Wikipedia has it that a psychiatrist, hired to listen in to calls made to Coca-Cola’s customer hotline in 1985, found that customers sounded more like they were discussing the death of a family member than their feelings regarding soft drinks.
The calls, made at a rate of 1,500 a day, were almost exclusively about New Coke; the new formula for Coca-Cola released in April of that year, and intended as a sort of Hiroshima Bombing to end the “cola wars” with Pepsi.
New Coke was the brainchild of Roberto Goizueta, the Cuban executive who became CEO of Coca-Cola in 1980, and who promised his company there would be no sacred cows on his watch – including the formulation of the company’s drinks.
Goizueta’s moment of towering corporate hubris was invoked by the FT today, as a benchmark against which to measure Microsoft’s decision to change “key aspects” of its Windows 8 software for a hasty new launch of the product later this year.
To boil it down to basics, Windows 8 has upset a lot of people by cheating the sense of Pavlovian association by which they learnt to use a PC.
It boots to a colourful tablet-style start screen packed with squares representing apps, and only gives way to a familiar Windows 7 desktop upon prodding and poking. Furthermore, the opening of certain apps (as opposed to desktop-based programmes – Windows 8 uses both) again invokes fullscreen, tablet-style visuals rather than good old familiar red-“x”-in-the-corner-style windows.
Users find themselves fruitlessly looking in the desktop’s bottom-left corner for a start button, like a confused bear hallucinating a salmon.
Nevertheless, anything learnt can be just as easily unlearnt, and those who have persevered with the system tell me it is fast, stable and really quite easy to manoeuvre – especially with a touchscreen medium. What’s more, most of the system’s uncanny features can be disabled, to make it increasingly similar to Windows 7.
But no matter how good the system is once you get used to it, the damage to Microsoft’s sales was already done as soon as they made a significant change to the windows interface.
Coca-Cola’s corporate comms head, Carlton Curtis, came to realise that the New Coke debacle was more due to people freaking out over the withdrawal of the old-style drink, than to any characteristic of the new formula.
For Microsoft, a company whose interface designs have defined the basic expectations of generations of computer users, there has been a very similar price to pay for changing what was so familiar.