As much as I respect the interesting point of view presented in the article, I sometimes wonder if sites like Hacker News and Slashdot don't put us all into some sort of exceptionally nerdy bubble-think.
Like with the last week or so when everything I read seemed to say "google sucks", "lynch google", "burn and raze googles offices so they can never spam search results again"
What was the rest of the world's reaction to this seemingly endless flood of histrionic blog posts about broken google search results? Crickets chirped and a tumbleweed yawned with boredom.
Microsoft isn't dead. From what I see, in the last 30 days Microsoft is a minimum of 75% alive and we'd all be very much richer if we didn't forget that.
With the utmost respect of course.
Without exaggeration, hyperbole will literally be the death of us all.
Keeping that in mind shapes the conversation differently
In Microsoft's case I can absolutely see how 75% of the people visiting your website might be Windows Computers. But how many of those people want to be on Windows? How many are using it because there's simply nothing else or because they're just too lethargic to switch? How many are using it simply because they're on their work computer and no one's seriously challenged MS in the corporate space?
So Microsoft could very well be dead and not even know it (as pg's addendum to this post makes clear). If you accept that thesis it has very relevant implications to the intended audience.
From a startup's perspective it means you shouldn't rely on Microsoft technology and need to pursue a strategy that supports Microsoft's desktop but doesn't build on it (which probably means web apps). From an investing perspective it means looking down the line for any possible desktop competitor that could be viable. Because once that viable competitor comes along the bottom will fall out of Microsoft's profits.
Isn't that true for any conceivable product? I am using cars because there are no teleporters. I am using a keyboard because I don't have a good brain to computer interface yet. If I had a tablet, it would only be because there isn't a nano computer in my eyeball yet that projects directly on my retina (the real retina, not the Apple display).
If teleporters were invented today, chances are that you wouldn't be able to afford one for the next 20 years.
In fact, 75% of IT people I know could be about right.
Windows being the best choice of operating system is an entirely orthogonal issue from Microsoft being dead.
From a strategic perspective, that should be scary to Microsoft and anyone who is betting on Microsoft.
If Linux games would have been as good as Windows games, none of my friends would ever have installed Windows.
Unfortunately, we are a race of habit and being served tea instead of coffee every morning is gonna piss us off but eventually we ll get over it.
Edit: Another way to look at it, dead here means the opposite of "Stay hungry, stay foolish".
Some years ago, I didn't know people who knew about alternative OS-es. These days I don't know people using windows, who aren't considering buying an Apple product as their next computer. In this sense they definitely died recently.
They are still earning money but they are laying on their success AND I think that is what Paul Graham means as dead. They are dead because they are not playing the game anymore. They are just laying on their success with windows.
And thinking about more and more OSs are coming out this will not help them they need something for example to succeed on the tablet market and NO windows 7 and 8 or 9 is not the answer for a tablet.
(this is of course a great advance from the previous generation of thrilling innovation which was all about copying something that's been around for decades on mainframes/minicomputers, but ON A MICRO!!!) ;P ;P
My guess is that it was re-posted here for a some humor or entertainment purposes only.
I think everyone knows MS is far from "dead".
Who cares about browser percentage scores? People stopped making websites for IE-only years ago.
And, to reply to your reply to my reply, I disagree. Microsoft is very much in control. I think Microsoft is the competitor you always have to worry about which makes them a powerful force, which puts them in control.
To your second point: I disagree that Microsoft is the competitor you always have to worry about. They were in 2000. They stopped a long time ago. Perhaps you disagree, and that's fine, we'll leave it at that.
IBM is still with us. They're having to reinvent themselves regularly, because the only concept they own is still "Mainframe", and they failed to hold on to "PC". But they're still a huge company selling systems and professional services.
I expect Microsoft to go the same way. There will be significant but dwindling demand for Windows for 30 more years. (But probably not Azure, Windows Mobile, or XBox.) They will stay alive, and even prosper moderately, on that business.
He's the one who saw the advantage in IBM's footprint and the value it could add to a service based business. He's also the one who put an end to several sacred cows like OS/2 and took IBM's focus almost completely off mainframes.
