It's hard to disagree with sarcasm on the internet. But in this case you are absolutely correct.
Microsoft used to control the future of computing. Now they are yet another enterprise software company with no apparent mission except to make money.
The lay somewhere on a continuum with IBM, Oracle, SAP all the way through to companies like CA. At one end of that spectrum they do research and produce software that people use to do their job 0.5% better than they used to. At the other end they may as well be accounting companies for all the impact they have on the future.
Yes, they make money. And yes, I admit they try to compete with consumer oriented technology companies and have some interesting products. But you are 100% correct - Microsoft is now primarily an enterprise software company.
Meanwhile Apple/Google/Amazon/Facebook/etc look toward the future.
There is a tendency to believe that the companies which are doing well right now have 'won' in some sense. We need to understand that this is the state of affairs right now. There is a non-trivial possibility that Facebook/Google etc become lumbering giants just like MSFT.
Microsoft's approach was different: let others innovate, then we'll dominate. Others would come up with new stuff, and Microsoft would "embrace and extend" whatever got traction in the market by adding it to their near-monopoly OS/app stack at whatever price served the purpose of eliminating the inventor and taking their market.
This strategy always made Gates paranoid, because the risk was that some alternative to the MS stack would take off too quickly to be killed. Without their near monopoly power as a weapon, they would have no special competitive advantage.
What they feared happened in the mid-90's when the Web took off and the browser/Java combo threatened to be a universal VM on top of every PC. Gates fought back with every weapon he had to fragment the universality of the meta-platform. He was able to greatly slow, but not stop, the emergence of an OS-independent Web, because he controlled the majority of the OS market underneath it.
But then the second shoe dropped. Mobile came along and MS was not able to stop its explosive growth. The growth of mobile made MS just another minority OS underneath the Web, and they lost their ability to disrupt the standardization of the Web platform. They were in the position they had always feared: having to support the standards of others or be abandoned by their customers as the Web became the new monopoly platform.
If Ballmer could have created the mPhone and mPad and given away for free an mOS for phones that was a mini, modified version of .Net, maybe they could have kept the Web fragmented and continued their platform dominance, but whether that was even possible (MS did things second, not first, was only a minor hardware developer, and seldom gave things away except when tied to something they sold), I'll never know. Gates got to wield monopoly power; Ballmer didn't.
MS's monopoly-based business model has to be abandoned, but do they have any other? They'll come up with something, as IBM did, but I don't think they'll ever be leaders again, because they didn't really "lead" before, except in market share.
Google's business model (expand the Web platform for free, dominate Web advertising, and employ an army of PhDs looking for something besides advertising to do) is nothing like Microsoft's. If they ever lost advertising, they'd go down harder than MS, and they could lose it if they ever lost much search mindshare.
And Facebook? They're a website. They are completely dependent on the psychological inertia of their users, which I wouldn't bet on long term.
"(MS did things second, not first, was only a minor hardware developer, and seldom gave things away except when tied to something they sold)"
This is where Jobs learned a lesson from his first time running Apple.
Apple introduced such a polished product for an initial launch, and iterated so fast with iPhone that the market was already taken before Microsoft understood what was happening. I can imagine Gates responding to iPhone with an emergency memo like he famously did with the web, but Ballmer didn't seem to understand the significance of this new market being created until it was too late.
But it WAS too expensive. The fact that the iPhone price dropped within two months of it being introduced is proof of that. And you have to remember, that most touch phones sucked at the time, and they ALL sucked if they didn't have a stylus, and it was a really, really, big deal to have an all touch interface that truly worked.
And, it wasn't as if Microsoft didn't have a mobile OS. Windows Mobile always worked decently, but never was just truly great. And it never focused on being just for phones. It was adaptable to any type of mobile environments, like Android is trying to do right now.
It is also more difficult to implement new technologies on top of old ones, which was Microsoft's first choice when they tried to make the phone part of Windows Mobile more modern, until they realized that that house of cards wouldn't stand. Then they did a rewrite of, which lead to Windows 7.
So, from Microsoft's point of view, it was a limited phone, that had no way of adding apps, no business functionality, no keyboard for typing, no true enterprise security, and for a whole lot of money, only available on AT&T. I too thought that the original iPhone wasn't that great, only marginally better than the ROKR E1, functionality-wise. Though, I did think that that original iPhone screen was truly awesome.
So, let's not come down to, to hard on Balmer for not recognizing the iPhone at first for the threat it came to be.
If you watch jobs unveil the iPhone, there is a moment, when speaking of three new revolutionary devices being released that day (http://youtu.be/0KfrSzyXmiw?t=1m5s), he says "the first one is wide screen iPod with touch controls. The second is a revolutionary mobile phone. And the third is a breakthrough Internet communications device.", repeats the line, and then chuckles as everyone realizes that they're all one device... I remember streaming that live and thinking: "Holy crap, phones don't suck anymore". If Balmer watched that and laughed at it, I'm going to be hard on him. He had the chance to react and he let Jobs walk away with it. So many people, including me, we're just waiting for a cell phone that didn't suck.
