Sorry, Robert Scoble, The Least Of Microsoft's Problems Is Its "Cool Factor"

Microsoft has many problems. I'm not sure "cool" is one of them. Robert Scoble, who makes a living showering with Google Glass and blogging about startups (for a company that is neither Google nor a startup), disagrees. For him, Microsoft has lost its mojo. Its "cool factor."

This from the man who does interviews wearing goofy sci-fi glasses.

Leaving aside whether Scoble knows anything about coolness (Note: The author used to drive a minivan, and so has no claims on coolness, either), it's not clear at all that Microsoft ever was cool to begin with. Not in the ways that Scoble seems to prize.

The Wrong Definition Of "Cool"

For example, in an interview with Fairfax Media, publisher of The Age, Scoble makes a case for money-losing gizmos as a sign of innovation:

[Google Glass] might never make a dollar but it's new, it's interesting [and] it causes conversations. If you're an innovator, you push the future ahead. You don't care whether it necessarily makes a dollar.

I'm not sure this view holds much water. It's certainly not true of Apple, a company with a culture and view on innovation that differs markedly from Google's. Apple only releases products that it believes have a serious commercial potential. It's not in the innovation for innovation's sake business.

Even Google isn't as wild and crazy as Scoble seems to believe. It is absolutely true that the company does "out there" projects like Google Glass and its self-driving car, it's equally true that Google decommissioned its Labs projects because Google "believe[s] that greater focus is crucial if we’re to make the most of the extraordinary opportunities ahead."

Like ads constantly in your range of vision. Or a car that steers you toward advertisers. Or launching WiFi balloons to give Internet access to those who can't afford it... but can still click on ads. (See the theme?)

Microsoft's Problem Is Money

Besides, Microsoft has its own brand of money-losing innovation. It's called Microsoft Research, and it spends billions of dollars each year creating Star Trek-like holodecks ("magic wall"), among other things that probably will never see the light of day (or market).

No, Microsoft's problem is not that it lost its coolness. It never had it. Who thinks Office or Windows are "cool?" Useful, yes, but cool? Not my definition of cool, anyway.

What it had, and what has largely inhibited its relevance, is two gargantuan cash cows—Windows and Office—that have kept the company profitably mired in the past. Microsoft, in other words, faces an Innovator's Dilemma. It can't stand the thought of cannibalizing the two products that made it immensely successful.

But it needs to. Microsoft remains CIOs "most indispensable" mega-vendor, according to a Piper Jaffray report. But this won't last if Microsoft can't move these enterprises into the future of computing, something that is at risk so long as Apple and Google control mobile. But "coolness" won't solve this problem.

I'm sure Scoble knows this, but his talk of "cool" obscures the real issue. Microsoft doesn't have to be cool to thrive. It just needs to unshackle its organizations from orbiting around Windows and Office. The XBox team did this. So has Azure, to some extent. More is needed.