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The Fear Factor: Apple Versus Microsoft

Can you imagine the world’s largest, mightiest software company being afraid? It doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense, and if you said it was utterly illogical, I’d understand. But when you’re number one in any industry, you can’t believe it’ll last forever, because it probably won’t.

Think of the millionaire who believes that a fortune, earned or otherwise, will soon vanish, and thus socks the money away rather than enjoy the largess. Of course, that’s not uncommon, particularly for folks for whom riches came at a relatively early age.

So indeed it’s very possible that Microsoft truly believes that its dominant status is temporary and may disappear eventually. I suppose it’s true in a greater sense. After all, IBM was once thought of as invincible, and certainly the original AT&T once ruled the telephone roost. Well, in that case, maybe AT&T, whose empire is being reassembled before our eyes, believes they’ll do so again, although Verizon might have other ideas.

In any case, despite its tiny share of the PC market, Apple must be giving Microsoft fits. Consider what happened in the music player arena, where Microsoft’s every effort to gain some traction was doomed to failure. Well, Microsoft doesn’t admit failure, so perhaps they will sell a million Zunes before the first half of the year, just as they promised. Remember the Zune?

Certainly, Microsoft isn’t finding things too simple out there these days. Take search. As Google continues to grow the market, and Yahoo manages to hold its own, Microsoft’s rebranded Windows Live search site is losing out. Maybe they shouldn’t have stopped calling it MSN Search. Did that make any sense to you?

I mean, if what if Google decided to call itself Gargle or whatever all of a sudden? Is Windows Live supposed to be sexier than MSN Search — or is it all the result of Microsoft’s compulsion to stick the word “Windows” everywhere, as if that is supposed to mean something that will resonate with people.

Well, I suppose it does resonate if you love malware and obtuse user interfaces?

The real question here is whether Microsoft truly understands why it isn’t loved, and why its frequent promises about new products and features aren’t taken quite as seriously as they used to be.

I mean, when you look at Microsoft’s history of failed promises, products that never appeared or which were not quite as represented, you have to wonder how they succeeded. This isn’t to say that they don’t make anything good. After all, Office for the Mac is pretty decent as sprawling software suites go. In addition, they make pretty good keyboards, although the colors are rather drab.

The Xbox is also a fine gaming machine, if you’re in to such things. And it’s quite true that Windows does get the job done. After all, it’s on more than 90% of the PC desktops on the planet, and most businesses have managed to live long and prosper regardless.

At the same time, Windows Vista, although a decent operating system overall despite its bloat and feature excesses, hasn’t conquered the world quite as Microsoft hoped. There are published reports that Mac sales were up 100% in January, a month where computer sales usually go in the other direction.

The iPod is also doing quite well, and the anticipated demand for the iPhone may be a lot higher than some of the naysayers suggest.

So what’s next? A Zune phone? And will anyone truly care? Maybe Bill Gates had the right idea about concentrating on his philanthropy and letting others worry about Microsoft’s daily operations. More power to him.