Out of touch? No, just out of scope...

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2010/09/05 07:01 -04:00, original URI: http://blogs.msdn.com/b/michkap/archive/2010/09/05/10058180.aspx

When I blogged about the negative customer satisfaction inherent in bad terminology choices that lead customers to get confused and feeling that they will get great stuff only to find out they cannot (in When terminology affects satisfaction) I was talking about a language issue. In this case the language of usability, and the way that language in software helps guide people to things. And how much it sucks to play with people's expectations that way.

I felt pretty comfortable in terms of my areas of interest.

And I got several thoughtful replies in email about the issue I was focused on.

The comments of the post took a slightly different tack, though. :-)

First there was regular reader Mihai who commented:

What are the main differences between a LIP and LP?

  1. percentage of localization
  2. licensing/availability

What I would do? I would kill 2. completely (especially the requirement to install on Pro or Ultimate only).

I would offer them as:

What would be a "decent price"?

Office 2010 offers language packs for $25, with the Office Pro $500, Home and Student $150, Windows 7 Pro is $300, Home Premium is $120.

So a $15-20 price for the Complete Language Pack would be the sweet spot.

Now Mihai focused on a different aspect of the whole issue here. Rather than focusing on the roller coaster ride of unclear terminology, he was looking at an underlying way to to try to solve the entire issue, by suggesting a huge shift in the pricing model on the intersection between Windows localization and Windows SKUs.

Of course even getting the terns changed would be an uphill battle for me here, let alone talking about a huge shift that could significantly impact the revenue of a multi-billion dollar division of the company.

Therefore, while the suggestion is trying to solve the larger problem, it is doing so in a way that the people who plan products and pricing couldn't take up as is. They would obviously need a much more fully formed proposal with the kind of data to support the numbers. In a world where a shift of $1 if the wrong direction can have an impact in terms of millions of dollars, those kinds of suggestions go way beyond the scope of what I can really deal with here.

Even if that wwre true, it is beyond my expertise and interests.

The other comment to When terminology affects satisfaction, this one from Carl, was a bit harsher (and therefore even less approachable to the group that would look at such issues). Carl's comment:

This whole business is silly. I don't mean to be insulting to someone who writes such a fine blog, but frankly speaking, I feel like you are too deep inside the Microsoftsphere to see this issue clearly. Both of your Distinguished Competitors (Linux and Apple) offer additional languages for their operating systems and applications at no additional cost. But Microsoft does not. Why? This is sheer nickel-and-dime-ery. It's a penny wise and a pound foolish. Yes, it is true that Microsoft offers a much broader array of localizations than its competitors but that does not change the core value proposition. Why should consumers have to pay more to get an LP but not an LIP? It's madness, utter madness. I understand that you are not in charge of the business decisions behind this pricing scheme, but I believe that you should be more aware of how utterly irrational this scheme is. There is no reason to charge a user for switching the language of a product. It antagonizes users needlessly in exchange for an utterly trivial stream of revenue. It is a ridiculous practice and the sooner Microsoft halts it, the better. There is no reason for end users to have to be aware of the three part distinction this post is founded on. At best, maybe they can be told that sometimes there aren't enough resources to do a full localization, so a partial localization (LIP) will have to suffice. But beyond that, the whole business is asinine.

Wow, am I the only one who feels like they just got slapped three to six times? :-(

Carl's additional comment a few days later (to another blog, here) made me feel slightly better:

Sorry if my comment pissed you off! I would like to read your reply someday. I know you're a tech guy, not a business guy, so you're not really the guy I should be complaining to, I just felt like things could be simplified for consumers.

Keep up the good blogging!

Though (I will admit) not too much better.

Everyone is guilty of yelling at the wrong person sometimes, myself included. I guess it was leaving it in such a public way.

Especially with text that was more personally aimed like "...frankly speaking, I feel like you are too deep inside the Microsoftsphere to see this issue clearly..." which took my choice of the area I decided to focus on based on what I felt I was best suited to talk about and turned it into a statement about me being out of touch by not looking at the actual problem.

The fact that decisions and solutions (and attempts at solutions!) around "the actual problem" are way beyond my scope of influence certainly did not enter into the venom in the initial comment. And me taking the decisions of higher ups as is since I know I probably can't change their mind in the short or medium term and focusing on a terminology issue that just confuses people makes me a bit disconnected. Sigh...

The implication that my ability to see the problem didn't piss me off, but it did leave me wondering whether the bold experiment of Sorting it all Out and my attempt with it to be a less private person by sharing my thoughts with large groups of my closest strangers has actually accomplished any of that. It in't the only reason I blog or anything, but I admit it used to be one of the motivations.

I guess with (all the blogs) Microsoft is better with people seeing so many of its employees as actual people, but if they are (and I am) considered as out of touch with customer needs as a big faceless company would have been anyway, I guess it isn't all that much better in the scheme of things....

