Tuesday, May 15, 2007

A stupid Question: Where Are The Microsoft Fanboys

"Why doesn't Microsoft have a cult religion?" The answer is simple: cults don't form in the mainstream. Should Microsoft be concerned, though?

This is such a treasury of poorly misunderstood ideas (the article, the headline, and the article that spawned the discussion). First, there's the premise: That there aren't people that are outside of employment at Microsoft that are "fanboys". Tons of them exist. I run into them from time to time in my work and hobby life.

They're not all that organized, from what I see, but they're there. The lack of organization isn't "simple", though. I think a multitude of vectors contribute to the situation. Microsoft software itself is typically copied, joined and sometimes (upon rare occasion) created. Since it's often last to the game, the enthusiasm is often found in people that are last to the party (and don't mind being in that space). In other words, while the "coolness" factor of the technology is at its peak, the fan-base forms there -- then Microsoft gets into the game, and the stuff becomes more or less an appliance. About as exciting as a refrigerator.

In a business setting, for some people, a refrigerator is very exciting, however. These people don't necessarily get their jollies blogging about it, though. They're probably not going to form a user group to gain knowledge and network. In short, by the time Microsoft gets into the game, the technology is often boring as paint.

Then there is the open factor; Think of a typical car club -- imagine the "stock Ford 500 fan club". These people drive their (completely stock, maybe some racing stripes added for flair) Ford 500s to some nearby event to talk about how nicely the air condition and all-wheel drive features work. Yeah, even the visual is boring, sorry. I'm sure it will fade with time.

Already faded? Yes, I'm sure it is -- the fact is that, though the Ford 500 may be a decent piece of equipment, it's a late arriver to a rather saturated game of family sedans -- and the mostly stock part? Well, most people that buy a 500 don't buy it to mod it in any way shape or form. That might void the warranty, after all. It might cost more (it's an appliance, more or less, to them).

This is another reason why no one cares about Microsoft enough to get passionate about it -- they won't open their main product-base up to the enthusiast crowd. With the hood solidly welded shut, no one cares.

Face it, their latest operating system (or is an innovative program to help memory companies sell chips? You decide) is a veritable pig in a land of pure-bred stallions -- most of the people I see talking about it treat it with all of the enthusiasm of a root-canal at the dentist. "Oh yeah, I might switch to it later this year after I get more memory for my home computer."

Sure, some of it is the underdog effect, but these factors greatly outweigh that issue -- I look to my Ford Mustang for inspiration here. I have two of the beasts. One of them, a Mach 1, is very stock. It won't be forever. The other, a GT, has barely any stock parts left on it. I take it to shows -- I'm thinking of joining a local club for the hell of it (and because I love the things -- they're a blast). Part of the reason I love em' is that you never know what someone is going to do to trick theirs out. Mustangs are definitely not the underdog.

The reason so is not because there are so many of them (there are) -- the reason is more related to the dimensions of open source. In 1996, Ford stuffed a new motor in the Mustang GT that was very proprietary, for example -- you couldn't change the heads without changing the computer, and they weren't very helpful with the companies that wanted to sell after market parts.

It took em' a while, but they learned from it. They're back to helping these companies so that there will be a healthy after-market. They realized that not playing this game wasn't going to bring them the after-market -- it was going to kill the fan base.

Microsoft might possibly learn from Linux (and Sun) -- to get that needed enthusiasm in the community they need to open the hood of their products. They need a bit more than that (and maybe I'll talk about that later). For now, the fans are going to rally around things that give them a reason (and the freedom) to be passionate.

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