Excluding the JVM: a lesson in customer service?
On July 18, 2001, Microsoft announced their decision to exclude the Java Virtual Machine (JVM) from the newest version of Windows, Windows XP, which should be available in September or October of this year. Windows XP will continue to be pre-installed by various OEMs, just as it has been in the past.
I would like to take this opportunity to quote Heather Chandler from 1988's Heathers, and ask "Did [they] have a brain tumor for breakfast?"
In making this decision, it appears as though Microsoft has lost sight of a few very important key facts: 1. Java applications have been enjoying widespread popularity and success for several years and 2. The vast majority of the population, which has been helplessly thrust into dependency on Microsoft, isn't going to like the inconvenience.
The JVM is where all of the pre-compiled Java code must go to be interpreted into something meaningful for the end-user. Without it, it's "bye-bye" chat rooms (not to mention a myriad of other web-friendly applications) and "hello" error messages. Let us additionally not forget that the Internet is just one of the utilities on your computer that enlists Java as a coordinating component of functionality. Obviously, we are talking about a huge disturbance in computer performance, not to mention hoards of disgruntled programmers that may be leery of using Java for future programs due to lack of OS or browser support.
It must be noted, however, that most people already have a version of the JVM installed on their system. XP will run Java with any pre-existing JVM on the user's machine, which means that if you've ever had a JVM, you will still have it after you download XP.
So what in the heck is my problem?
Well, actually, I don't have a problem - I think Microsoft may have a problem. I just wanted to point out a few things they may have overlooked (dare I suggest?).
Two groups of people will be fine upon the release of Windows XP: 1) Users with a pre-existing JVM and 2) Geeks (they already expect the problem and know how to fix it). One group, however, will not. The group to which I am referring is the "Min-tech"s (my term for those with minimal technological understanding) that buy a bundled system. The Min-techs have enough computer skill to receive and send email, surf the Web, and produce office documents such as business letters and spreadsheets. It is no coincidence that these popular Min-tech functions all share a common thread: Microsoft is a current leader in the software applications that facilitate all of the basic Min-tech functions.
So that just brings us back to the age-old accusation: Microsoft has forced people to become reliant on them. This is resoundingly true of the Min-techs of today. Sure, geeks know what is going on and that there are other options, but geeks are merely a fraction of the entire computer-using population. The Min-techs, however, maintain very significant presence in the market, and their actions and buying preferences are key to the success of companies like Microsoft. One would think that Microsoft would be very thankful for this segment of the market and would take special precautions to keep them happy. One would think.
The Min-tech: post-XP
A favorite purchase commonly made by the Min-techs is the bundled computer system, you know, the ones that will come with XP pre-installed on them. I consider this to be the crux of the problem with Microsoft's decision to exclude the JVM. As soon as Mr. Min-tech fires up his brand new bundled system, it won't be long until he sees that much beloved error message. Then all he has to do is download a version of the JVM and he is good to go. Well it would be that cut and dry for a geek, but remember, Mr. Min-tech is not that savvy.
Ok, let's do a run-through of the scenario. Upon realizing that the screen has just popped an error message, will the Min-tech say:
A. "Oh, would you look at that? What a neat little gray box! It says something about needing a 'Java'…'virtual'…OK, download from here, uh-huhhh…oh, ok, *CLICK* …let's seee…and now I have to wait 5 hours for it to download on my 28k modem. Alrighty! - how very easy and enjoyable! I've never had to do this before, but it sure is fun!" ?
B. " What???!!! Oh great, an error message. My computer is fried!!! I can't believe this…a brand new system and already a bug!... If I want to run what I have to do what?????!!! It says something about needing 'Java'…and 'machine' --- maybe if I plug my coffee maker into it, it'll work…"?
Make no mistake. The most common response among the very important Min-tech community will be B. If the "higher-ups" at Microsoft would take a moment to remove themselves from their 'geek microcosm', they would know it to be true. Once user B realizes that Microsoft intentionally did this to her, and then pairs that fact with other tidbits of the negative press Microsoft has had floating in the media as of late, she is going to be open to, if not seeking out, substitutes for her future Microsoft purchases. I think their competitors may be aware of this, so it goes without saying that they will be there to catch the 'defectors'.
Good for them, I say.
Microsoft seems to be dangerously unaware of the actual numbers and behaviors of the Min-techs. They think that the number of pre-existing JVM users and geeks will greatly outweigh the number of consumers that will feel greatly inconvenienced by having to download the JVM when prompted to do so(the Min-techs). Although I believe that this estimate is a biased misrepresentation that caters to Microsoft's comfort zone, I remind you that the figures are not even important. Microsoft would do well to simply recognize who its key consumers are. By failing to do this, Microsoft will send its formerly loyal consumers running into the eagerly awaiting arms of the next user-friendly software producer they see.
Maybe we should just give thanks
So, why do I care so much about Microsoft's mistake (as I view it)? Am I trying to help them? Well, I seriously doubt any Microsoft exec. is going to read this article and say "Phew, thanks Jamie, we better start thinking about those 'Min-techs' now before it's too late." and no, I don't want them to. I just think that this is a prime opportunity for companies like Sun Microsystems and Netscape to whip out the heavy artillery and start evening out the market. No, Microsoft won't just disappear overnight, but I believe that the timing is right for these companies to put out their best offerings and make the world more aware of the options that actually exist. I'm sure they have undoubtedly picked up on this as well, and I am very excited to see the changes that are to come. Sun is looking at this as an opportunity for them to provide everyone with better versions of the JVM with a better mode of distribution. I think they have the right idea and I would love to see things turn out the way they foresee them. Netscape and AOL Time Warner are hoping to shake things up a bit, at least in the browser world. Netscape's new browser, 6.1, is built-in on many of Time Inc.'s magazine websites. This means that anyone visiting one of these sites will automatically be able to try out Netscape's new browser without having to download anything.
I'm hoping this will ultimately be a lesson in customer service. I am aware that Microsoft has millions of other issues pulling them in one direction and pushing them in another. But I honestly believe that no matter how well thought out your product decisions are, losing customers means losing business.
Well, as long as Microsoft is losing them…
Hey Linus Torvalds! Do I have an interesting strategic marketing plan for you. Contact me at the email address below…we'll "do coffee".