But as a leader of technology, Ballmer should have realized that in the early stage, new technology is expensive, and people (particularly fans of apple) will buy. The iPod only a few years earlier was also too expensive, and had a bunch off early tech 'flaws' ( Mac only, FireWire only, etc), yet came to dominate the market, and Microsoft couldn't catch up. Ballmer, or the other senior leaders at MS should have recognized the iPhone as the evolution of the iPod.
Everything is too expensive when it first comes out. The first cars were so expensive that building a car that the men on the assembly line could afford was an innovation (so was using an assembly line). Ballmer himself probably remembers when microcomputers were fairly expensive. Maybe he laughed at his college buddies for dropping out to write microcomputer software and start a company on that premise. But if he didn't learn his lesson in his decades in the tech industry, I don't know what he thought he was doing at Microsoft.
I'm speechless. Well, almost. Apple revolutionized the music industry, how music is sold, and how it's listened to. It revolutionized phones. Its iPad changed consumer computing, media consumption, user interface expectations.... Five year olds are totally at home on an iPad and think a screen without touch "isn't working". As they get older, all screens will have to conform to the new reality. They revolutionized shopping for music, movies, and apps. They revolutionized brick and mortar retailing with the most profitable stores of all time.
And Google has changed human access to information so profoundly that I can't adequately explain to my kids what it was like growing up in a world so cut off from things other people knew. Google Earth is something from science fiction. Street View lets me get to know my way around a town before I travel there. I can take my kids for a walk past my old homes in four different countries. Astonishing. And Google's self-driving cars may make driving off-limits to humans in another few years.
Then there's Microsoft, with thousands of smart people working for decades with billions of dollars of resources to work with---the most powerful of them all until what feels like "recently" to me. And the evidence of their innovative power: we have one of several game platforms, a billion-dollar write-off tablet that they can't give away, and a kind of keyboard that accounts for less than 1% of keyboards in use today. Oh, and other stuff that "didn't become as popular as these".
I'm not saying they never came up with anything new. I'm saying that relative to their size and resources, their innovations were trivial. Their huge impact on business, on consumer use of the Internet, on the tech industry, on governments, and so on, came not from revolutionary innovation but primarily from their relentless efforts to monopolize markets.
Of course, the lifeblood of a company is profit, not innovation. Without subsidies from ad revenues, Google's innovations could dry up quickly, and cheap knock-offs could eventually take away most of the markets Apple has revolutionized. But even if their profits prove short-lived, their amazing contributions to society will live on. I doubt many in the future will feel the same about Microsoft's contributions.
Microsoft was there as an epiphenomenon. If they didn't exist (at all) the PC industry would still be here and some would argue that without the monopolistic innovation stifling practices, it would be much more vibrant today.
What? Correct me if I'm remembering incorrectly, but before Microsoft (and Compaq's IBM PC "compatibles") caused PCs to be commoditized, every computer-maker was trying to foist their own closed, proprietary walled garden onto the market. Instead of the PC revolution that created a common platform everywhere, we'd have a hundred small, fragmented, incompatible ecosystems fighting each other for market share. That just does not sound like it would allow for mass adoption through steep hardware price drops and the insane innovation that it enabled (which includes things like Linux). You might think the resultant situation as "vibrant", but I think the more appropriate word is "fragmented".
Citing you as a source, how was MS involved in the clones? Compaq made a clone of the IBM PC. The IBM PC was cloneable in the first place because they went extremely low budget and stuck together off the shelf parts. Yes, the cheap clone army definitely spurred the small computer revolution. But I don't see how MS can viewed as an entity that shepherded it along. They certainly weren't the only ones make a CPM clone either.
Then there's Microsoft, with thousands of smart people working for decades with billions of dollars of resources to work with---the most powerful of them all until what feels like "recently" to me. And the evidence of their innovative power: we have one of several game platforms, a billion-dollar write-off tablet that they can't give away, and a kind of keyboard that accounts for less than 1% of keyboards in use today. Oh, and other stuff that "didn't become as popular as these".
This is not really fair, and I'm sure you realise that. As a random selection, and in roughly decreasing order of significance from "world defining" to "things you'd really miss if they weren't there":
We have a standardised desktop operating system that is familiar to nearly every computer user on the planet, with which an array of hardware more diverse than at any point in human history mostly just works, and on which software probably written before some people reading this were born still runs.
We have a history of programming languages that have advanced both the state of industrial practice and the state of the art in research, and both traditions continue to this day.
Until very recently, the majority of web pages were presented in one of a handful of carefully designed, screen-optimised fonts that brought digital typography far beyond its previous standard, which are available on almost all major platforms, not just Microsoft's.
We have a wealth of ideas regarding HCI, from more efficient user interface designs to accessibility techniques to support users with disabilities.
It's not difficult to think of more examples, and of course Microsoft have also participated in numerous collaborative endeavours over the years that have advanced the industry in other ways. No doubt an organisation with Microsoft's resources could have achieved much more in recent years with more visionary leadership, but the idea that their work has produced nothing more than a few hardware devices over the years is just silly.
