Well, ExSKUse Me!

Opinion: The Office 2007 tide lifts all Microsoft application boats.

Ive been writing Tech Directions for a long time now, and it recently occurred to me that theres a lot of diversity in this column. In fact, to refer to Tech Directions as "one product" would be completely incorrect.

When you think about it, there are actually many different versions of Tech Directions: There are the humorous columns, the how-to columns, the columns that are basically angry diatribes, the news-oriented columns, the columns blasting security mistakes and, of course, the how-can-people-be-so-stupid columns (with the latter being closely related to the security mistakes columns).

Each column type serves a different reader group. Readers who like the funny columns may not want to read the news-oriented columns, while those interested in security issues probably arent interested in my righteous indignation about certain actions of companies and governments.

So Ive decided that its time to start offering multiple versions of my column. And, please note, Im doing this to help you, the reader.

Im still working on the various SKUs for these columns, but once I break down all the different variations, I figure there should be between 20 and 30 versions of Tech Directions from which to choose.

Some of you are probably thinking: "Come on, Jim! Wont this be needlessly confusing? Cant we just sort of pick a la carte from the columns we want to read?"

Well, I guess you could do that, but would that really be the best way to serve you, the reader?

Somewhere in the vast selection of versions Im offering, youll be able to find a Tech Directions package that comes pretty close to meeting your specific needs.

And its not like what Im doing here is unprecedented. Look at the upcoming Microsoft Office 2007. It will be packaged in as many as 30 different ways to serve users needs.

/zimages/3/28571.gifClick here to read more about Office 2007.

Sure, like many of you, my initial reaction to this news was: 30 different Office packages? Are you kidding me?

But the more comments I read from Microsoft officials saying that they are doing this for their customers—that they are providing packaging flexibility for the good of their users—the more I realized the genius of this strategy.

I mean, face it, how many of Offices applications do most companies really need or want?

If Microsoft offered only an a la carte plan, there is a good chance that some of Offices, how should I say this, less-in-demand products would feel unwanted. But with the confusing array of Office SKUs Microsoft will be offering, customers will feel like they have a choice while Microsoft ensures that certain applications get picked up no matter what.

What a great idea! Actual choice is overrated, but the illusion of choice is great.

For example, have you ever been to a restaurant that lets you choose everything about your meal—from how you want the steak cooked to what sides you want and how you want them prepared? The diner often ends up dumbfounded.

Similarly, many people dont like restaurants with really small menus because they feel like there isnt enough choice.

The most popular restaurants are often the ones that have lots of menu items but dont make you think too much about the preparation of the entrees or which sides to choose.

This is pretty much the new Microsoft Office plan. In fact, Microsoft should develop a Cheesecake Factory-like menu with all the Office 2007 options spelled out. (And diners, er, users will probably feel about as bloated with Office as they would after a meal of gargantuan proportions at the aforementioned restaurant.)

By taking the multi-SKU route with Tech Directions, I can make sure that some of the less-popular column types are included in pretty much all my column packages.

This will ensure that they get lifted up along with the more widely liked columns. Then I can claim high popularity for all my column types.

Oops. Lets strike those last few sentences. What I meant to say is, by providing greater choice in my column packaging, I will be offering greater flexibility and customization options to meet the needs of you, my readers.

There, thats much less confusing. Right?

Labs Director Jim Rapoza can be reached at jim_rapoza@ziffdavis.com.

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