Microsoft at Rest

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A friend and I were chatting today about Apple’s computers and he made the following statement which I thought worthy of response: “These machines are just mouth-watering, and the prices are highly competitive. If I didn’t have my Mini, I’d be getting one of their new 24-inchers. They’re just everything that anyone could want in a computer. With Parallels and the new Fusion from VMWare, there’s just no downside. If Bill Gates is getting a good night’s sleep, he’s on drugs.”

And respond I did:

Microsoft hasn’t been competitive to the average user for a long time.

Office has offered everything that the normal joe user would want since ’97 if not ’95 and all the extra features that have caused it to run more slowly and be more confusing have not made it a more attractive product. I don’t know anyone who has upgraded in years for any reason other than file compatibility.

Windows enjoys the dominance of the desktop because they won the war 15 years ago. Linux desktops and Mac OS X consistently score as well or better in usability and likeability and Microsoft has been reduced to lumping OEM sales into their Vista pronouncements to mask the fact that upgrade sales are virtually nonexistent. They’ve also been forced to allow major vendors to continue selling XP after their original target cutoff.

Bill’s not losing any sleep for three reasons:

First is that developers like working with their tools. Microsoft started as a language company and they make a toolset that has an incredibly broad reach along with all the products that you need to develop applications for any level from cell phone to enterprise.

Secondly, they’ve become the IBM of this era of computing. They’re the safe choice in every arena that they compete and it’s easy for support personnel to leverage knowledge of one aspect of their offerings into another. If you’re already running Windows networking, it’s easy to add Exchange. If you’re using Exchange, it’s easy to add SQL Server and reporting… Nobody gets fired for buying MS right now.

Third is inertia. For a given level of technology there has to be a major change to the ecosystem to force a significant change. Linux has become a major change factor to the mainframe systems and even IBM is selling linux instead of system 390. The emergence of the PC was the disruptive element that essentially killed minicomputers (IBM AS400 being the last holdout of that era that I know of) because of the distributed aspect of computation. Until something changes to disrupt the PC as the dominant platform inertia will continue to plod along.

Microsoft recognizes this and that’s why they have been so active in the phone market. So does Apple and that’s why they’ve taken the plunge into phones as well. This is the battleground of the next generation of computing technology. Whose OS are you carrying around in your pocket and who gets to define how you interact with the rest of the world.

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