Times dismisses Microsoft

By admin, October 19, 2009 7:17 am

The New York Times has published a scathing critique of Microsoft’s current status and prospects, marking a new low in the prevailing conception of the company’s chances as the industry spins slowly on an axis leading away from the traditional desktop market it dominates. While haters such as myself have long questioned Microsoft’s commitment to altering itself sufficiently to keep at the forefront of new industry trends, seeing it instead setting up to fight the futile rear-guard action of protecting its existing cash cows, for the Times to publish such a piece seems to indicate that observers outside the industry are starting to catch on as well.

The thrust of the article is that Microsoft has failed, despite significant commitments of time and resources, to remain relevant in emerging technologies such as cloud computing, Software as a Service, and mobile devices. Whether through complacency or a failure to comprehend industry changes, Microsoft has evolved from threat to joke for many competitors, with notable rivals Apple, Google, and Amazon having greatly publicized successes as the news from Redmond has remained generally dismal. Now, with the vaunted general release of Windows 7 almost upon us (a release that some are calling the “last, or next-to-last, version we’ll see in that standard large-operating-system world”) , the inevitable question of “what next?” is confronting the company, and there are few comforting answers apparent.

Nonetheless, I think the the Times is excessively dismissive of Microsoft’s chances. “While Mr. Ozzie welcomes the gizmo revolution, much of what it appears to entail runs counter to Microsoft’s historical strengths,” according to the article, but in my view, those historical strengths are having a lot of really smart people around who can get into new markets quickly and a pile of cash to allow those people to dominate those markets in short order. The question is, can Steve Ballmer martial those assets to effectively attack again?
I have gone back and forth on the Ballmer question, and no small part of my initial skepticism when he took over the company was based on my perception of his inability to drive internal corporate volte-face corrections of that sort as well as Bill could. Steve was never the visionary and Microsoft needs one. I moderated my opinion of the leadership team later, seeing Ray Ozzie as someone who could fill that role and complement Steve, but in practice the pairing has not worked out that way. While Ozzie says the right things, the company has not responded as it needs to in order to stay relevant. Even working together, the two have not been able to overcome internal inertia to spin the company rapidly to face new challenges as Bill was famously able to do.

I’ve said repeatedly that Microsoft owes much of its success in the corporate world to being an easy choice; it was always easier to move up to Microsoft solutions from its competitors than the reverse. Microsoft’s solutions weren’t always better, but once in place, they were there to stay.

As the company’s installed base has expanded, however, they have gone in the same direction as many of those companies they displaced, realizing that lock-in was to their advantage. It’s easier now to move your documents and spreadsheets from Office to Google, to put your contacts on your iPhone, to move your files to the cloud, than it is to do the reverse. Apple, Google, and thousands of smaller competitors, are pulling the same trick, making it easier to adopt them than to (in many cases) even move from one Microsoft product version to the next. Apple is sure to make hay over this issue with the impending release of Microsoft’s Windows 7, which will require a fresh installation over your old Windows XP machines.

Nonetheless, the Redmond is full of smart people and piles of cash. Those assets, though somewhat diminished, are still available to the company. And then there is also the idea that cloud computing itself simply may not be an industry as amenable to domination as the desktop and server markets Microsoft has done so well in. It may not be so much that Microsoft will lose the crown to a competitor, as that the kingdom may be broken apart into pieces too small to crown. It’s an open question whether sufficiently open standards and transferability will make it into the fabric of the utility computing matrix to truly commoditize computing power, but that is, after all, the economic basis driving the movement. It’s not in the interest of any of the competitors to provide such a level playing field, but it may be something that consumers will yet be able to drive in the industry. The dream of moving jobs and data in real time between providers bidding against one another to provide services is alive and well; in such an environment, Microsoft may find itself wishing it had gone into the fast food industry instead.

2 Responses to “Times dismisses Microsoft”

  1. GITANAJAVA says:

    After the T-Mobile Sidekick/Danger/Microsoft implosion, I’m inclined to agree with the Times. “Danger, danger, Will Robinson!”

  2. GITANAJAVA says:

    Just in case any of your readers missed that “pink” episode of MicroDoze bungling, they can start here to read up on it:

    Now, over two weeks later, I’m still waiting for full restoration of data. It won’t happen — I don’t believe MS really has their heart set on the Cloud Computing concept — but half the fun is waiting to see what they’ll trip on next.

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