Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Microsoft, the new IBM (minus the big iron)

Steven Vaughan-Nichols has an interesting take on the current realities at Microsoft. This echoes what I wrote in my blog here, that Microsoft's current culture may be too slow to adapt to changing market realities. The standard rule at Microsoft, "three tries to get it right" just doesn't cut it anymore. They did get Windows 7 out the door, but it's really a minor paint job over XP- just something to keep the monopolist's cash rolling in. Instead of all that wasted effort, they could have sold annual subscriptions to NT4, allowing "kernel" upgrades to Windows 2000, Windows XP, etc. Instead, they stuck with the sales/development model that they had chosen- the mind numbing choice of versions and the labyrinth at the heart of software assurance. It's hard to argue with success, but the money in technology can be a firehose or a dry creek bed. Where's WordPerfect's revenue stream now? Where's Novell's? The market moves on. Distractions, like marketing a new paint job for the OS every three to five years takes the eye of the ball- and doesn't lead to an overall market strategy. You can argue that monopolists don't need a strategy- that the money will just keep rolling in. That hasn't been the rule of thumb in technology so far. So far the repeating pattern is this: one company invents a killer technology and builds a dynasty around it; they continue to milk their cash cow- raising prices all the way. That leaves to door open for another new technology to come in to disrupt the status quo. Inevitably, the next company follows along the same track. Gates/Ballmer were powerless to prevent becoming the next IBM. Big companies are big, and carry a lot of inertia. It's hard to tell the guys with all of the money that they're just flat out wrong and on the wrong track. The Vaughn-Nichols article places blame at the top, and calls for Ballmer's ouster because that is where considerable mass/inertia is centered.

To be sure, all the tidal forces are going against Microsoft. Consider their slow release cycle, their high prices, their inflexible contracts, their limited platform, their 100,000+ Windows viruses, and (most of all) their stodgy leadership. Customers don't like high prices, especially when they are set arbitrarily high in order to meet the monopolist's agenda. Luckily, Linux was there to step in as a worthy replacement- winning jobs from supercomputers to Rokus, Tivos, and Androids. Microsoft's payroll is large; start counting the days until layoffs.

Windows CE vs. iPhone, Android
I haven't been a big Apple fan, but you have to give it to them for delivering products that people want and will pay for. A big part of Apple's success was that when Job's came back from hiatus, he had the courage to pull the plug on the stalled project to upgrade the Macintosh OS- the Copland project. This was replaced by Rhapsody which leveraged open source development and led to their successes with OSX and the iPhone. Android also leverages open source and doesn't have the monopolist's hardware lock in. Plus, with Android you'll get multitasking because it's Linux at its core. Compare this active development to the stalled "ecosystem" at the heart of Microsoft's handheld OS, Windows CE.

Update: Microsoft pulls the plug on part of their "shotgun" strategy and kills the KIN. Microsoft's successful products continue to fund a bunch of losers. Their philosophy seems to be if you put enough bb's into the air, a few will hit something. Good luck with that. Keep loading the shotgun and firing blindly.

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