I was referring to the examples in the comment I was replying to, not making them up myself. I like your examples much more (and upvoted you for them), but yours are what I had in mind with my original comment. Microsoft was able to create that "familiar" desktop experience after getting the court to rule that they were free to make Win95 as Mac-like as they wanted. "The look and feel of an OS should not be copyrightable" is sort of an odd position for a leading innovator to defend so vigorously in court. Getting that OS to run everywhere was more about making themselves ubiquitous--the "no matter what computer you buy, you'll have to pay us" monopoly thing--than about "innovation". Likewise for the "ancient software still runs" strategy of preserving the franchise vs. innovation.
And innovation in programming languages? I was using BASIC before Microsoft existed, and while I thought Visual Basic was a significant innovation, I knew the guy who actually invented it and know how Microsoft took it from him. ("Take our lowball offer or we 'invent it' ourselves and you get nothing.") Nothing Steve Jobs wouldn't stoop to, but not a great example of MS innovation.
And .Net was the MS response to the JVM and C# was their response to Java. Both were improvements, but it was obvious what they were improvements on. And those two (VB and C#) are the only MS languages to have any impact outside the research lab.
And fonts? Was it Bill Gates who took that famous calligraphy class and brought the world of fonts to "microcomputers", or was that Steve Jobs and the Mac? Was it Microsoft who joined with Adobe and created the desktop publishing revolution, or was that Apple, too? Well, yes, Bill and Steve did work together on font technologies later, but that was to try to break Adobe's font monopoly, wasn't it? That m-word again.
Again, I'm not questioning the idea that MS came up with many new ideas, and all innovations have predecessors. It's a question of degree: how big a change is this? MS's innovations, while real, were just not in the same league as innovations from Apple and Google, despite MS's enormous power, because MS's focus was on defending their existing monopoly from competition, while Apple and Google were more focused on attention-grabbing product innovation.
Yep. All the good once are stuck playing *craft games.
Find a modern 8-year old, who understand PC circuitry (at analog and digital level), seen manufacturing processes, can re-solder components, can write C/assembly, can develop basic useful applications (like, say MS Paint). I bet you could easily find one like that, back in 70s-90s, particularly here in the silicon valley. Now - I'm not so sure.
> Apple revolutionized the music industry, how music is sold, and how it's listened to.
How? iPods are great, but they are just mp3 players (not the first at that) with a great user interface. iTunes is a program I used as a music player only because I had to in order to transfer songs from my iPod. At least when I was using it, I could get "illegitimate mp3s" by putting in only a slight amount more effort than by buying them from iTunes. And when I did buy mp3s from iTunes, I wasn't able to make them to play on different computers - so an inferior product compared to the illicit mp3s. I have an eBook that I bought from iTunes that I have never been allowed by iTunes to listen to.
Maybe you're (also) talking about some Apple products that I don't know of.
Yes, and how many of your family and friends had mp3 players before iPods? And you dismiss a feature of the iPods by just saying 'a great user interface'. I remember mp3 players back then. All monochrome UI's, with the actual bit rate and frequency shown along with the title, as if anyone but an audio fanatic would care about something like that.
Plus, and I cannot stress this enough, iTunes really was power pushing the iPod and Apple along. First, by truly binding hardware and software together to work together as seamlessly as possible. Second, by being able to purchase songs from iTunes store, and have it automatically appear in iTunes. And thirdly, and this is perhaps the most important bit, by forcing (and by forcing, I mean sometimes using the mob style of forcing) the record industry to play along. No longer did you have to know which artist belonged to which record company in order to buy music. No longer having to browse 4 or 5 different sites to find music. No longer did you have to convert songs, if you could even, to another to get around DRM to get all your music to play on one device.
So, yes, they did revolutionize the music industry.
> Yes, and how many of your family and friends had mp3 players before iPods?
I don't know. But mp3 players were definitely something people knew about before iPod's (at least the kids, can't speak for the adults at the time). Some even got those mp3 players with 128 MB, enough to cram two albums into. I didn't feel it was worth it before 512 MB, at the least.
Back when I was in the market for a good (gigabits of storage) mp3 player, I don't recall that iPod was the definite go-to choice in the electronics store.
> And you dismiss a feature of the iPods by just saying 'a great user interface'.
Not dismiss in general as much as dismiss when it comes to revolutionizing music listening and the industry. I think that people would still have adapted mp3 players (what were the alternatives? Discmans and those cassette-like players which you could record 320 minutes of music max on each disc?) even if Apple wouldn't have come out with a really nice UI.
> Plus, and I cannot stress this enough, iTunes really was power pushing the iPod and Apple along. First, by truly binding hardware and software together to work together as seamlessly as possible.
All mp3 players I've used (except for iPod's) are very easy to manage: plug it to the computer, open the folder of the mp3 player, and copy-paste songs. I am hardly a 'techie' when it comes to general computer usage, and I was not back then, either. But maybe this was beyond the capabilities of most people for all I know.
> Second, by being able to purchase songs from iTunes store, and have it automatically appear in iTunes.
