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For six years, the Internet Nexus served as my technology blog, but I've since started blogging at the SuperSite Blog instead. If you're looking for the blog, please head there. --Paul

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Microsoft is Dead?

Kind of like Paul McCartney was dead in the late 1960's, I guess. Paul Graham offers up the following:
Microsoft cast a shadow over the software world for almost 20 years starting in the late 80s. I can remember when it was IBM before them. I mostly ignored this shadow. I never used Microsoft software, so it only affected me indirectly—for example, in the spam I got from botnets. And because I wasn't paying attention, I didn't notice when the shadow disappeared.

But it's gone now. I can sense that. No one is even afraid of Microsoft anymore. They still make a lot of money—so does IBM, for that matter. But they're not dangerous.
I agree with this. But that doesn't make Microsoft dead. It makes Microsoft less evil. They're still powerful. They can still throw their weight around. And in some ways, they could certainly be more forceful than they are in the market. I guess all those antitrust cases had their intended effect after all.

Anyway. Graham lists the following reasons why Microsoft is "dead":

- Google
- Ajax (which, coincidentally, Microsoft helped create)
- Broadband
- Apple

I do believe Apple is playing a role in Microsoft's problems. But I don't credit OS X for that, as Graham does. In many ways, I'd argue that it is simply Apple's "Apple-ness" that is doing it: The company makes high-quality, drool-worthy products of various kids (iPods, mostly, and Macs), and a certain segment of the population will always respond to that, even when (especially when?) it involves sacrificing functionality for simplicity. Truthfully, all of Apple's products get more complicated as they mature (look at iTunes, the iPod, and, yes, Mac OS X over the years for obvious examples). But given enough traction, users mature with the products and can handle the changes over time. Just a theory.

There are various reasons why Microsoft isn't dead, of course. It's core products--Windows, Office, and, now, Windows Server--still generate billions in revenues every quarter, and Microsoft's revenues are actually increasing over time as well. And let's not forget something very important: Those products are all excellent, too. They really are, across the board.

Microsoft's inability to anti-competitively tie everything to its dominant products (thank you, DOJ) has resulted in other excellent products, too: The Xbox 360, Windows Mobile, the Windows Live stuff, and various other "new" Microsoft products are all first-class, really, and though their successes are not a given now, they can certain compete on their own. Finally, Microsoft is slowly, and painfully, getting rid of the old guard. Once Gates and Ballmer are gone--and I feel they will have to be, and soon--Microsoft can be run by people with new perspectives. This is a big company with lots of resources. It can still make noise if it chooses to.

While I do agree that Microsoft doesn't "get" Web services in some ways (i.e. it refuses to hobble its classic desktop products by creating competitive online versions), it's equally true that some tasks are simply better performed with feature-rich desktop apps. I'd point to most of the Office suite as a perfect example, and let's not forget all the digital media stuff. And frankly, we're going to need good desktop operating systems for quite some time, thank you very much. In other words, Microsoft's core products are still core to the company, and they're still excellent, and they're still making money. And this will be true for quite some time.

So is Microsoft really "dead"? No. But just as the US is seeing its influence around the world drained by unexpected new challenges that don't respond to old mindsets, Microsoft is in the midst of a transition of sorts as well. In both cases, the end result is not a given: Microsoft could very well rebound and push back these new competitors. What's true is that it's old way of doing things is now ineffective. But that doesn't mean it won't find a way.

In other words, it's too early to write Microsoft's obituary. We may look back ten years from now and say this was the point where Microsoft started dying, but we could also look back and say this is when they figured it out and it was all just a blip in the time line. No one can say, at least not yet.


[ Posted at 12:41 PM | Permalink ]


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