I left Microsoft a few weeks ago after ten years in the Web Developer Tools and Platforms group. Leaving a company after that long is kind of like a divorce. You’re a little sad, a little anxious, a little angry.
However, I think it’s wrong to start with the premise that there is anything “wrong” with Microsoft. One could argue that this is just a time of growing pains for the company.
I must note before I continue that what follows is nothing more than my personal opinion, it’s just observation and conjecture based on my experience.
Microsoft grew to dominance in a very different technological era than the one we live in today.
AT&T was once absolutely dominant in the telecommunications industry, it slid almost into obscurity and it has since rebuilt itself to become a significant participant in a re-invented industry.
The question as it pertains to Microsoft is, does Microsoft need to do that today, and is it capable of doing so?mismanaged
Microsoft’s success was more than just a matter of being in the right place at the right time. Bill Gates made clever decisions during a perfect storm or circumstances that made the personal computer both possible and viable. But Bill Gates is not making the decisions at Microsoft any more. Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Office grew to dominance in a time when the personal computer was the entire industry. Now, I’m not suggesting that Microsoft didn’t make smart choices and investments along the way and I’m not saying that they didn’t develop some outstanding products because they did.
So, what’s different now? What are the new challenges?
When I last heard a statistic on the subject, something like 65% of Microsoft’s residual revenue stream was produced by Windows and Office, which I’ll collectively refer to as “the desktop”. We could make the argument that these two sets of products are really a single product line as they are inextricably bound and marketed to a single customer base via a unified strategy. Microsoft still has market dominance in the desktop, though it has started to lose some of that majority percentage to Apple, Linux, and non-PC based computing.
But the state of the desktop is becoming a problem for Microsoft. I predict Windows Vista will be looked back on as the biggest disaster in Microsoft’s history, and not because it was technically bad. In fact I don’t think it was technically bad, but I think as a product it was terribly . Microsoft started talking about Windows Vista and advertising it’s features far before it was sure it could even deliver those features. Ultimately it didn’t deliver some of the features that were most anxiously anticipated. Microsoft also failed to properly engage OEMs and ISVs to insure compatibility of existing hardware and application software.
Window 7 was an improvement, but Windows Vista had done it’s damage. Millions of users discovered that they didn’t actually need to upgrade their operating system just because Microsoft published a new version. The poor publicity of Windows Vista fueled an acceleration of new Apple Mac purchases and a bump in adoption of Linux on the desktop. People purchased new Windows based Personal Computers and “upgraded” Windows Vista to Windows XP.
Windows XP is still the most popular version of Windows and this is symptomatic of a bigger problem. When it comes to both Windows and Microsoft Office, the existing, and even older versions of the software are “good enough”. The more the products evolve, the more the development teams need to stretch to add new features and the less the average user needs those new features. Those features don’t always justify the cost of an upgrade.
Should I upgrade Windows and Office with features I probably don’t need or should I use that money and go buy a new iPad ?