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Microsoft Needs an Apocalypse

Microsoft is in a funk, a rut, a down period with no real end in sight. Heck, even IBM blew past Microsoft in value last week.

IBM! IBM rising to the No. 2 spot in the industry, behind Apple, feels kind of like Grand Funk Railroad or Air Supply racing up the pop charts in 2011, if pop charts still exist. (OK, so here's your obligatory Grand Funk YouTube link. Beware of considerable '70s shirtlessness. We'll spare you the Air Supply link.)

Of course, Microsoft isn't exactly...um, we're having trouble coming up with a pop star here to complete our metaphor...would Beyonce work? Let's just go with her. Microsoft isn't exactly Beyonce, or whoever is on top of the pop charts these days.

In fact, it's starting to feel like a '90s band that's been around too long and is just trying to hang on to a shred of popularity. Can we think of an example? No, we cannot. (Our pop-culture references are getting a bit moldy, as you might have noticed. You might say that we've become the Microsoft of pop-culture knowledge.) But you get the point -- we hope.

While Apple is unquestionably cool and Google is kind of enterprise cool these days, Microsoft, while still plenty big and powerful, seems to lag behind its competitors in hot technology categories such as tablets and mobile operating systems. (And we do mean way behind.)

And now even IBM, the company Microsoft crushed in the enterprise as well as in the American home office a couple of decades ago, has emerged to take its long-sought revenge -- at least for a while, depending on how the market plays out in the days to come. Microsoft, meanwhile, remains stagnant, stuck in neutral.

So, what does Microsoft need to get itself going again? The end of the world. Or at least something like it. (Yes, we have the REM video, too.)

You know those people who said the apocalypse was going to hit last Saturday? Their prediction might have been a bit off (or maybe not -- take a look around and see who's not in the office today), but could you possibly ignore them over the last week or so? We couldn't. We only wish the earthquake had arrived before the Boston Bruins blew a three-goal lead in their playoff game Saturday against Tampa Bay. Alas.

We weren't seeking out news on this tiny group of unconventional folks, but they were everywhere, unavoidable, literally making news all over the world with a few billboards, some vans, a collection of way-up-the-dial radio stations...and a claim that they knew exactly when the world was going to end.

They're not exactly the first people to make that claim, of course, which makes their staggering publicity all the more remarkable. Lots of major corporations would have killed for press coverage like that, no matter how mocking most of it was.

It there's no such thing as bad publicity -- and we believe that to almost always be true, major oil spills and nuclear meltdowns being the possible exceptions -- then this Harold Camping fellow really did do something exceptional in what he apparently thought would be his final days on this planet. He captured the world's attention. He got people talking. So, they made fun of him. So what? We all know who he is now and what his message is, or was. Again, that's the kind of attention companies crave.

Maybe that's what Microsoft needs -- some sort of apocalypse. Oh, it doesn't have to be an actual one (only Steve Jobs has the power to pull that off, as far as we know...just kidding, God), but some sort of shocking prediction might give Microsoft the perception jolt (and maybe the actual jolt) it needs.

Just what that would be, we're not sure. Predicting the end of the world is so last week. That's not going to work. And it has to be something weird, something Microsoft couldn't actually control or do on its own.

Maybe a company spokesperson could say this week that at the Worldwide Partner Conference in July, Steve Ballmer will explode into 10,000 tiny Steve Ballmers who will then infiltrate Apple's headquarters armed only with electric-blue shirts and boundless enthusiasm. It could be a kind of Apple-calypse prediction.

Or maybe Microsoft could play off of Camping's prediction and say that on some particular date, maybe July 1 to kick off the company's fiscal year, Planet Earth and all of its physical properties will suddenly blue screen and require a massive celestial reboot. Those still running IE 6 on XP will be left behind.

If none of that works, maybe Microsoft could put a firm date on when it'll have a tablet device capable of competing with the iPad. Nah, never mind -- the crazy proclamation has to be at least somewhat plausible.

The whole point is to get lots of people thinking about Microsoft again, even if folks are just making fun of the company. Get back in the news in some remarkable way, and maybe Microsoft can then follow up with, "While you're mocking our outrageous predictions, how about having a look at Windows Phone 7?" (The Mango update really does look pretty good.)

Harold Camping's failed rapture has left the door wide open for the creative marketing minds in Redmond. They need to jump on the apocalyptic bandwagon before it empties out and get people talking about Microsoft again. Of course, if that doesn't happen, it won't be the end of the world...or will it?

What kind of apocalyptic prediction would you have Microsoft come up with? Send your best suggestions to lpender@rcpmag.com, or leave a comment below.

Posted by Lee Pender on May 23, 2011 at 11:57 AM


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