The parallels to Microsoft are actually pretty compelling (For example "Windows Everywhere" is Microsoft's Mainframe imho). I don't think Ballmer has been a bad CEO (like some do) but his time is done. The old tricks aren't working anymore. They need to find someone with a fresh vision if they want to survive.
On the other hand, the fact that you hear about 'new-hot-startup' on all hi-tech sites doesn't mean it'll survive it's first year.
Yes they're dead if you're looking for the next hot new thing. But if you're looking at profit---they're the 3rd most profitable public company in the U.S. behind just Chevron and Exxon. No other software/hardware tech company makes more money.
So the two definitions pg gave in 2007 were "You don't have have to be afraid of Microsoft" and the definition above.
One issue that seems to come up a fair bit (often not directly) is that MS has a hypercritical culture, where there's always a reason NOT do something. Since they had big money makers in Office and Windows, no one really noticed for a long time..
I hear constant grumbling that people with ideas get their ideas shot down with lots of criticism. Many of these people say that MS would have killed the iPhone, iPad, and Wii had they been proposed at MS in final form.
It sounds like a company made of bright people who have no problem finding issues with products, but less good at fighting for new innovation against these same critics.
Or perhaps it is just a big company problem. When the two ways to get ahead is: 1. Do something and brag as much as you can about it (shameless self promotion) 2. Criticize everything about everybody around you, even for the most minute details (make your self look good, by putting down everybody else ideas or way to do things).
Not helpful behavior, all disguised in the name of the company's 'good' of course.
I'm also wondering how many of the accurate "it'll never work" calls are based on internal realities? As in "this awesome tablet won't fly because there's no way the Windows 7 people are going to allow us to create our own dedicated OS."
Also, about the criticism - what form does it take? Does it sound like people saying "Due to my lack of imagination and generally fearful demeanor, I say it can't be done for this BS reason"? Or does it carry the more savvy and well-informed tone of "Doing that at Microsoft will get you killed, and here's where you'll find the bodies to prove it"?
So you do this by pointing out to your manager all the good things you have done and shooting down anything anyone else does - since everybody knows this and everybody does it you have a catastrophic situation.
Ultimately the only solution if to have them crash their cars into each on the way to work to decide who gets the corner office (gratuitous Richard Morgan link)
Bing is run the same way, is it not?
It seems that Microsoft might finally be learning that if it acts as a loosely coupled set of components rather than a monolith with everyone getting veto on everyone else, things work a lot better (and presumably cheaper too). They have all the talent, they just kill it with middle-management (see: Kin).
that said, Paul was completely right: it's been a long time since they've inspired fear.
- The one that does interesting, innovative stuff but a failure/modest success in the marketplace (online, xbox, sync interface for cars, zune, windows phone 7)
- The "legacy" one that makes windows, office, and server apps, which makes a ton on licensing.
Nobody likes "legacy" microsoft, and it's the most vulnerable, but also has the most momentum behind them. People develop on or support the dominant platform to earn a paycheck, thus the dominant platform stays in place.
Until the PC goes away, and there's a huge shift to do real work off our phones/tablets/other non-legacy devices, MS will most likely be dominant in terms of market share.
Agree / disagree?
The Kinect is pretty impressive though. I wonder what the per-unit cost is for MS - are they making a direct profit on sales?
I have a sneaking suspicion this may happen much sooner than I initially expected. Currently working on business software for a non-U.S. market, word is that our customers have more smart-phones than PCs.
Being a developing country means they have been able to skip unnecessary dead-end technologies like landline phones and desktop computers, and go straight to an untethered personal computer: the mobile phone.
I've added it to my brainstorming list. Thanks!
In the past year with Windows Phone and "the next Windows" support for ARM, they have shown just how competitive they intend to be in those markets. They have spent the last 10 years moving toward hardware independence via .NET, and they are shipping it.
Is it as simple as with Java - ie, the same .jar that has minimal requirements, such as a CLI-only program, can be taken from one platform (say Windows) and run on another (say Mono on Linux) without a recompile?
Or is it more complex than that?
