When Microsoft released their public Beta of Windows 7 a few weeks ago their servers couldn’t handle the demand. In fact when I went looking a day or so ahead of time to see what would be involved I got server errors. Paul Therrott said in his Windows Weekly podcast No 90 with Leo LaPorte that he thought that Microsoft had supplied insufficient server capacity on purpose so they could point to the huge demand for their product. My son Julian, who does local Internet marketing, independently told me the same thing. Certainly, Paul Therrot is a lot closer to the industry and Microsoft than I am, but it doesn’t feel that way to me. I think it is just another example of McLuhan called numbness. In my view, Microsoft is a large company that still thinks like a 20th century industrial company, despite the fact they have been a major player, at least in terms of revenue, in creating the post industrial environment of the 21st century.
In this case, Microsoft still believes they are in control the way a manufacturer of physical goods is in control and announced that they would limit downloads of Windows 7 Beta to 2.5 million. That sounds like a lot, but it isn’t when you realize that over 90% of the world’s computers are running on some version of Windows. Keep in mind that they knew that people were unhappy with Vista and that there was high interest in Windows 7. They had spent millions on advertising even hiring Jerry Seinfeld to do commercials with Bill Gates and ran ads showing people liked Vista when they didn’t know what it was. (They keep saying it’s a perception problem. I think they are deluding themselves.). So in the teeth of all that interest in their new product they stood there like General Motors saying we are only going to release 2.5 million of these things. How did they think thy were going to do that – install a download counter and turn off the tap when it reached 2.5 million? Here is what actually happened. They opened their servers for downloads and some people successfully downloaded Windows 7 Beta. But the servers became overloaded by the unanticipated demand and they took them offline while they arranged for extra server capacity. In the mean time copies that had been downloaded found their way onto other servers. I grumbled about the delay to my son and he emailed back that a site called lifehacker had it available. Bingo -download complete. The Internet had routed around Microsoft’s numbness.To Microsoft’s credit they did not try to enforce their limit by controlling the number of license keys they provided or validated. Evidently they finally realized that when people are going crazy for your product it is better not to annoy them.
But couldn’t Microsoft have intended this kind of outcome all along? I really don’t think so for this simple reason – they behave in this utterly numb way all the time. Occam’s Razor tells us that the simplest explanation is usually the simplest one. So is Microsoft playing some complex game of marketing chess with us or are they what they look like - a company that tries to live in two paradigms simultaneously and constantly make a spectacle of themselves?