MacBU Innovation

Recently, Peter wrote on his blog:

“Why do so few of the great usability features of Microsoft's Mac software ever make it to the Windows platform? The Mac applications always seem so much ahead of their Windows counterparts. And they come from within the same company! Why such a pronounced dichotomy?”

This is something that I hear quite a bit. I guess it can seem this way, but let me explain some things.

First of all, The Macintosh Business Unit is a little island inside Microsoft. We have our own planning, usability, marketing, user assistance, dev, test, program management, and localization teams. We do all our own research, leveraging all the research already done by other teams etc, and we cater specifically to the Macintosh market (which is unique in many ways). We have a few million customers, not the hundreds of millions that Windows or Office have. As such, it is much easier for us to make tradeoffs here and there. Our customers also have an elevated sense of design and expect a lot from a Macintosh program (they can smell a port a mile away and won’t touch it). Finally, no one tells us what to do (outside MacBU), and we own almost all the Mac software that Microsoft makes (sans Windows Media Player and Services for Macintosh).

Contrary to what people may think, we don’t share features with any other teams. We aren’t obligated to implement anything, and we aren’t tied up much by external dependencies (and this is important). Not having dependencies, like Office has on Windows and vice versa really frees us up. Our only dependencies are internal, and since we control the schedule, it’s much easier to resolve any issues. Having said all this I don’t think it’s fair to say that our applications are so much ahead of our Windows counterparts (well maybe the Project Center is). The thing is, we focus on a very specific set of features (because we are a small team) and we try to get it right the first time. We don’t have the tens of millions of customers to cater to that some of the Windows teams do. Additionally, we appreciate and borrow many features from Windows Office (where we see fit). Good examples of this are the three column view in Outlook 2003 that we added to Entourage. In fact, I'm humbled by all the functionality found in Windows or Office. It's simply amazing what capabilities lie within those two sets of products. Again, all there because to some set of customers they are critical.

One interesting example to see how our strategy differs is Word Notes (a new feature in Office 2004 for Mac, you can see more and go through a demo). On Windows there is a fantastic little app called OneNote that is targeted at both Tablet and non-tablet users for taking notes. Well, on the Mac there isn’t any kind of Tablet PC, so instead we focused on building the Notes functionality into Word. This allows us to leverage an existing code base (we can’t just go and port OneNote) and enabling similar scenarios on the Mac. Additionally, there are some platform specific technologies we can leverage on the Mac that don’t exist on Windows and vice versa.

However, we do spend a lot of time showing and evangelizing our work to lots of different teams in the company. We realize that not many people have Macs in their offices, so it’s often hard to find out or see exactly what we are up to. We’re really proud of the software we build and we’re happy to show it to anyone at Microsoft that will listen. Every once in a while you’ll even see the occasional Mac feature appear later on in a Windows product (The Web Archive in IE 6, Lists in Excel, Search Folders in Outlook and many others). Much of this really just boils down to time and schedules. Finally, people do leave MacBU and go elsewhere in the company to do cool things. Dan Crevier who works on Longhorn, Hillel Cooperman who leads the Longhorn Aero team, Michael Connolly who works in MSN and the list goes on and on (it’s quite a distinguished list, really!).