I believe the issue with porting is that there's some key components in the .NET framework that rely on the Windows OS kernel behavior and won't play nice with POSIX, but I haven't taken a close enough look under the hood to say that with 100% certainty.
There are some considerations to make when writing code for both platforms, just to ensure you won't use features not yet implemented in mono.
There's nothing wrong with that, though. No aspect of technology remains dominant forever and the web is not the end-all of computing, just as the mainframe and the desktop were not the end-all of computing either. Something else will inevitably emerge in the future which will supersede the web, however slowly it may occur...
It is a bit like population pyramids; every country has one, but some are signs of (future) population decreases. Microsoft's, according to one viewpoint, looked like it was on track to expand forever and occupy the whole world (oops; mixing metaphors here), but now looks as if it will/already has reached a plateau, or even will/already has started shrinking/collapsing (there are many variations here; I think they still have chances to win big in another field (for example, XBox or .NET seen as 25-year investments may turn out to be huge cash cows) but I doubt whether that 'big' will be big relative to their current size.
Perhaps only in the context of Microsoft where they're not a billion dollar business so therefore their success is "modest."
Microsoft ate a huge amount of cash to push Sony into a game they thought Sony wouldn't win: they invested heavily in the Xbox being a software hub that connected with media over the Internet. I would argue they were pretty much successful.
The belief is that 360 launched with HD-DVD not because Microsoft didn't think Blu-Ray was a worse bet, but because Microsoft wanted to delay HD physical media long enough for digital distribution to take hold. They made a huge loss on marketing and manufacturing a losing piece of hardware, but like I said, it probably worked.
So, by the games Microsoft was playing, I would say they view Xbox as a major success.
They are now making a profit , but the cyclical nature of console lifespans means money is now going to have to get sunk into R&D then the marketing of a new console, which will push profits down in about 2-3 years. I'd also expect the WP7 push to eat up revenue as well.
This creates a de-facto requirement to buy microsoft software - in many cases you need a copy of MS Office to render or interact with a document in a way they're used to, and all the documents in a company already are in that format, so the path of least resistance is to buy another copy of MS Office.
The web avoids the issue as it embraces non-proprietary formats (or ones that are well understood). Once people get their data in a better place, that's the beginning of the end for MS.
2) Don't editorialise the headline. It gives a distinctly Reddit-like feel to the place. The correct way to post this would have been to do an Ask HN and include the link in the body.
3) "How many...?" is obviously a poll question, so create a poll.
But Microsoft is not the monopolist it used to be. PG used "dead" to mean "is not scary any more", not "is slowly going bankrupt". So I think his conclusion still holds.
I think the key point of the article was this phrase: No one is even afraid of Microsoft anymore. They still make a lot of money—so does IBM, for that matter. But they're not dangerous.
And I think that's still true, even with the popularity of their latest hand-waving thing. Back in the day, almost everybody writing a business plan had to answer the question: "What will you do if Microsoft decides to crush you?" Nowadays, I imagine they ask that question about Google or Facebook.
Nowadays people no longer generally fear companies at all. In the 80s companies were much more prone to just crush you outright. Now companies "seem" more likely to buy you out. There is a lot more positioning now for acquisition. When I talk to founders they aren't worried about Google or Facebook crushing them, but are more focused on acquisition, even when attacking core businesses like search.
Ppl are no longer not afraid of MS because of something inherent in MS, but because the world has changed.
It always seemed a bit odd when you heard another story of them rifiling through a small startup in "due diligence" only to drop the offer and duplicate in house. In most of those cases the purchase price would have been peanuts to them. I'd say it had more to do with a culture at Microsoft than it did with good business practice. It seems like they realized this and toned down the jackassery.
I'm sure someone can point to some counter examples (every megacorp has to have some) but it's undeniable that things have changed.
As an MIT PhD student, I know many people who are eager to work at Microsoft research.
just for the record, take a look at the revenue and employe numbers to see what has changed since the 1960s (big blue is still on top):
$95.75 billion / 399'409 (2009)
$62.48 billion / 89'000 (2010)
$65.23 billion / 49'400 (2010)
$23.65 billion / 23'331 (2010)
Startups aren't going to go after highly conservative organisations like banks who won't risk changing from mainframes for no obvious gain. So there will be a market for Microsoft technologies (their OS and Office in particular) for a long, long time; long after consumers are mainly using Android/Linux/Macintosh-based tablets or other portable devices to do their personal computing.
