Who Wins if Microsoft Dies

by Chris Howard Apr 26, 2007

Springtime in the northern hemisphere, must be Microsoft hunting season. The Inquirer kicks off with a piece pleasantly titled, “Microsoft is in deep trouble and now it is going to die”. Man the life rafts! Seems folks on the north end of the globe stumble out after their winter slumber, rub their eyes, and say, “What?! Is Microsoft still alive?”

Yep, ‘fraid so.

In that article by the Inquirer, the author writes, “Microsoft has lost its ability to twist arms, and now it is going to die.”

Ironically, one of the news items referred to in it says MS wants to double its user base to 2 billion people. Is a company with 1 billion users really in its death throes?

That arm-twisting ability is in direct reference to Dell giving users the choice of Vista or Windows XP. The author assumes no vendor has ever done such a thing before, yet Windows 2000 was still an option on Dell PCs long after Windows XP was released. In my previous life as an IT manager, we didn’t start buying XP-equipped Dells until XP SP1 was available.

Now, before we get too far, I must state my own feelings on Microsoft: it’d make a great applications company. I like much of the software Microsoft makes; however, its OSes I have more issues with. MS office, for instance, is no better and no worse than most other apps on the Mac. For all its shortcomings, it has a lot going for it as well. If it wasn’t made by MS, most of us would like it. Ironically, many people are happy using its clones.

If you woke up tomorrow and heard MS had closed shop, you’d expect Apple to expand to fill the void. The Linux crew would like to think Linux would, but with what? Which version of Linux would the corporate world latch onto? Which would the home user punt on? It’d be 1984 all over again, with every man and his penguin fighting for your desktop.

Microsoft might fall over and die. Okay, really, I’m just saying that to appear objective. Personally, MS is here for the long haul.

Think about how extensive its grip on the computing world is. If Microsoft ceased to exist, cold-stone-dead, tomorrow, the corporate world would hang onto its OSes and applications as long as possible. That in itself could last years. What would accelerate the demise of that software would be security issues. With no Microsoft around to patch new holes, the corporate hand would be forced more quickly than desired.

So, over the course of several years, all users would begin transitioning to another OS. Apple, with extensive cross platform applications such as the Adobe apps, and the ability to provide full legacy support for Windows to smooth the transition, would be well placed to take Microsoft’s place as the dominant OS supplier in the world. Well, until platform irrelevance becomes the norm.

So that’s the up side. Apple wins! Of great concern, though, would be the cost.

Every developer of Windows applications would have to switch development to other platforms. Given that it’d be too early to hedge bets, it might lead to massive development on platform independent systems, such as Java and the web. If that happens, one of the key stumbling blocks to the adoption of Linux would be removed. So Apple might not win after all. Better put down those pitchforks and other farm implements you were waving menacingly at Microsoft.

The financial impact of redevelopment and switching would be staggering and, with businesses having to spend so much in that area over a short time, could drive the world back into a major depression. Although the really big corporations would benefit as they’d buy up all the major software developers.

Despite saying Microsoft is here for the long haul, I would never argue that Windows won’t die; after all, the IBM PC did. The difference though, is that anyone could make a PC, whereas only MS can make Windows.

Who’d have ever thought IBM, who defined the PC, could ever fall into irrelevance in the PC industry? Many Baby Boomers and a fair few older Generation Xers still refer to PCs as IBM-compatibles. IBM itself, though, survived by having its fingers in many pies. As does Microsoft.

However, Microsoft’s Windows does still have the same desktop fight as everyone.

The likely path of the next decade or two is a transition to platform irrelevance at the desktop. Apple Computer, Inc., will need to become simply Apple, Inc., and have its fingers in other pies if it is to survive with some relevancy. (Oh right, of course, it has already done that.)

Microsoft, although possibly losing its desktop dominance, will roll on and its OSes will still dominate, albeit out of sight on servers. And its applications will still command majority shares of their markets.

Rumors of Microsoft’s impending death have been greatly exaggerated. Microsoft is here to stay—in one form or another—for a very long time. And its applications really aren’t that bad, just a bit bloated.

A quick death for MS would be disastrous for the majority of the world. The majority of the world runs some form of Windows. Some crazy countries’ defense forces even run it in mission critical environments.

So, long live Microsoft, may it die off slowly.


  • In the event that Microsoft were too suddenly perish, it would probably accelerate the trend towards WebApps, aka Google Office etc. In which case Linux wins on a technicallity.