For the record: in my own personal opinion (an opinion limited by what my friend Monica would point out as my utter ignorance of financial information!) the language/SKU situation for Windows is very flawed, and fixing it would be a very complex issue that would take the combined expertise of many different people who I don't think are really communicating at the moment. I certainly think it would be worthwhile to fix, but hard problems that have huge risks are often easier to leave on the shelf....

Otaku on 5 Sep 2010 10:46 AM:

Yeah, I'm confused about this whole thing too (and I worked for MSFT for 10 years!). It appears that the key strategy here should be platform adoption and to increase that, offering things that I call "utility features" (like languages, a calculator, a browser) should be free. I remember when the first version of VSTO was available for an enormous amount of money and no one bought it. Then it became free (and better) to enable both Visual Studio and Office adoption.

And there shouldn't be anything like LP or LIP or UI Language. Just say "do you want Chinese on your English box?" If the answer is yes, say "Do you want to display everything in Chinese or just have it enabled to type?". And that's it. Proofing tools come with that, if available. MS Update notices it's enabled and offers that for download. Simple.

I can't image this makes a lot of money for MSFT...at all. In fact, offering it for free (and making it all simple) may end up making more money in the long run. I get why it was done back in the day when many of the natual language efforts were semi-unified on teams and in some products, like around the year 2000, but this is a different time.

It's a weird kind of punishment for people in which two or more languages are needed on a computer. Take a multi-lingual family, for example. Or an internet cafe. Or an airport kiosk. In these situations, you may want two or more log-ons for users that require different languages. In this case, if it was two English speakers - no cost to anyone. If there was a need for English, Arabic and Turkish on one box, now the user pays more. Punishment for needing different languages.

Maybe Bing can start charging 5 cents per webpage translation. I'm sure that would go over well :)

Michael S. Kaplan on 5 Sep 2010 3:57 PM:

I don't know if I agree with all of that. I mean, has *adoption* of Windows really been a problem? Not so much. If you go with that argument they shoot you right down.

They believe it does make money and may have number that prove it, and of course prior to jiggering with numbers there has to be a lot more than "may end up making more money in the long run" as the reason to change this one part of a huge formula that pays out needs a stronger benefit.

I agree there is an argument that can be made here, but when one is going up against as much money as this one must have a much more compelling method to persuade folks! :-)

Cheong on 5 Sep 2010 6:52 PM:

@Otaku: I think, If you family is multilangual one, at least you'll have one language in common. For internet cafe or airport kiosks, the OS would be either English or their local language is well understood. And with AppLocale, you can run most application for different language in different language version of Windows without problem. The problem might not be as serious as you think.

For languages that has support only in LIP version, I'd think LIP is enough. Afterall, for most non-developers, what they really focus is on the application (which should be properly localized version if the user really cares about language). Give them comprehensible menu so that you could access their program, and maybe perform shutdown, would be good enough for them. Afterall, for most users, if a warning/error dialog comes up, either they immediately close them without paying attention, or they learnt to screen-cap them to post in forums, they they might get more help if those message is in English.

Otaku on 6 Sep 2010 1:46 AM:

Michael - platform adoption continues to remain a significant priority and always a challenge. WinXP is still the dominant OS. Linux made netbooks significant and then Vista couldn't be run on them, so XP was used to remove Linux from that space. The increase in OSX usage in the consumer market and other smaller verticals continues to be an issue.

But in not arguing this point, the business side of the equation makes even less sense. Trust me, it's not a huge money maker for MSFT in consideration of other businesses. There is not much growth opportunity here. It's akin to saying that MS Learning has a real P&L - if that were true, MSL would have been out of business a long time ago. It just seems to me that there are bigger fish to fry than these nickels and dimes - it causes confusion at the expense of CPE.

On the note from the other reader that seems like it prompted the post above, and not directed at you as an individual, most MSFT employees have little to no idea the amount of impact Microsoft has on people's lives and work - both good and bad. I know we think we do - but mostly we're just working hard. You and I are (well, you are, I was) just regular employees going about our jobs, trying to do the right thing. Firstly to meet the approval of our management and secondly to keep an eye on what customers want or what we think they want. The fact that we're held accountable by people outside of MSFT can be unnerving and uncomfortable. I get was you're saying - I was in PSS/CSS for my first 5 years and took a ton of heat, many times in a very negative way, from customers who blamed me personally for issues. It didn't feel good. I was just one guy. Why are they blaming me - it's not like I could personally fix Exchange (ugh...hotfixes were the worst political mess of people disagreeing to disagree I ever saw). But in retrospect, that's probably why CPE even came about - to give a regular MSFT employee the opportunity to advocate at a much higher level in the company than he/she would normally do on behalf of customers. Maybe just trying to send these issues up through http://gethelp and following through could do something different. It's worth a shot.

Michael S. Kaplan on 6 Sep 2010 7:04 AM:

That's kinda my point -- you can't give the decision makers maybes with no proof as a strategy. You have to be able to explain why changing the language plan would make a difference, and how much (of course with numbers and other proof to back up the claim!).

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