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Forget the Apple Death Watch! How About a Microsoft Death Watch?

Over the years, some eager-beaver would-be tech writers have been busy proclaiming the imminent death of Apple. Now it’s fair to say that they came close to being correct a time or two, because Apple did some pretty foolish things during the late 1980s and early 1990s that nearly did the company in.

However, through a combination of luck, perseverance, and building lots of great products, Apple managed to confound the doomsayers and keep the company alive. Today, more people have Macs on their radar for near-future purchases than ever, and the figures are equal to or higher than those of most of the biggest-selling PC boxes.

Forget about the Zune, where most of the sales are apparently being rung up on last year’s model, with lots of leftovers being sold at fire sale prices. This season, it’s still all about the iPod, with the iPhone being the icing on the cake.

Yes, there are still a number of alleged tech pundits who trash Apple’s products, all-too-often with misleading and downright erroneous information.

Now if only Microsoft were held to the same standard. What would happen then?

Well, this week I read a fascinating commentary from my friend Daniel Eran Dilger at his RoughlyDrafted site, comparing Microsoft’s efforts at operating system and browser hegemony to the old Soviet Union. The article, along with others Daniel has written over the years, paints a frightening picture as to just how Microsoft used deception and illegal marketing tactics, and just plain financial muscle, to win dominance in the personal computing marketplace.

But just as the Soviet Union ultimately collapsed of its own accord due to the failed communist infrastructure, Daniel says Microsoft will face the same ultimate fate over time.

Of course, such things aren’t going to happen quickly, and you won’t wake up one morning to find all the major businesses around the world embracing Macs. If Microsoft does succumb to market desertion, the process will be slow, and erosion will take years before the effects become meaningful. And certainly Microsoft’s legion of online and print apologists will write lots and lots of verbiage in the meantime, explaining why nothing is really wrong with the company, it’s only temporary, and they’ll come out on top all over again in the end.

You might wonder, though, just how anyone can predict Microsoft’s demise, impending or long-term. Well, maybe not their demise so much as their slow, halting decline into eventual irrelevance. Regardless, it’s perfectly true the company is making huge profits, and it’s also true that they are still building products that people depend on to get their work done. What’s more, you can’t rightly say that Microsoft always delivers bad merchandise. I think, for example, that their Mac Business Unit, despite being constrained by misguided corporate policies, is filled with dedicated Mac-heads who are absolutely dedicated to building the best software they can, and I look forward with great anticipation to the forthcoming Office 2008 for the Mac.

At the same time, the vultures are not just circling Apple these days. Consider Web browsers, where Internet Explorer remains the standard, true, but not nearly by as much of a margin as before. Take the rise of Mozilla’s Firefox, Apple’s Safari, now on both the Mac and Windows platforms, Opera and a few others, and Internet Explorer has declined to 75% and the trend is continuing. This despite the fact that Internet Explorer 7 was pushed even to users of Windows XP.

Speaking of Windows, Microsoft has to feel embarrassed over how many of its customers have continued to say no to Vista. In fact, enterprises continue to cut back on their plans to upgrade from Windows 2000 and XP. Sure, it’s possible the forthcoming SP1 maintenance update will fix many of Vista’s ills. At the same time, preliminary reports indicate that Vista’s pathetic performance has not improved to any measurable degree.

Of course, on the long haul, Vista will undoubtedly deliver more huge profits for Microsoft. Just from the sale of new PCs, millions of OEM licenses will be sold, and most people, frankly, aren’t requesting Windows XP downgrades. The same is true for Office 2007 and the upcoming Mac version. Lots of businesses deploy these office suites on their personal computers, and they have yet to fully consider alternatives, such as the online collaboration applications from Google.

But just look at the fast-track growth of Macs. More and more people are seriously considering them, particularly in the note-book segment. Sure, some people will continue to buy retail copies of Windows to install under Boot Camp, Parallels Desktop or VMWare Fusion. But to many, it’s a crutch, a way to use legacy software until they find comparable products on the Mac.

Over time, as more and more Macs move into homes and businesses, you’ll even see developers far more inclined to deliver Mac versions of their key applications. And then things will really take off.

But the most important obstacle ensuring the potential end of Microsoft’s dominance, aside from inferior products, is the fact that more and more companies no longer fear their wrath for outright defiance. With government agencies, particularly in Europe, watching over Microsoft’s every single move, they can’t run roughshod over competitors as easily as they used to.

This trend may not play out in a year or two, but, over time, things are going to change. That is, unless Microsoft sees the handwriting on the wall and becomes a responsible corporate citizen that strives to compete fairly in the marketplace.