Maybe you've heard this old saw: Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
The people at Microsoft apparently have not. Or maybe they just choose not to believe it.
That would explain their decision to double down on the disastrous decision to dump old desktop-style interface that has was at the heart of their iconic operating system for decades in favor of the touch-driven interface of Windows 8.
The latest version of Windows, which debuted last year, has been almost universally panned as clunky and unworkable on all but the newest touch screen PCs, which hardly anyone owns. No matter. Microsoft is now hard at work on a follow up version code-named Windows Blue. Word is, it will be even more touch-centric than Windows 8.
Think of it this way. You build a product that works well for people who use desktop PCs. Then you realize, wow, there are a lot of touch screen tablets out there. We'd better start making a new product that works best on those -- ignoring the fact a lot of your customers are not really doing work on tablets. How's that gonna work out?
Well, you may have heard of a company called JCPenney that recently took this approach to retailing. The folks who run JCPenney, fearing the company's image was becoming stodgy, brought in a former Apple executive named Ron Johnson to shake things up. As instructed, Johnson set to work changing everything, so much so JCPenney was no longer recognizable to people who had shopped there for years. They didn't like what they saw, so they left -- in droves.
Sales tanked. JCPenney stock tanked. "Fear not," Johnson said reassuringly, or words to that effect. "This is going to work out. Just give it time." He was wrong. Sales kept going down and so did the stock price. A year later, sales had fallen more than 21 percent and the stock price dropped from more than $35 a share to around $15. Management finally had enough in April and Johnson was unceremoniously fired.
This shows what happens when you try to make your customers conform to what you think is best for them as opposed to what they actually want. Disaster time.
Perhaps this stems from Johnson's Apple-think mindset. The company is famously known for making products consumers didn't know they wanted. But that only works if you are producing fabulously innovative products consumers find incredibly useful.
Just changing the sales pitch, the company logo or rearranging stores doesn't count as innovation. Neither does Microsoft's approach to its new operating system, which is less about improved utility than a belief someday, most computers will have touch screens. That may well be true. But today, most of them don't. In a business environment, touch screens are of limited use, which makes the idea of desktop PC operating system built around a touch screen interface idiotic.
That's why so many people buying new computers today, which mostly come with Windows 8 whether they like it or not, spend the first few hours figuring out how to get around the touch screen interface and back to something resembling the good old Windows 7 desktop interface. (Yes, it's still there, hidden under all those fancy animated tiles, but you have to jump through some hoops to get to it.)
It's crazy. Some experts even contend Windows 8, which was supposed to boost PC sales last year, actually contributed to the first decline in more than a decade.
The good news for the company Bill Gates built is touch screens probably will be almost universal in the not too distant future. The bad news is most of those will be on tablets powered by Google's Android or Apple's iOs. Almost no one wants tablets running Windows 8, largely because they are so expensive and offer no inherent advantages over the competition.
That's why Microsoft would do well not to forget all those folks out there who still need an old-fashioned desktop PC with an old-fashioned mouse and keyboard to do old-fashioned work, like typing.
Tony Briggs has been writing about technology for more than 20 years.