I could torrent music and have them automatically appear in my Downloads folder. You could say that the iTunes way is more user-friendly, but most people used Windows back then and were used to shuffling around files and folders themselves, because you had to do that at some if you wanted to do more than read your mail.
> And thirdly, and this is perhaps the most important bit, by forcing (and by forcing, I mean sometimes using the mob style of forcing) the record industry to play along. No longer did you have to know which artist belonged to which record company in order to buy music. No longer having to browse 4 or 5 different sites to find music.
I guess I never was big on buying music online. I downloaded illicitlyt, bought some things in the store and the few things I didn't find I bought through iTunes. I know the last part validates your point, but having four more albums in my collection didn't exactly revolutionize my music listening.
> No longer did you have to convert songs, if you could even, to another to get around DRM to get all your music to play on one device.
When I changed computers I couldn't get my songs to play on the new machine.
> So, yes, they did revolutionize the music industry.
What revolutionized music listening for me was: 1. being able to easily download (mostly pirate) music 2. streaming services (only used Spotify myself).
> I don't know. But mp3 players were definitely something people knew about before iPod's (at least the kids, can't speak for the adults at the time). Some even got those mp3 players with 128 MB, enough to cram two albums into. I didn't feel it was worth it before 512 MB, at the least.
I can tell you right now, that unless they were very technical, most adults didn't have mp3 players and weren't interested in them. Because they didn't even have mp3 files. Don't forget, very often back then, you had to specifically install programs, like winamp, instead of Windows Media Player or Real Player to rip CDs to the mp3 format.
> Not dismiss in general as much as dismiss when it comes to revolutionizing music listening and the industry. I think that people would still have adapted mp3 players (what were the alternatives? Discmans and those cassette-like players which you could record 320 minutes of music max on each disc?) even if Apple wouldn't have come out with a really nice UI.
Well, making a ripped CD was very well known and popularly done. People use to just carry around books of CDs, and it sounded better, too. Those old mp3 sounded like ass, the big rate was so low, like 32-64 bit. Now, if it's not 160 bit or higher, I'd say most people would refuse to purchase.
> All mp3 players I've used (except for iPod's) are very easy to manage: plug it to the computer, open the folder of the mp3 player, and copy-paste songs. I am hardly a 'techie' when it comes to general computer usage, and I was not back then, either. But maybe this was beyond the capabilities of most people for all I know.
You know why Windows 98 and above has AutoPlay? Because it wasn't simple enough for most of the public to just insert a media type device (CD/DVD/Flash type device) and just have the user manually start it.
> I could torrent music and have them automatically appear in my Downloads folder. You could say that the iTunes way is more user-friendly, but most people used Windows back then and were used to shuffling around files and folders themselves, because you had to do that at some if you wanted to do more than read your mail.
Well, maybe you were dealing with more technically inclined people than I was, but to this day I still have people who save EVERYTHING to their desktop, because they don't want to lose files. I still know people who can only find files by opening up which applications they used to create or modify them. They never make backups because they don't know where any of their files are. AND, even if they could, the older mp3 players only played files located in certain folders. If you mistakenly put them in the wrong folder, the mp3 player couldn't play them. Not user friendly at all.
> When I changed computers I couldn't get my songs to play on the new machine.
That's because in iTunes, your media is associated with your iTunes account. If you don't sign with that, then none of your songs would play. Unless you did that already, and it still didn't play. That's an error, which Apple should be obligated to fix on your behalf.
> What revolutionized music listening for me was: 1. being able to easily download (mostly pirate) music 2. streaming services (only used Spotify myself).
Technically, streaming services has existed since 1995, when Real was selling their Helix servers, and started streaming media themselves sometime in 1997-1998ish. That's even before Napster came out. Spotify only works because the music industry couldn't do it themselves, and wanted other streams of revenue online other than Apple and Pandora.
> I can tell you right now, that unless they were very technical, most adults didn't have mp3 players and weren't interested in them. Because they didn't even have mp3 files. Don't forget, very often back then, you had to specifically install programs, like winamp, instead of Windows Media Player or Real Player to rip CDs to the mp3 format.
That's interesting. I guess I only dealt with kids who downloaded music for their mp3 players, and whatever CD's they had stayed in their CD players.
> You know why Windows 98 and above has AutoPlay? Because it wasn't simple enough for most of the public to just insert a media type device (CD/DVD/Flash type device) and just have the user manually start it.
Windows will also ask if you want to open an inserted mp3 device as a folder when you plug it in.
> Technically, streaming services has existed since 1995, when Real was selling their Helix servers, and started streaming media themselves sometime in 1997-1998ish.
Do you really want to emphasize who was first out with streaming? Hasn't your point all along been that Apple, while not inventing mp3 players, made it mainstream? ;P
> Spotify only works because the music industry couldn't do it themselves, and wanted other streams of revenue online other than Apple and Pandora
Spotify was a thing in my part of the world before Pandora. In fact it's only on the Internet that I've heard of people using Pandora.
> Windows will also ask if you want to open an inserted mp3 device as a folder when you plug it in.
