Suicidal Microsoft?

by Chris Seibold May 15, 2008

No doubt you've heard the horror stories about Vista. Apparently XP was jealous of all the bad press Vista was getting because now XP, the system so many people want to keep around because of the intolerable Vista, has jumped into the fray.

The very jaded among us might opine that a very botched XP service pack is little more than a thinly veiled attempt to coerce the laggards to migrate to Vista. While the notion seems plausible on first glance, conflating what can be ascribed to stupidity to conspiracy is usually a mistake. That said, there is a great joke in there somewhere.

Microsoft's recent missteps with Windows, XP and Vista, are more telling than most people realize. Most people look at the failure that is Vista and the recent problems with the beloved XP and think "The kids are playing their tails off and the coaches are screwing it up. That is a damn coaching mistake." Yes Microsoft is making mistakes but Microsoft has made mistakes before. Microsoft Bob, Plays for sure and Windows Me all were huge missteps but each time Microsoft learned from its mistakes and recovered.

The Vista mistake differs from the mistakes Microsoft had made in the past. This time around Microsoft is making mistakes with the most crucial part of its business empire, the core of the business: The OS.

What's ailing Microsoft? Paranoia. Instead of being innovative and stealing the best ideas or being bullying and forcing competitors out of business Microsoft has gone over to the lame side of the digital world and adopted the "If it makes money we can do it too" mentality. Well, that notion isn’t entirely true, it doesn't really have to make money to garner Microsoft's interest, it just has to seem like a plausible way to make money. OR maybe just cool and hip.

Take the Xbox. For years Microsoft was content writing games for other game systems but somewhere along the line Microsoft began to fear that game consoles were going to turn into replacements for home computers. Replacements for home computers meant devices that wouldn't run Windows (or at least didn't have to run Windows) so Microsoft said "We'll make out own console and rule the market." The Xbox and Xbox 360 turned out to be pretty nice, if you can get around the red rings of death and such, but so far they haven't actually been replacements for home computers and the profitability for Microsoft is suspect.

Game consoles weren't the only perceived threat at Microsoft, not by a long shot. A little thing called the iPod rolled around and Microsoft didn't pay attention. The iPod was just another bit of hardware after all. But when the iTunes store took off the company took notice. iPod+iTunes isn't just another gadget, it is a conduit to owning the media market. Knowing they had to do something lest Apple become the go to place for media content Microsoft didn't try something the company tried everything.

Hoping that it might catch on Microsoft tried to build a music store (fail), tried to come up with a new DRM scheme called plays for sure (fail, fail) and partner with third party manufacturers for better than the iPod devices (fail).

Those plans didn’t work out as expected. The aftermath is too embarrassing to go into but Microsoft realized they were headed down the wrong path and cooked up the Zune, A product complete with Zune points for buying songs (the concept piggies backs off of the Xbox 360). How did the overly complex Zune go over? Microsoft just recently passed the 2 million units sold mark with the Zune. If two million people read this column it will be an enormous success, selling two million Zunes when you're Microsoft is an enormous failure.

Which brings us to Microsoft's biggest blunder and most coveted prize: the search market. Of course, Microsoft wants to destroy Google. Microsoft wants to become the search engine go to option. It took them a few years but they suddenly realized that Google isn't a search engine company (no money in that) Google is an Advertising company. So Microsoft tried to partnered with Digg and then tried to buy Yahoo (fail).

The list continues, Google docs is slowly squeezing the life out of Office, Gmail is killing hotmail, OS X is seen as inherently superior by geeks. What is all this failure born of? Insecurity. Watching Microsoft in action there is only one conclusion: Microsoft is operating out of fear. You honestly get the idea that if a Microsoft VP was driving to work and happened upon someone selling flowers for a buck they'd do that too because selling flowers one at a time is a binary transaction and might be, in some half assed way, related to computers.

The solution to the woes of Microsoft is painfully simple. Do what you do best and forget about the Zune, the Xbox and Google and start writing compelling software. There was a time when the Windows was the best OS available, that isn’t the case any more. Put your best engineers on Windows and Office and screw the ancillary stuff. You want Windows to continue to dominate the world? Make it worth the money, make Google Docs seamlessly integrated then offer an online version of Office that is even better. Make posting a image to FLCKR as easy as transferring from your camera then offer something better than flickr.

In the end, if Microsft wants to stay the tech leader (or out of the big box of has beens) there is only one path and that path is better. It isn't enough to be more available (thanks to the internet) or more widely used (thanks to compatibility) from here on out if Microsoft wants to the market definer it has to create better products. Better doesn't always win, but better and backed by Microsoft will.

You're saying, you Microsoft hater you, that Microsoft has never made better products, they've only stolen others ideas. DOS was stolen from CPM, the GUI was stolen from Apple, Microsoft cheated to beat Word Perfect. Thing was all those moves were innovative. Stealing the GUI from Apple (which is questionable) was innovative. How so? Apple saw the Mac OS as a way to sell hardware, Microsoft saw it as a way to sell software. To Microsoft the GUI didn't just sell a box of chips it sold new copies of Word and Excel. But what about Microsoft stealing DOS? The runaway leader in the early computer market (a hobbyist market) was CP/M. The folks behind CP/M treated the meeting with IBM the way a paranoid, over protective hacker would. Microsoft treated the meeting the way business would. An innovative move at a time when people really didn't see the mass market appeal of software.

