The Microsoft On-The-Skids Report

December 24th, 2008

It appears that no company is immune from economic woes. Toyota, now the world’s largest automaker, was once thought to be bulletproof, yet the company is about about to suffer from the first financial loss in its history. Apple appears to be cutting back on production for this quarter, although it seems certain they’ll still report decent profits.

That takes us to Microsoft.

Stung by tepid sales of Windows Vista, with more and more companies sticking with XP and refusing to upgrade, there are published reports that the world’s largest software company may also be looking to shed bodies from among a roster of over 90,000 employees.

Although nobody wants to see people lose their jobs, some folks who resent anything with the Microsoft label on it might just feel it serves them right. Besides, you can always hope that whatever personnel are cut from the ranks will have sizable golden parachutes, so they can sit back, play golf or do some traveling with their riches.

Or maybe I’m just being too charitable.

Ever since the Night Owl began a Microsoft death watch, I have been carefully watching for signs that they’re on a steady, inexorable decline, and I’ve not had long to wait. You all know, I’m sure, that Internet Explorer’s share of the browsing universe recently dipped below 70%, according to worldwide surveys.

Microsoft watchers can’t escape the fact that such products as the Zune were huge failures in the marketplace. Maybe that’s why promotion has been lax; they knew going in that they had a dog on their hands, and they just wanted to put their best corporate face forward and hold back on huge cash outlays for R&D.

Efforts to expand the reach of the Windows Mobile platform seem to be failing. These days, all the smart-phone related talk is about Apple and Research In Motion. If you have a Verizon Wireless account, you get a BlackBerry. If you have AT&T, your inevitable choice is the iPhone, yet even Apple admits RIM is a good company and a worthy competitor.

On the operating system front, it appears Microsoft may be rushing to get Windows 7 out the door by mid-year, hoping against hope that the Vista debacle will soon be forgotten. Then again, doesn’t Vista’s successor seem to be nothing more than a fast shave and haircut designed to obscure the fact that there are not a whole lot of real differences between the two.

True, Apple isn’t promising much surface change with Snow Leopard, but the guts of the system might make you feel that you have given your Mac a healthy dose of steroids. That is, if the promise of superior multiprocessor and graphic chip support shows a genuine advantage in the real world. Indeed, it would also be nice to see 10.6 arrive in the first quarter, if rumors of an accelerated release schedule prove to be true.

Perhaps it’s also true that the nuttier-than-ever Microsoft CEO, Steve Ballmer, is praying that Steve Jobs is quickly disengaging himself from Apple. That might afford them a better opportunity to compete, although I would disagree.

As you’ve read here and elsewhere, the Jobs culture is deeply ingrained within Apple, and were he to depart tomorrow, the company would likely go on to follow through and expand his vision. So you wouldn’t see a sudden drop-off in new iPhone, iPod and Mac releases. Everything would go on as before, only you wouldn’t have Steve Jobs to kick around anymore, and I doubt his successors would be as polarizing to the media.

This is not to say that Microsoft can’t right the sinking ship. But, as with Apple, fixing the problems has to start from the top. If the executives can’t voice and implement sound policies to address the company’s inefficiencies and poor product design, even the most brilliant employees will be left frustrated, feeling ineffectual.

When Steve Jobs returned to Apple, he quickly shed products that were not advancing the company’s growth, and built a leaner, meaner corporate machine that has grown to unexpected heights.

In the same tradition, new leadership at Microsoft would have to break out virtual hacksaws to clean out the dead wood, and there must be plenty. Consider, for example, what Apple can do with a staff a third of that of Microsoft, including a retail chain with over 250 branches.

Does this mean Microsoft can’t succeed beyond the cocoon of its software division? I don’t pretend to have all the answers to that question. But fixing the software issues would do wonders towards restoring faith in their products.

And, of course, if Microsoft were to ultimately vanish from the scene, would anyone, other than their former employees, really miss them?

