show how Microsoft has changed. "The thing is - we have learned some lessons. Every company makes mistakes, every single company in the world. We aspire to be a learning company. We look at decisions we made and they might have been good decisions at the time but they weren't over time the right decisions and we say we're going to do it differently. IE is a great example of that."

Not everyone takes those changes at face value, leading to some interesting gymnastics as supporters of the open web find themselves on the same side as Microsoft. "I think it's interesting that we are advocates of the open web and people are like 'huh?' People are having some trouble with that but it's true. People should be willing to accept we're doing this because we've learned and we've grown and it's good for everybody."

Is it frustrating for Microsoft to do the right thing and still have people be suspicious? "It's understandable. Perceptions change over time. We've been pretty consistent and hopefully people will look at us in what we're doing and not necessarily why they think we might doing that."