When Windows does that, it's running a service called Autoplay. What I'm saying, is that before Windows 98SE, users had to manually open up inserted media, and enough of them had problems with it, that Microsoft included Autoplay ever since with Windows.
> Do you really want to emphasize who was first out with streaming? Hasn't your point all along been that Apple, while not inventing mp3 players, made it mainstream? ;P
Streaming has nothing to do with mp3 players. Even today, Apple doesn't do streaming. It's only going to be on the new IOS 7 where that even starts to be an option. Mp3 players is basically a dead market. The point I was trying to make was that Spotify/Streaming is only becoming a viable solution because Internet speeds and 4g networks are fast enough to stream at high rates. Unless I'm missing something, nothing Spotify is doing is truly unique, other than perhaps working in far more places globally than any other type of service before.
No, but I was saying that mp3 players and Apple are analogous to streaming and Spotify; Apple didn't invent but helped make mp3 players popular, and Spotify didn't invent music streaming but helped make it popular.
Jamie Shotton and others at MSR were directly responsible for the pose detection software for Kinect. MS bought in the RGBD camera from outside, but did really good work on the software internally, using the talent at MSR. A great success story for the corporate lab model. I don't know how often things work out as well as that, as the labs must be enormously expensive!
I watched a really interesting talk about how XBox (and presumably the Xbox One) uses a technology they call TrueRank to do player matching. As far as I know this was an MSR project to create a Bayesian version of the ELO chess ranking system. Actually, now that I think of it, it was a whole week of ML talks by academics from MSR.
My point being, they produce (and ship) a lot of smaller innovations too, behind the scenes. Sometimes it's just detecting griefers.
My feeling of Microsoft is that they didn't understand their innovative success; XBox - or how to capitalize on it going forward. The 360 was likely the last product of theirs I will ever buy. The new console - not innovative and if they weren't paying attention to the fall out around the Sim City debacle then that's just added injury to insult. Baller is a bad CEO by today's success standards. He has always come off as arrogant and assuming. Not something an innovative company strives for.
The real dilemma here is that the general population has two unique metrics playing on them in a different manner today. One is a burgeoning idea of rights, ownership and privacy (which Microsoft Flys directly in the face of, in a very bad way) and then there is the subjective problem of attrition and interest that is eroding much faster today as consumers expect "the next big thing" every time a release comes ton market. It's one part "innovator's dilemma" with a sprinkle of fast flux perception.
Microsoft is a dead brand. I started saying this in 2004. I still believe it today. Why? Because instead of having more interest annually I have less. If Gates wanted to leave a mark on the world he'd buy back pieces and parts of the behemoth and set them free for the open market, but the reality is it will continue to fade away and generations coming into the world today will view the giant as relevant as tape decks and CDs.
The technology industry is in a period of change and maturation. It may not feel like it but my thought is 5 years out products will be more cohesive because consumers demanded platforms that were interoperable. If not, then the future may be a very stark and gloomy state of affairs dictated by a few who hold self-interest and money first.
I hope this industry doesn't follow in the footsteps of the financial industry...
This is a dangerous thought, imo. Robber Barons turned philanthropists are still evil old men trying to buy social indulgences.
I argue that the weight these monopolists tied around their industries had larger negative impact on GDP and innovation than the positive value of the 'works' their charities re-invest in society.
Oh, I completely agree. The point I was trying to make was simply that increasing funding for medical research on malaria, tuberculosis, etc. was more significant than anything he did (or could do) with Microsoft.
But regardless, I agree that the world would be a much better place if addressing our solvable problems didn't require the support of a retired billionaire first.
Microsoft is a dead brand. I started saying this in 2004. I still believe it today.
Really, even after the era of huge success with Windows 7 and the Xbox 360 you were still saying this? Is that when you bought the Xbox 360 from the "dead brand". Do you always throw down hundreds of dollars for products from dead brands?
Xbox was a response to PlayStation--the only "innovation" of the original Xbox, to use commodity PC hardware, was dropped with the second generation. Surface is an also-ran. Which leaves Microsoft's true innovative legacy as the inventors of the bendy keyboard? Well, that's "as much as, if not more than, Google and Apple" if I've ever seen it.
Yes you can't ignore MS, especially when they still dominate the desktop and workstation market with their OS.
I was a sysadmin in the 90s, and other admins I knew loved the Microsoft offerings - having gui control panels to server services. Active directory and the like. It wasn't particularly innovative, but MS managed to put lipstick on a pig and managed to sell it, while cleverly locking down their ecosystem through their proprietry platform. For some the CLI and Linux is still a turnoff, and there isn't that much preventing people from putting lipstick on that particular pig - but you don't see that many offerings (arguably you could say that Apple server is kind of like that).
Sys admins who have to click on a GUI to patch a rack-full of servers with the same update? That's just sick. Yeah, we can thank Microsoft for that.
Now, as a developer who remembers the old days, I have to deal with sys admins who have no idea what the hell they are doing on a *nix box. (some of that is hiring, yeah, but that's the pool we have to draw from now)
xbox is msft embracing and extending the console market, if only to further their "3 screen" initiative. that's why you see xbox devs moaning about how msft is loosing touch with gamers... it's because msft was never in touch with gamers. they wanted the consoles to get into living rooms.