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6 Responses to “The Microsoft On-The-Skids Report”

  1. Tired of MS says:

    …if Microsoft were to ultimately vanish from the scene, would anyone, other than their former employees, really miss them?…


    Granted, it’ll be tough for MS employees for a short while. But, the money that keeps MS alive today, quickly and absolutely NEEDS to move on to upstarts — that will bring ‘innovation’ and ‘competition’ to the tech industry.

    MS can’t change. Nor does it want to. It’s the proverbial bully that everyone in town wants dead — other than MS toadies. It can’t see the vast amount of damage that it does. And, it will only continue till it’s bitter end.

    FWIW, I will NEVER buy or even steal any MS products. Seems like a feeble way of punishing them, to be sure. But, try to look at it as — not rewarding them for UNACCEPTABLE behavior.

    Long live the tech industry — without Microsoft.

  2. Richard says:

    I bought Word with my first Mac, an SE, for $1 in 1986. It was a promotion. I replaced it with WriteNow, and later with a succession of other word processors. Now I use Pages for my novels. I have an old copy of Word I bought soon after OS X came out which I use for compliance purposes with editors. When not in editing mode, I just export from Pages, which works fine. I have allowed two Word upgrades to go by, and do not plan to buy another MS product not because I hate MS — it’s true I don’t like them much — but because other companies produce better products.

    MS will be around for generations, slowly dying. I don’t think there will be a tipping point where we will hear a horrendous noise and the body of the giant will collapse nearby. No bang, just a whimper.

  3. John Davis says:

    Let’s not forget that Microsoft used to make good software. Word was an excellent program up until Version 5.1. Then it went weird. It’s now a bloated, ugly monstrosity that’s too complicated to be a word processor and lacks features for it to be a desktop publishing app. Their OSes leave me cold. Like the current Word and Excel they look like they were designed by a committee, because they were.

    I remember having an argument with a pc user in which he made the point that Mac cannot be a leader because they only have 5% of the market (as it was at the time). The point that I replied with is that the leader is ALWAYS far smaller than the group being led. There is one or two shepherds, a few dogs and several thousand sheep. Even in its “beleaguered” days, Apple was a leader. Microsoft slavishly copied the interfaces of the Mac and NeXT.

    But, Microsoft provided competition. And we need this.

    John Davis

  4. Andrew says:

    I use Word everyday, mostly because I have to, but also because after more than twenty years on both Mac and Windows systems, it is the easiest way for me to get my work done. Are other word processors more elegant? Absolutely. When it comes time to get real work done, however, I reach for what I know.

    There is also the issue of compatibility. Other programs can read and write word formats, but not perfectly. I exchange documents with courts and if not using the exact same program, often down to the same version, my documents may be rejected by some court clerk who (rightly) doesn’t want to spend his or her lunch hour reformatting my document because I insist on using OpenOffice or some other alternative to Word.

    MS does still make good software. Entourage is a terrific email/calendar/PIM that is the best and currently only way to fully tie into another excellent piece of MS software, which would be Exchange. Exchange is the absolute gold standard for shared calendar and messaging in the corporate world, and while too expensive for individuals, is (with the Small Business version) well within reach of small businesses like mine.

    I recently moved my entire law firm to Macintosh workstations, but on the server side I kept Exchange. I would hate to lose this capability as there currently is nothing out there to replace it with. Leopard Server and its calendar server just aren’t there yet.

  5. Ted says:

    Sorry, Microsoft has never made “good” software. They have bought a lot of software firms and re-packaged their products to fit into their monopolistic portfolio, but they have never built anything innovative.

    Sometimes people are confused when Microsoft comes out with a “solution” to a problem that they are having with Windows or a Windows application. But if you look closely you will see that they are simply fixing a problem that “they” previously introduced into the marketplace. The best things Microsoft has produced are simply workarounds to problems that did not exist before they came along.

    Before Microsoft, and yes there was a vibrant innovative tech community before Microsoft’s current Windows based domination, we had healthy competition. We had office suite shootouts published in magazines. We had new hardware and software platforms trying to gain mindshare by being better than the status quo. It was fun and exciting. Microsoft took that away. They killed innovation and for that I will always hate them.

  6. So long Microsoft … it wasn’t good to know you.

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