"Remember: The race goes not to the strong, nor swift, nor more intelligent but to the less stupid"

Chapter 4

Positioning Puzzlers:
MicroPro and Microsoft

The Book

As a "reward" for my efforts with WordStar 2000 I was "promoted" to Group Product Manager and given responsibility for the product management of the resurgent WordStar. A new version, WordStar 5.0, designed to build upon the momentum built by the successful 4.0 release, was being hurried along to market. If MicroPro could launch it on a timely basis with a competitive feature set there was a chance the company could regain its lost market leadership, or at the very least generate enough revenue to branch out to new and more lucrative opportunities in other software categories. The product was slated for release in early 1988.

The first thing a product manager does when they're assigned responsibility for a new product is to take a look at it, and I was soon handed a fistful of disks on which resided the latest version of WordStar. Like any upgrade it had a raft of new features and abilities but to my annoyance, you couldn't print with it. A quick look at the files that comprised the program revealed why: the newest version of WordStar lacked a printer database.

Now this was odd, because if there was one thing MicroPro had learned to do over the years it was to support printers. In the pre-Windows era it was the responsibility of software developers to obtain, test and debug printers and their drivers to insure they worked with their particular products. As of 1987 MicroPro had built a quality database of over 300 printers drivers. The information in this database represented years of careful debugging, testing and implementation of capabilities specific to each printer. When you installed a printer in WordStar and told the program to print, you could be fairly confident that your text would not appear upside down or in a character set that resembled Sanskrit.

What made the omission of the database even more puzzling is that in 1985 a decision had been made at MicroPro to base all future printing code for other products on the WordStar 2000 printer database. It was tested, debugged and extensive. A low-end word processor, Easy, had been introduced by MicroPro that utilized the 2000 database. Why wasn't it in WordStar 5.0?

As a product manager I had developed the habit of periodicallystopping by the MicroPro development center to schmooze with the programmers about product features and problems while providingthem with feedback on what our customers liked and disliked about our programs. One fateful day I headed to the center and floated by the section occupied by the WordStar programming team. While skulking about, I saw a group of agitated programmers pointing at a screen and arguing heatedly.

Sidling closer, I listened to their conversation with growing horror, and then I heard a word that confirmed the bad news Id been overhearing.The impact of this word on me was stunningly physical. On hearing it, a bright light burst upon my eyes and filled them with a dazzling clarity, one that let me see the future. Simultaneously, the great weight was lifted from my shoulders. This wasn’t because I was feeling better; rather, it was due to the fact that I no longer had any shoulders as I underwent a miraculous transformation from product manager to small gray rat desperate to abandon a ship I knew would soon be sinking.

That word was “pointer.”

As in a hierarchical pointer. As in a hierarchical database pointer. As in the development group had made the decision to discard the WordStar 2000 database and replace it with a new one based on hierarchical database technology. It was an incredibly foolish thing to do and it sealed MicroPro’s fate....

...The question that remains, of course, is Why? What had possessed the development group to embark down such a destructive path? Wha twere their motivations? The technical case for their actions was never strong. That this was the wrong thing to do from a business standpoint was even clearer.

The answer lay in the positioning conflict unleashed within the company. While MicroPro worked hard to placate a confused market, within the company the WordStar versus WordStar 2000 struggle raged on. The WordStar programming team hated WordStar 2000 with a passion and wanted nothing from that product to pollute its WordStar. Its decision to rip out the existing printer technology was based on emotion, not a rational cost-benefit analysis of the consequences of such a course....

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