Innovation isn't always sexy, it isn't always the stuff people go crazy for. Innovation is more generally the little things that add up to big changes over time. Sadly, for tech users everywhere, Microsoft seems to have given up on innovation and making things better and now seems utterly content to sit on a big pile of dough and cash checks based largely on the companies earlier wins. So congrats Microsoft, you've built an empire but unless your new goal is to piss the thing away you're doing it wrong.


  • Wow!

    Khürt Williams had this to say on May 15, 2008 Posts: 45
  • If Microsoft really wants to maximize shareholder value, this is what they should do:  Break themselves up into an apps company and an OS company. Let the apps company pursue any opportunity on any platform be it Windows, OSX, Linux or the cloud.  Let the OS company focus solely on developing a modern OS without the added burden of running interference for MS Office.  So all the apps makers can work with them without the fear that their tech secrets will be passed over to MS’s apps division.  And if the apps work better because of this, then the OS becomes more desirable.

    It also gets the EU and US antitrust monkeys of their backs.

    But of course it will never happen because nobody in Redmond has the guts nor the vision to do such a thing.

    tundraboy had this to say on May 15, 2008 Posts: 132
  • I agree with tundraboy, and go one further:  Steal Mac OS X, don’t just COPY it.  Use Darwin as the basis of their next OS.

    Going UNIX will solve many of Microsoft’s problems, and if they go BSD instead of Linux they can finally compete with free.

    Microsoft’s keys to success are 1. Backwards compatibility (nerds @ work), 2. Direct X (nerds @ play), and 3. Familiarity (non-nerds who only know to hit the “Start” button and/or to look for “the big E”.

    If they:

    1. Make XP available as a VM for backwards compatibility like Apple did with the “Classic” MacOS.

    2. Make Direct X 11 available on the UNIX OS first, and

    3. Give it the old familiar shell of Win95/98/2000/XP

    then they will be unstoppable.

    TDShadow had this to say on May 15, 2008 Posts: 3
  • It’s nice to see this site finally talking about something the writers know and love, Microsoft.  Time to end the sham, there are already too many phony Mac sites.

    zato3 had this to say on May 15, 2008 Posts: 26
  • Thanks Zato, I almost forgot to plug what I really spent a lot of time doing on my Macs (and iPhones, and AppleTV and iPods)
    The Big Book of Apple Hacks
    I should’ve have subtitled it:
    Apple Products: A Love Story of Modification

    Chris Seibold had this to say on May 15, 2008 Posts: 354
  • “Thanks Zato”

    Stop feeding the trolls, people!  You only encourage them.

    As for your article, Chris, the real central problem with it is that XP SP 3’s problems are almost entirely isolated to HP machines with AMD processors.  Microsoft was aware of the problem and apparently warned HP.

    That doesn’t excuse the problems of course, but you can bet that if this were OS X, the fanboys would hunt down every possible explanation for why it’s someone ELSE’s fault.

    As to their other problems, which they do clearly have, I can’t really say other than they seem TOO big.  They do actually come up with some nifty stuff, but they can’t seem to capitalize on it.  Take Microsoft Surface, for example.  When Apple fans talk about a hands-free computing experience, and you think about what that would entail, Microsoft Surface fits the bill.

    Their attempts to enter the music biz are just rife with inexplicable missteps and mistakes.  The game business seems pretty good.  But overall, they can’t seem to get even as organized as Sony, which juggles multiple business models reasonably well.

    I think the first and most important step is to replace Balmer.  That would probably go a long way to changing Microsoft’s sense of identity and the media’s perception of the company.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on May 16, 2008 Posts: 2220
  • “Stop feeding the trolls, people!  You only encourage them.”-Beeblebrox

    That’s a laugh, coming from one of the two biggest Microsoft excuse maker-a$$ munchers on the tubes. (Beeb and NonZealot)
    You’ve found a good home for yourself here, Beeb. Invite NonZ over sometime. You, Chris, Tanner, Hadley, and NonZ could put out some serious hatin’ on APPL.

    zato3 had this to say on May 16, 2008 Posts: 26
  • Not your best article Chris. There’s no question that MS looks suicidal, but calling Windows the best OS without qualification isn’t a defendable position (best for whom?) and the problems with Microsoft stem entirely from the senior management not knowing how to produce products in a commercially competitive environment. Windows is simply an artifact of that. It’s architecture was and is weak and retards the advancement of the platform in the 21st Century.

    I’d expect to See Ballmer loose his job in the next year or so, and then see a string replacements come and go over the next decade as they try to shore up a sinking company.

    Microsoft makes these missteps simply because they can’t do any better. The facade of Windows is cracking, the lack of protection from competitors is driving them to the wall and management are running around like headless chickens.

    Suggesting this is a surprising change for Microsoft shows a lack of understanding of the circumstances that provided Microsoft its position of ‘success’:‘M’_is_for_Mafia.html

    Peter Cole had this to say on May 16, 2008 Posts: 7
  • CaptnJack wrote: “Finally someone in the Mac universe who understood what really happened.”
    Another Microsoft a$$ kisser. There’s an endless supply around here.
    They love your revisionist Microsoft history, Chris!! I think you’re on to something, keep it up. And you gotta love that “someone in the Mac universe”!!! What a joke! How much did you or Microsoft pay this guy?

    zato3 had this to say on May 16, 2008 Posts: 26
  • MS have certainly got a long way to go and a lot of work before they rescue their sinking popularity ship. They seem to have forgotten how to make a product cool and thats where they are falling down big time.
    cannabis seed

    Full Change had this to say on Nov 03, 2011 Posts: 5
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