Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) has become a bit of a soda jerk.
A couple of outlets dared to compare Microsoft's poorly received Windows 8 operating system -- and the company's reaction this past week in promising an update that will restore some missed features -- to Coca-Cola's (NYSE:KO) flop with New Coke.
For those unfamiliar with the pop star's sugary blunder, Coca-Cola shocked the carbonated-beverage industry with the 1985 introduction of New Coke. The reformulation was a disaster, and the soft-drink titan responded quickly by bringing back the original beverage as Coca-Cola Classic.
"Microsoft is preparing to reverse course over key elements of its Windows 8 operating system, marking one of the most prominent admissions of failure for a new mass-market consumer product since Coca-Cola's New Coke fiasco nearly 30 years ago," the Financial Times wrote on Tuesday.
"The comparison with New Coke actually understates Microsoft's problem," The Economist followed, correctly arguing that Coke's solution was an easy fix. Some even speculated at the time that Coca-Cola did it on purpose, triggering a strong reaction from Coke-sipping loyalists.
No one's suggesting that Windows 8 was an intentional job of self-sabotage. It's not as if Microsoft can mea culpa its way into reintroducing Windows 7 and all will be forgiven.
Windows as an operating system is in trouble, and it doesn't matter that 100 million Windows 8 licenses have been sold. New Coke probably sold briskly at first. It's all over when the consumer sentiment turns.
The sad reality is that even Apple can't be bothered with the fading relevance of Windows-fueled devices. It's too busy trying to keep up with Google's (NASDAQ:GOOGL) Android as the mobile operating system of choice in the only computing niche that's growing. It doesn't need to crack open its billfold to muddy up Windows when jaded tech watchers are doing that already on their own.
Microsoft isn't taking the pop shot lying down. Frank X. Shaw, the company's enthusiastically outspoken head of corporate communications, fired back.
"Unlike a can of soda, a computer operating system offers different experiences to different customers to meet different needs, while still moving the entire industry toward an exciting future of touch, mobility, and seamless, cross-device experiences," he wrote in Microsoft's official blog on Friday.
He argues that the "sensationalism and hyperbole" given this past week to the New Coke comparison is no match for nuanced analysis. Selling 100 million copies of a product is big. Taking in feedback to improve a product is a good thing.
He has a point, but it's hard to resist the path toward sensationalism when consumers relish pop comparisons. Watch me.
Is next month's update to Windows 8 really codenamed Windows Blue? As in the old "blue screen of death" in Windows? As in Pepsi Blue?
Remember Pepsi Blue?
PepsiCo (NASDAQ:PEP) introduced the berry-flavored soda in 2002. It turned heads originally, but it was doomed. Did I mention that it was Windex blue? PepsiCo tried to be edgy -- just as Coca-Cola thought it was being clever by appealing to Pepsi fans with the sweeter New Coke -- but at the end of the day, the product was just flat out undrinkable.
It was blue. Nobody wants to drink Windex.
PepsiCo discontinued Pepsi Blue less than two years later. Can the berry-flavored Windows 8 fare any better?
Windows 8 wants to be edgy. It wants to make the most of the touch-based nature of mobile operating systems that have made Apple's iOS and Google's Android so popular. However, the early tally isn't very flattering. PC sales have fallen sharply in the first two quarters of the Windows 8 era. If this was Microsoft's way to make a dent in the tablet market, that's not working, either. Android and iOS combined for 96% of the category's shipments during the first quarter of this year.
New Coke? Pepsi Blue? Windows 8? Set aside the sensationalism if you want to. Microsoft's dwindling share of the total operating system market is the fact that ultimately must be swallowed.