Monday, 13 January 2014

Is Microsoft Clutching A One Way Ticket To Nowhere?

Image representing iPhone as depicted in Crunc...
Image via CrunchBase
Microsoft isn't really as smart as people think and it probably isn't as smart as it thinks it is, either. Its fortunes were set by being in the right place at the right time with a piece of operating system software it didn't actually code - it bought it in. Seattle Computer Products' QDOS was to become PC-DOS and, in a moment of brilliance, was licensed rather than sold outright to IBM for the company's new Personal Computer.

The result was a gravy train for Microsoft, which promptly did the dirty on IBM by licensing MS-DOS to makers of PC clones. Why IBM put up with it is anyone's guess. but by the time Compaq released an 80386 based machine ahead of IBM and took effective leadership of the PC market, Microsoft had its own version of a goose in every pot and a wagon in every barn - pretty much every PC in the world had Windows and Office installed and MS was printing money.

The OS/2 body swerve was a final blow to IBM's dream of getting back dominance of the desktop and was to start the chapter in the company's history where it exited the PC market Jobs' Apple had cheekily welcomed it to in 1981. IBM eventually sold the business - saved, in the meantime, by its ThinkPad laptops - to Lenovo just in time to avoid the current spiralling decline of the PC.

Microsoft was so busy thinking it was smart, rather than being merely an accomplished rider on the PC clone gravy train, it missed the Internet. Entirely. Netscape nearly pulled off its coup - creating a platform for third party software that would disintermediate Windows. But Gates turned MS on a sixpence and brought the company's crushing market dominance to triumph in the 'browser war' that followed. They got in late, but they got in with such venom it appeared they were unstoppable. They weren't.

The win cost Microsoft a punishing - and embarrassing - trial at the hands of the US Department of Justice. Reeling from the whole bruising process, a four year trial ending in 2002, Microsoft found itself fighting a number of persistent enemies, including Sun Microsystems, Oracle and a growing horde of passionate Linux backers - a party that IBM joined with a $10 billion investment in the open source software. By the time the next big thing came, Microsoft missed it as badly as it had the Internet - the trouble was, it wasn't one big thing but several.

Google's IPO in 2004 showed an astonished world how very big the company had grown from absolutely nowhere (today, ten short years later, it's a more valuable company than Microsoft, BTW). Three years later, Steve Jobs launched the iPhone and then Google bought in a piece of software that was to achieve precisely what MS-DOS had achieved almost twenty years earlier for Microsoft. Android.

Meanwhile, Microsoft was busy screwing up Windows in an attempt to rekindle the 'must have this year's version' of the WinTel heyday. The awful Windows Vista stalled adoption, many electing to stay with the stable and 'not broke' Windows XP. Windows 7 rectified the awfulness of Vista, but arguably it was already too late. People were playing with new toys: tablets. And Microsoft had no way to compete with iOS or Android - and no plan to, either.

Why didn't Microsoft turn on a sixpence again? Because it had nowhere to turn - its dominance of the desktop didn't stretch to the new wireless world of smartphones and tablets. And its eventual attempt to face the conundrum is all too clear from the schizophrenic Windows 8.

But it's bought Nokia - and it has the chance now to join the smartphone and tablet market with a better version of Windows that'll put the faults of Windows 8 (which is an absolutely fabulous mobile OS, strangely enough given Microsoft's long history of awful mobile OSs. Windows CE anyone?) behind it.

Only Microsoft hasn't got a huge and successful content-rich ecosystem like Amazon, Google or Apple. And it doesn't have the support of a wide enough base of applications developers. It's got Bing losing to Google, Azure losing to Amazon - too many fights on too many fronts. And too many innovations taking place away from the source of the majority of Microsoft's revenue - the desktop.

Is the party over? Yes. But does Microsoft have a ticket to the next party?




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2 comments:

Dominik MJ said...

I believe, there pretty much only one real innovation, which Microsoft did: MS-DOS [you could argue, but lets give it to them].
Everything else was rip-offs: Windows? Rip off [Apple worked hard to get a working graphical interface - and while it was already a concept, Apple pretty much put it in reality and into a consumer version].
Internet Explorer - rip off! Microsoft Office? Well rip offs of different applications. Tablet and new Windows and Windows mobile versions? Rip offs. The only thing, which is not a total rip off, is the new tile design.

This having said, Microsoft did quite well with this. Always pushing the next product and flexing their muscles, if it didn't worked as expected.

Sales&Marketing Conference said...

Astonishingly, if the iPhone would be its own business it already makes more revenue than Microsoft or Google. Not Apple as a whole, just the iPhone. Microsoft makes some money licensing Windows Phone 8 to itself via Nokia and Google makes virtually no money in giving Android away for free and not really making much money on mobile ads yet. Am waiting for the next big shift...