Here's a weird thing: right now Apple is the fiscally successful megacorp making a fortune from a tightly focused group of products. Microsoft is a slightly whacky, but innovative competitor, with a bewildering range of products. How did that happen? When did the outsiders inherit the world, and the Evil Empire get all quirky? (Roughly around the time Apple launched the iPhone, and Microsoft Windows Vista. But, I digress.)
Apple is currently teaching a lesson to every commercial enterprise in history. It is literally the most successful company ever. But what specifically could it teach those clowns up in Redmond?
The following. (The isn't strictly one-way, BTW: here are 7 lessons Apple could learn from Microsoft - yeah, you read that right.)
Things Microsoft can learn from Apple: Do only what you do best
Focus. The legend of Steve Jobs is that he began his second-coming at Apple by slashing back on the number of products Apple made and sold. The two companies have always been very different, but the Jobsian wisdom is as true today as it was then. Microsoft makes all manner of things, from its core software products, to PC peripherals, smartphones and tablets, and third-platform services. Oh, and games consoles. And a web browser.
Some of these are great products. Many are okay. But at some stage Microsoft may have to grow up and decide what it wants to be: can the Xbox maker also be a third-platform cloud supplier for enterprise? Does the publisher of MSN want to also make computer mice?
Apple makes only products that fit into markets in which it thinks it can be the best. And Microsoft could learn from this. (See also: Mac OS X Yosemite vs Windows 8 comparison review.)
Things Microsoft can learn from Apple: You use software to sell hardware - so sell the hardware
In the 80s and 90s Microsoft won by creating a model via which is made money from code. This was (and is) radical, and it allowed Bill Gates and co to clean up. The trouble is it put the quality of Microsoft's products in the hands of OEMs such as Dell and HP, who in turn rely on Intel and others to supply components. And this leads to a horrible grey uniformity of Windows products, replete in some cases with shoddy workmanship over which Microsoft has no control. It has no risk in terms of hardware manufacturing, but it is very difficult to inspire joy.
This problem isn't about to get any better, either. The OEM model feels fundamentally broken, as maufacturers struggle to make any profit on me-too laptops, and Intel and Microsoft club together to pay them to make more interesting laptops, tablets and hybrids.
Apple, on the other hand, designs products, and makes them. It makes them to a standard that it sets. A high standard. Apple customers pay more for a guarantee of high-class workmanship. And that means Apple makes a healthy profit on every product.
Microsoft has started making its own hardware, with the Surface range and its Lumia smartphones. For Windows to remain relevant it may have to take control of the majority of Windows hardware manufacture. And it has the cash to do so. (See also: iPad vs Xbox One for games; Xbox One vs iPad comparison and buying advice.)
Things Microsoft can learn from Apple: Make things people really want (when you listen - really listen)
Not only does Apple make its own products. It conceives of, and then makes, things people want. It sounds simple, but it is the very antithesis of the Windows model via which OEMs create Frankenlaptops from the components Intel gives them, running the software Microsoft forces the world to use.
And it's not just the hardware. Windows 8 is perfectly fine software. Stable, feature filled, and secure. But people hate it - and this despite Microsoft making great play of the fact that it was going to listen to users when it constructed the successor to Windows 7. It really didn't.
To be fair to Microsoft it is spending a lot of time and resource in genuinely beta testing Windows 10. But it needs to find a better balance between pandering to the public and showing people what they really want before they know they want it. And Apple is brilliant at that. (See also: 4 things Apple could learn from Amazon.)
Things Microsoft can learn from Apple: Innovation is important, getting it right is crucial
Apple is brilliant at knowing when to enter a market. Smartphones had been around for a while before the iPhone launched, but no-one was buying. The iPod was far from the first digital music player. The iPad won the tablet market decades after Microsoft conceived it. Despite Apple's own perception of itself as a major innovator, its real strength is being best, not being first.
When you consider the strategic shift Microsoft has made from its awful 2007 product line of Vista, IE6, Office 2007, Windows Mobile, and the original Xbox, you have to tip your hat. It has moved to a mobile-first, cloud-focused consumer product portfolio. That's a pretty agile and innovative change. Sadly, at crucial steps of the way it has failed to be the best and take people with it.
Windows Phone is good, but not popular. Windows 8 is good but hated. The Surface Pro is stunning engineering, but just barely making inroads into a crowded market.
A little less with the innovation, and more with being great would help. And Apple could show it how. (See also: 5 things Apple could learn from Google.)
Things Microsoft can learn from Apple: Be cool
Yeah, this is something you can't learn. Perhaps start with the others. (See also: The 10 types of Apple fan: which one are you?)