I'd argue that search and Ajax did more harm and drove the first wedge. Search gave Google a business model and revenue stream. Ajax enabled Web apps, beginning with Gmail. That enabled platform independence and a split from the Office monopoly, particularly Outlook/Exchange and Active Directory.
Mobile was another keg of coffin nails, particularly in consumer space showing that ease of use and zero configuration were possible.
I agree on your assessment of Google's advertising reliance being an Achilles geek,and that the company risks marketshare loss through heavy-handed G+ promotion and privacy concerns.
Microsoft essentially invented AJAX. In the late 90s they had some HTML remote update thingy via a Java applet, I believe. Then they introduced XMLHttpRequest. Developing for IE around that timeframe wasn't bad. They had excellent documentation, and added (proprietary, sure) extensions that let you do all sorts of neat stuff.
Yes. Microsoft invented XMLHTTP so they could build a killer web client for Exchange Email. Remember when you first saw that? It was amazing. IE 5 was hands down a more capable browser than any other when it was current. It was nonstandard, but it was very productive. You could do AJAX, XML to HTML transforms in the browser with XSLT, xpath navigation of XML documents, etc. JSON wasn't popular then but support for XML was excellent.
They didn't have the vision to build consumer oriented "cloud" software like Google did, but they were positioned to do it before anyone else was.
MS ran off the hell off of Xenix internally. Mail, calendaring, etc. I remember when NT was going to be the best Unix out there... And then Win32 happened and coolaid got sloshed around. The NT Kernel could have been an amazing Unix.
I'm on HN, I'm probably aware of how many people use FB. The question was more to the issue of leading minds. Are smart people, people looking to the future, using Facebook? In my slice of meatspace, the answer is no. I was hoping to tap into the tech sector youngins to shed some light on their experience.
I think there is something there. My 13 year old sister does not want a Facebook. I got her to get a g+ thinking 4 way video chat would be just her thing and she posted for a bit but she and her friends prefer Skype); the AIM of today. Ten years of that sort of success and whatever is HN then will be talking about FB the way HN speaks of Yahoo now.
Notice I mentioned the "Microsoft Munchkins" and other unethical attacks against OS/2 later on was far worse than the Joint Development Agreement between MS and IBM, and the mention of DR-DOS at the end.
I think it largely is - the late follow-on and then anti-user insistence that has driven Google+ is clearly out of the playbook of a lumbering giant.
That having been said, it still has points of excitement - things like glass and driverless cars and parts of the Android world still feel exciting to consumers and that's part of what keeps lumbering giant company syndrome at bay - innovation leading to consumer excitement, repeated again and again keeps companies lively.
When you look at it, Google probably already has. 20% time is practically gone, Reader gone, iGoogle going, etc. All the various little projects that may not have had huge numbers of users, but still indicated that Google was a fast moving, innovative company are disappearing.
It may take a few years for people to realise they are a lumbering giant in decline now, but the seeds are already planted, maybe even full grown...
It is inevitable that as companies get bigger, the things they do to allow them to scale takes away from their nimbleness. I can't think of a single instance of where the largest company in an industry is the most nimble.
Coordinating people takes effort and standardization. Also, the larger you get, the harder it is to outgrow your market. This is the price you pay for winning. It's also why employees leave as companies grow. They say, "It just doesn't feel the same" because what got the firm from 100 to 1000 employees isn't what scales them to 10000.
No sadness here - Microsoft has been a stain on the last decade of the computing industry. The only sadness is that their trajectory of circling of the toilet might change, with a new CEO. But I doubt it.
Exactly. Just ask those app devs that have gotten screwed out of a large chunk of their livelihood because one day Apple decided that functionality of their app competed with Apple/iOS.
Apple's developer ecosystem is setup to give you everything for free. It's also setup to take everything away as it pleases all while controlling every aspect of it - even subjective components of it. It's not free at that point, and the control for security basis only goes so far before the argument starts to fall apart. Yes, it is a good thing to have controls for that exact reason. Is Google any better? In some regards yes (the platform has dwarfed iOS in terms of technical security controls but fragmentation plagues the ability of everyone to take advantage of updates) and in others no.
Apple is just an accelerated Microsoft at this point. Significantly slowed innovation (compared to the early OS X and iPhone days) - again because of the "innovator's dilemma". They're now locked into this massive ecosystem which will artificially continue to suffocate them over time.
I don't get why people compare Facebook's performance to that of Microsoft's. Okay, they are both tech companies that have large interests in the internet. But one makes enterprise and consumer software (exceedingly successfully by any measure) and the other is a website for sharing photos.
Microsoft is worth roughly three times what Facebook is at one-twentieth the P/E ratio. Why do people assume they are losing? I fully accept that they are continually riding the coat tails of Windows XP for the majority of that and have missed a number of opportunities though. But let's be honest, everyone but Apple missed the smartphone revolution except Google and Samsung and Microsoft owns part of Facebook and isn't really playing in a competing market for the most part.