      As a sidenote, we should probably be more worried about the Mac OS then about Windows. As Apple morphs into a consumer products manufacturer investors will pressure Apple to spin off their OS division and focus on what is bringing home the bacon.

    simo66 had this to say on Apr 26, 2007 Posts: 78
  • If Microsoft were to go bankrupt, someone would purchase them.  Companies with that much name recognition don’t just go away.

    mikecol had this to say on Apr 26, 2007 Posts: 2
  • “Apple… would be well placed to take Microsoft’s place”

    I think that Google would be in the stronger place than Apple. Google has bought up so much of the programming talent they have a much stronger position to go after an empty software market.

    Graham had this to say on Apr 26, 2007 Posts: 24
  • Microsoft could never go out of business in the traditional sense of the word (like we think of that pizza place down the road suddenly boarded up and gone).

    Worst case scenario, MS starts losing money (they have a lot to lose, so it could go on for a while) and the shareholders vote to break up the company into application and OS or along some other similar lines. MS then becomes 2 or 3 separate smaller, more agile companies. This might actually do them some good in terms of streamlining management, but the new companies would end up in a fight to control Office, which is their big cash cow.

    They probably would not be a target for takeover because they have too much liquid assets. The board of directors would not find it too hard to defend a hostile take-over with stock purchases, and they’re not likely to voluntarily sell the company.

    But the fact is, the “Microsoft is Dead” articles will never come true, because Microsoft still makes barrels and barrels of money from Office and Windows. They are so deeply entrenched that if they do start a true downward spiral toward unprofitability, there will be recognition of this fact long before they start to lose any money and adjustments will be made, even if that means a few rounds of layoffs and restructuring (which would probably help them about now).

    Even if Vista flops as bad as Windows Me, they’ll still be making barrels of money… They just will lose the rest of whatever small reputation of being a market innovater they still have.

    vb_baysider had this to say on Apr 26, 2007 Posts: 243
  • I would never argue that Windows won’t die; after all, the IBM PC did.

    You’re comparing a product here with a whole company.  The IBM PC did die, but IBM did not.  Windows may die.  Office may die.  But Microsoft dying as a company is far, far off.  Most of the articles that proclaim MS’s imminent demise are wishful thinking.

    For the most part, I *gasp* agree with vb_baysider.

    Also, I do not consider Apple’s victory in the OS market an “up side” unless this forces them to license the OS to other hardware manufacturers.  The last thing we need is a monopoly on both the OS and the hardware.  That’s a step backward.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Apr 26, 2007 Posts: 2220
  • MS can live off sales of their books, training for MCSEs, and selling mice and keyboards and MS Office without selling another copy of MS Vista to Mactel users. (Snarky Remark)

    Robert Pritchett had this to say on Apr 27, 2007 Posts: 25
  • As usual from the Mac Wiz of Oz, it is a very well thought-of and well written piece of MS’s rumoured impending demise, etc, etc,...

    Well, as die-hard Mac user as any in Macland can be, I will not profess or even support that nocturnal dreams of MS diminishing towards a black hole.

    Any company with that breadth of reach from OSs, office/enterprise applications, and now kindling consumer electronics, will not go away that easily.

    MS might someday find themselves irrelevant in the OS arena but will somehow reinvent themselves in other nooks of the tech world. They have billions to easily do this (as we are witnessing with the red ink being washed on XBoxes and Zunes). MS will reinvigorate themselves somehow barring great incompetence of their senior management team.

    As for Apple taking over the void that MS would vacate, that would not be pleasant as it would dethrow a monopolist with another monopolist (and that is a compliment for Apple).

    All I wish for Apple is to have a 30-40% share in the PC world. That is plenty of mass to wriggle enough clout, but not too dominant to become a monopoly. That is the sweet spot in the market share curve - the critical mass.

    Robomac had this to say on Apr 27, 2007 Posts: 846
  • Personally I’m hoping it doesn’t surpass 10%. I do agree with Beeblebrox. Apple is a great thing to have around in the current environment, but a world of Mac monopoly would turn out to be just as bad as a Microsoft monopoly: monopoly status transforms a business surely and irreversibly.

    That is no excuse for Microsoft, please be it noted.

    Benji had this to say on Apr 27, 2007 Posts: 927
  • (excuse the non-sequitur in 1st and 2nd sentences btw. I think macs do have advantages just from being a minority.)

    Benji had this to say on Apr 27, 2007 Posts: 927
  • Ben,
    Only 10%?  We need at least 20% to start getting more freakin’ games!

    Isn’t that really what we all want?  : )

    vb_baysider had this to say on Apr 30, 2007 Posts: 243
  • True. True.

    Benji had this to say on Apr 30, 2007 Posts: 927
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