Microsoft: Irrelevancy Comes from Mobility

by Chris Seibold Oct 07, 2009

It doesn't take too much searching to find an article that opines today is the end of Microsoft. Everyone secretly believes they live in the end of days and for Apple fans the end of Microsoft bears more than a passing resemblance to the rapture.

The "Microsoft becomes irrelevant over night" scenario might be fun to think about, and while you can make semi-plausible arguments about how it might occur, the truth is that Microsoft would have to almost willingly commit corporate suicide to go from market leader to bottom feeder in the span of, say, five years. That doesn't mean that Microsoft will always dominate the tech world, it just means that for the foreseeable future Microsoft will dominate the desktop. If the only thing Microsoft can dominate is the desktop then the company is certainly doomed. Sure there will be a nice business cranking out stuff for PCs for a few years, but remember, there are companies who still make parts for AMC branded cars, and no one has bought a new Pacer since the early eighties.

Before we get to the reasons Microsoft is doomed, we need to talk about bulldogs. Bulldogs are prone to obesity and skin problems but when exercised properly they become walking bear traps. A  bulldog is a compact, muscular body that is devoted to the support of massive, crushing jaws. Sure, they are still very friendly to people, but they seem to view most other animals as minor annoyances on days when a bulldog is feeling friendly and squealing sport if the some other animal is about to have a really bad day.

At least that is the way life was with a bulldog that ruled his and my neighborhood on daily walks. Other dogs would maintain a great deal of distance and only those safely ensconced behind fences would dare to bark. Who could blame them? With a face that looked like it was a pumpkin carved with a nine iron and teeth that curved back towards the throat like some particularly painful one-way street, even a canine brain could easily grasp that challenging a waddling pit of Saarlac wasn't the best idea.

Then some new neighbors arrived. They moved in with the standard couch and scratched dinette but they also came with a companion. The companion was half boxer and half mastiff with rippling muscles that made you wonder if its daily Alpo wasn't spiked with a good dose of steroids.

Since the hell beast (actually a very friendly, very personable animal) only lived a few doors down it was only a matter of time until the bulldog and the Clydesdale with canines met. The resultant meeting was sure to end in blood. The bulldog was used to ruling, he wouldn't allow another dog, even if it was more genetic-freak than actual-canine to challenge his supremacy. I waited for the inevitable day when the dogs saw each other and a battle of epic proportions would ensue.

My instincts were dead wrong. While I expected a flurry of flashing canines, what I got was the bulldog simply ignoring the other dog as if it were a horse or something. Which, it turns out, is pretty standard dog behavior when a top dog is faced with a clearly superior rival.

All of which is necessary to understand why Microsoft is being so quiet about the iPhone. Microsoft has semi-launched the next version of Windows Mobile. Usually the launch of anything at Microsoft is big news, the press eats it up and the Microsoft PR machine feeds the frenzy. But not with Windows Mobile 6.5. The release of that hardly merits a peep.

The clamming up starts at the top. You might have noticed that Steve Balmer has been happily crowing about stealing market share from the Mac and calling increases in Safari's market share rounding errors. Since Microsoft absolutely owns both those markets and will own them for the foreseeable future you can imagine why Steve is so fond of attracting attention to those areas.

But you won't hear him talk as boldly about phones, and it isn't because he's stupid and doesn't see the threat. It's because, right now, he knows Microsoft is beat. Beat by Apple, beat by Google, beat by Nokia and beat by RIM. Microsoft has a large installed base, but so did the Apple ][ and there aren't a lot of people rocking the Apple ][ these days.

This behavior is telling. Take a look at your phone and decide what it doesn't do that you really need a home computer to do. Cell phones have been convergent devices for years. First they were a phone, then a personal information manager, then a digital assistant, then a navigation device and so forth. What is the next device to be consumed like a dot in a game of Pac Man? The home computer and, as Steve Ballmer will be happy to tell you, 90% of those are Microsoft PCs.



  • Yes, Microsoft will live a long time yet.  It won’t thrive but it will not suddenly seize up and die.  For a glimpse into the path it’s on right now, take a gander at GM ca 1985.  Honda and Toyota were starting to roll out quad-valve all aluminum overhead cam engines, GM was hanging onto the old push-rod twin-valve iron.  And though GM never had a hot-air specialist like Ballmer, their attitude was “We’re GM and we’re invincible and all these competitors are gnats at worst.” 

    Microsoft really needs to get a new CEO if they want to avoid GM’s fate.

    tundraboy had this to say on Oct 07, 2009 Posts: 132
  • I think irrelevant is the right word. Microsoft won’t go away. They have plenty of money in the bank so they will stick around, but it’ll be a while before they are once again showing off fantastic innovative things.
    Your last line about desktop PC and it’s imminent morphing into something else deserved further articles. That’s the trend that is going to shape the next 4-5 years of the “personal computing” industry.

    mcloki had this to say on Oct 07, 2009 Posts: 25
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