> Now the lay somewhere on a continuum with IBM, Oracle, SAP all the way through to companies like CA.
And I think that's fine. Added together, these are the bread and butter.
As a whole, we benefit more from them doing what they do well and having stable revenue than trying to make everything under the sun and creating gigantic monopolies that dictate standards and absorb any company doing something remotely interesting (like, sadly, today's Google).
I think we should compare MSFT against other companies in enterprise space.
So lets take, for example, ORCL.
From 2000 till today, ORCL become the clear leader in enterprise: they acquired PeopleSoft, Siebel, BEA, Sun, etc.
On the other hand, MSFT position in enterprise space is in much weaker position comparing to competitors such as ORCL. Enterprises will replace their Windows with tablets, but I don't see them replacing Oracle Database or Oracle Applications (and Siebel and PeopleSoft apps are not so bad).
So Balmer gets B- for his enterprise work. Larry, on the other hand, gets A+.
I see that slightly differently. Oracle is huge in government, world-wide. But while it used to be "Oracle is the answer. What was the question again?", there's a shift towards F/OSS, open standards, and commodity hardware. This hurts Oracle. And yes, the exact same thing hurts Microsoft, too.
Microsoft, however, have three products that will ensure their continued profitability - Excel, Exchange and (probably most importantly), Active Directory. This is over and above their insanely cohesive ecosystem, from SCCM all the way to Dynamics.
Active Directory is so critical because of the vast amount of legacy code that depends on it. Want to guess how many fortune 500 companies rely on AD?
 Nothing is guaranteed so yes, unless they evolve as the environment they generate value for inevitably evolves, they'll go.
And how much growth potential is there in selling Active Directory, Excel, and Exchange?
Every sizable company already has these things installed. Smaller and new companies may choose to spend their dollars elsewhere and that's a change of events for Microsoft. Projects that previously would go on Sharepoint are now done less expensively with cloud services, for example.
In tech, growth is in consumer, and with consumer tech drifting in to the enterprise, even enterprise IT spending may not go to Microsoft.
You can't really blame people for abandoning sharepoint, it's really an excellent display of why you shouldn't try to interbreed all your gui applications with internetexplorer iframes.
It's literally the worst MS have ever produced.
Back in late 1990s and early 2000s, enterprises were much more dependent on MSFT than today. Windows machines were in server rooms, Windows machines were on desktops, Exchange was everywhere.... Companies really depended on Microsoft: they had the entire stack.
Fast forward to 2013 ... what do you see? Did Ballmer really improve Microsoft position in enterprise comparing to Oracle and other competitors?
"Enterprises will replace their Windows with tablets"
really? What can you do on your tablet in enterprises? You can have them only as an additional device. They don't even have any port where you can plugin something. And, you will have your tablets interact with whom?
At the end of the day, you need real machine running full blown OS to get shit done and not devices meant for playing with those face painting apps.
Ten years ago, were you saying the same about laptops?
Given that there are already enterprise users out there today on Android and iOS devices, this is a pretty bold claim. (And you can, in fact, plug things into tablets with both operating systems - they have USB support.)
These are not all being deployed as "secondary devices" - in many cases companies deploy them because they're cheaper to deploy and maintain than a laptop, which only makes sense if you're not also providing a laptop to the user.
Having companies run solely on laptops or tablets has nothing to do with whether or not there are enterprise tablet deployments. Your logic is flawed.
And then Microsoft makes money by selling 50-100 Remote Desktop CALs to replace those 50-100 physical desktops. The price per CAL is about 90% of the price per license of Windows. But add in the base price of the Windows Server license, and you're back to essentially the same price.
At first. But eventually, less and less will run on the 370^H^H^H Windows box, as people get native clients (or good HTML 5+ clients) for email, memos and spreadsheets, and only "that legacy .NET app we still have to use" will be on the big-iron rack in the DP donjon.
In last 10 years, I have visited 100s of enterprise data centers and seen the transformation from primarily UNIX (non-Linux) and Windows server to Linux. Today I rarely come across UNIX and come across shrinking base of Windows servers. Ten years ago, I saw shops exclusively being either UNIX or Windows. Today shops are either Linux or a combination of Windows and Linux. In Enterprise OS market, Linux ate UNIX for lunch and now nibbling at Windows for dinner.
Active Directory and Exchange are much more popular because of its utility with windows workstation managements and user familiarity with PC and Outlook. With the acceptance of BYOD, thanks primarily due to iPhone and iPad, the MSFT hold on workstation side has started to be impacted.
Sharepount is not that much popular except in dominantly Windows server shops.
Microsoft still has a problem. AD, Exchange, and Office (no SharePoint is not everywhere) only work on completely Windows networks. Once somebody has to use mobile computers, you are better with Samba, IMAP, and a LibreOffice compatible package.
Every mobile platform that matters hooks into Exchange - iOS, Android, Mac OS X Mail, Surface Mail, Windows Phone, Pre-Windows Nokia, all speak ActiveSync for mail, calendar and contacts. Blackberries hook in with Blackberry Enterprise Server.