Comparing Microsoft products with the kind of reliability banks require from mainframes misses the point. No product Microsoft offers can match 5 nines outside a controlled environment (and most probably, neither inside one)
Certain enterprise customers will always want to work with what they know, (i.e. typically Windows XP and Microsoft Office currently.) So this will be the long tail that Microsoft will coast along, if/when consumers migrate their personal computing to other platforms. Granted, there are certain situations when using an older technology such as mainframes makes complete sense, and there is little benefit to risk a major system upgrade; but there are many other situations where not upgrading seems lunacy (e.g. in an era when people want to have much of their banking online, the old mainframes in the background struggle to cope with the demand.)
As an aside, I interned at a bank where one of the tasks I did was adding HTML tags to predefined paragraphs that were in plain English. I did this in Excel, manually, line by line, on a PC sporting Windows XP and a 15" monitor. This could have been done in seconds with a shell script if anyone there had a clue. This kind of ignorance is a godsend to Microsoft who will continue to sell software licences to clueless companies for the foreseeable future.
Note the date: 9 Feb 1997 (!)
Didn't get it. They seemed dangerous because Paul wrote an essay?
* MacOS X on x86, maybe even desktop version OSX/iOS on ARM?
* Wintel (Windows on x86), WARM (Windows 8 on ARM)
* ChromeOS on x86 and on ARM
* Linux on x86 and ARM (Gnome, KDE, Unity, etc.)
With all these new AppStores and Marketplaces ISVs will be able to save money on marketing and sales, but they will need to spend several times more money on developing for several desktops platforms/CPU architectures.
I suppose that is fair and preserves my strong PG contrarian streak, the articles everyone else loves I hate, and the articles everyone else hates, I love.
From the article:
So if they wanted to be a contender again, this is how they could do it:
(1) Buy all the good "Web 2.0" startups. They could get substantially all of them for less than they'd have to pay for Facebook.
(2) Put them all in a building in Silicon Valley, surrounded by lead shielding to protect them from any contact with Redmond.
I feel safe suggesting this, because they'd never do it. Microsoft's biggest weakness is that they still don't realize how much they suck. They still think they can write software in house. Maybe they can, by the standards of the desktop world. But that world ended a few years ago.
This is brilliant. And when we look at the Microsoft Kin Phone Debacle of 2010, we see that indeed they splashed the cash to buy a startup (Danger) to get into the smartphone game, but they critically failed the second part of the plan, which is the lead shielding bit.
This is why PG is a genius, and this is why we can say that Microsoft is dead. Because they are the problem. The problem with Microsoft is Microsoft. Because they are irrelevant, and to Microsoft being irrelevant is worse than death.
One of the things I've noticed about Microsoft over the last couple of years, is that when someone leaves Microsoft, and they blog about it (as you do), and then you get ex-Microsofties arguing with current-Microsofties, is that they have their own weird sub-culture and language that is incomprehensible to anyone on the outside. The more inward focused they become, the less and less relevant to everyone on the outside they will be. This is another sign of their decline.
Joel Spolsky said some interesting things about this, on the topic of hiring programmers. Someone asked him how much a programmer should be paid, and he said that across the industry there was a pretty uniform amount of profit that a company can make per programmer - something like $100k-200k, but that there are a couple of exceptions to this rule, one is Microsoft, because the Windows and Office parts of their business are ridiculously profitable, and the other is Google. And that Microsoft makes millions per programmer, so they can afford to go out and hire the good and the bad, in order simply to prevent them from working for their competitors. So they hire all these people, and then ignore them or put them to work on bike sheds. I think it is very dangerous for a company of any size to ignore their smart people, and this is another sign of their decline.
Fortunately, however, Google came to the rescue with Android and I'm now far more relaxed about it.
A lot of people claim to be scared of Google though ...