Microsoft Continues to Fade into Obscurity

August 16th, 2012

So let’s see here. Nokia’s efforts to sell smartphones with the Windows Phone OS have, so far, failed. It’s reported that AT&T invested $150 million to get you to buy a Nokia Lumia 900, the flagship Windows handset, and it failed. Those endlessly irritating ads said that the Lumia 900 was the first smartphone that wasn’t a beta, but then Microsoft tells you that the OS installed on that device, version 7.5, won’t be upgradeable to version 8.0, which ships this fall. In other words, the first non-beta smartphone is yesterday’s news.

I wonder how Nokia felt about that, as they continue to face shrunken earnings. What about the people who bought a Lumia 900 thinking it was something special?

At least if you bought an iPhone 3GS, 4, or 4S, you will be able to upgrade to iOS 6 when it arrives this fall along with the so-called iPhone 5. Sure, there are some features that may not work on the lesser-powered iPhones, but most will be there. Clearly Microsoft cares far less about the customers who, despite overwhelming odds, bought a Windows Phone handset anyway. The same could be said for Google, since only a fraction of Android users get the latest and greatest OS.

Now, nearly two months before Windows 8 is released, it appears that the widely-used name for the tiled OS that is the face of this new OS will no longer be called Metro. That’s reportedly the result of the fact that a German retailer, Metro AG, already owns the trademark. One preliminary name bandied about is “Modern UI,” which is the polar opposite of sexy and memorable. Sure, I suppose Microsoft could have offered a thick wad of cash to license the trademark. Apple does that very often, but that hasn’t happened, at least so far.

Some weeks back, Microsoft introduced its slim PC, the Surface, and promised that the Windows RT version, for ARM processors, would ship when Windows 8 arrives, on October 26. But as of the time this article was written, Microsoft’s site devoted to the tablet still bears a “Coming Soon” label, specs are bare bones, and the pricing hasn’t been set. One online blogger claimed that Microsoft planned to sell the 32GB Windows RT Surface for $199, but there’s no support for that rumor. And certainly there’s no way for Microsoft to come close to making even a tiny profit at that price. They’d probably be taking a bath north of $100 on each unit sold. Of course, Microsoft isn’t above squandering billions of dollars on new products and services in the hope of future profits. But I would think that the recent write-down of over $6 billion, because the purchase of an online ad company some years back didn’t yield profits, would be sufficient to give Microsoft pause.

And even though Apple’s OS X Mountain Lion has gotten consistent rave reviews, even from publications that usually favor Windows, the preview versions of Windows 8 have received a surprising number of thumbs down ratings. That doesn’t auger well for its success, although you can be sure Microsoft will dump loads of money promoting Windows 8 this fall.

I would think Microsoft’s stockholders would be up in arms over the way their investment dollars are being wasted on R&D that never, ever, pays off. Take the Xbox. Sure, Microsoft has earned a profit from gaming consoles, but not before billions were wasted. When do the profits overcome the losses? The answer is they probably won’t, because the Xbox, first introduced in 2005, is still sadly in need of a major upgrade. Yes, there have been interim enhancements. The Xbox 360 S, introduced in 2010, was mostly a repackaging effort to provide more ports, internal Wi-Fi, a more efficient cooling system and, apparently, a more reliable design to reduce the frequency of early hardware failures. But the luster of gaming consoles has apparently faded.

When it comes to Microsoft’s Mac software, the Mac Business Unit has apparently backed off from the promise of full Lion compatibility for Office 2011. While the full screen features has been added to some of the apps, there’s still no support for Auto Save and Version. Only the latest Outlook 2011 is compatible with the MacBook Pro with Retina display. The rest of the apps will appear fuzzy on the Retina screen, but not warm, without any commitment as to when, or if, that’ll change.

Now it may be that Microsoft is working on an Office 2014, for release next year or the year after. An Office 2013 for Windows is already available as a public beta, although the only apparent concession to touchscreens is the controversial ribbon. The little buttons become less little when you tap them.

I suppose it’s possible Windows 8 will confound the critics and get a reasonable amount of early adopters. Certainly a PC sales bump would help Microsoft and all those suffering PC makers. If Nokia’s efforts to build Windows Phone handsets bear fruit, at long last, that would be good news for Microsoft. But with co-founder Bill Gates touting more efficient toilets these days, you have to think that there’s very little to stop Microsoft’s onward descent into irrelevance.

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2 Responses to “Microsoft Continues to Fade into Obscurity”

  1. DaveD says:

    If I were a Microsoft shareholder, an enhanced stock-buyback program and/or better dividends would make me think about keeping the stock. However, seeing that Microsoft have misspent billions and showing signs of desperation with a fuzzy vision of their future. The mixing together an OS that is supposed to be good for desktop and mobile use and selling PC hardware. Desperation, I would choose to sell.

  2. tz says:

    IMHO, the surface will need to be sold via the X box strategy to have any hope to garner any significant market share. That would be selling it at a loss. However . . . . .

    This $199 rumor is nasty for MS if they are indeed not planning to sell it for that low of a price. There will be disappointment.

    A bit off topic, but does anyone remember the ipad rumor that popped up a number of weeks before the ipad was introduced that said they were going to cost $1000? Apple introduced it, and viola! $499. I seriously suspect Apple planted that $1000 rumor.

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