And most if not all of them have some kind of Office Document viewer and basic levels of editor, either built in, shipped with, or available as an app.
And how is Samba, a clone of Windows SMB file shares, going to help anything mobile?
You have to understand that some of us, who were around and writing code through the 90s, are still a little PTSD about Microsoft. Back then, when Microsoft did control computing, it was easy to wonder if maybe they would control it forever.
It was a shitty period. There was a sense of futility to building software. You could build small software, but as soon as you reached a certain scale, particularly if you were a platform company, Microsoft would decide that they'd like to take your revenue, so they'd box your software out of their operating system with incompatibilities, launch their own competitor, and eat your lunch.
The only sane strategy at the time was to try to anticipate what areas of computing Microsoft would likely never enter. But even that is Russian Roulette.
So, in 2013, yes. It's "obvious" now that Microsoft couldn't have possibly retained the control they had. But many of us have deep recesses in our brain that are still shocked that we got here.
"It was a shitty period. There was a sense of futility to building software. You could build small software, but as soon as you reached a certain scale, particularly if you were a platform company, Microsoft would decide that they'd like to take your revenue, so they'd box your software out of their operating system with incompatibilities, launch their own competitor, and eat your lunch."
At one time, IBM controlled around 70% of the whole IT business, probably more. Mainframes, minis, comms, switchboards, typewriters. IBM even ran its own bank (IBM Credit Corp).
Microsoft happened to steal a very small part of IBM's monopoly, which got bigger over time, but IBM's revenues are still bigger than Microsoft's even 32 years later. (And IBM has been spinning off or selling whole businesses along the way, eg the PC business to Lenovo; spinning off Lexmark).
I was talking to one US corporate IT manager who said IBM was still a third of his budget cf 3% for Microsoft.
Big picture: Microsoft's monopoly has always been much smaller and less powerful than the IBM monopoly used to be. However, in time, all tech monopolies tend to get largely undone by new technologies.
Excellent post that captures my feelings precisely. I worked for a MS "partner" whose product integrated with BizTalk (I know, right?) A big part of our strategy was trying to keep MS from locking us out once we became successful. Eventually we got bought out and the product was killed.
Around 2000, Linux was on the scene and like a lot of people I got the hell out of the MS ecosystem and never looked back.
All they had to do was get mobile right. To do that, all they needed was one manager who kept an eye on the state of capacitive touchscreen development and moved to lock it down before his/her counterpart at Apple did the same thing.
The iPhone could have been theirs all along, with all that that implies. But first they ignored the underlying technology, then Ballmer laughed at it (on national TV no less), then they fought it, and then they lost.
> all they needed was one manager who kept an eye on the state of capacitive touchscreen development and moved to lock it down before his/her counterpart
And they did move.
I was trying to create a startup based on PDAs at the early 00's (no luck, they were too expensive - the idea was flawed from day 1). There was Palm, and the two entrants: Windows and Linux. Palm had a once nice system that nobody wanted to program for anymore (accumulated too much cruft), Windows had a giant marketing campaign that made everybody hear about them (it was getting more known than Palm), but it was so bad that everybody soon learned to run away from it, and Linux got a steady monotonic growth from nowhere into almost-nowhere.
I loved Palm. I wondered why more people didn't buy them.
I once looked up a price of Halo 2 at 9 p.m. on a library
Internet access( open at the time), and bought 500
copies of Halo 2 for $2.99 each. I sole all of them
on ebay for at least 30 a piece. I knew nothing about
vid games, but I knew they were priced to move.
I felt like I was the only one in the world who realized
how great having Internet access was in my pants pocket.
Now Everyone is connected.
I am missing something in what you are saying there, OR you are saying something that I find absurd, and I can't figure out which.
Are you meaning to say that an enterprise software company can't be looking toward the future, and/or that only consumer facing technology companies are innovating and creating new stuff that will affect the future?
Yes, but he cleverly avoids the fact that a few thousand dollars put into Apple stock in late 90's could have made you a millionaire today, but same in MS would have actually lost value from inflation.
It depends what you bought when. If you held both Apple and Microsoft from the beginning, you made far more money on Microsoft stock. If you bought in the bubble then you probably lost a bundle on whatever you bought, whether it was Microsoft stock or somebody else's.
If you bought Apple at $700, you're still in a big hole.
However, if you bought Apple stock instead of Apple computers, then over the years, you probably did pretty well ;-)
"Microsoft used to control the future of computing. Now they are yet another enterprise software company with no apparent mission except to make money."
Heh. You really think any successful tech company has ever had a mission besides making money? Some of them talk big in their first few years, but they never follow through and they get embarrassed and try to sweep it under the rug pretty quick. Remember when the RealPlayer company was called Progressive Networks, because it was supposed to "provide a distribution channel for politically progressive content"? Remember "don't be evil"?
I responded to the sibling comment a while ago, and I'd welcome you joining that thread.
But for a quick synopsis of my response to your statement:
1. Billions of people use computers with a variety of operating systems every day;
2. Thousands of people touch their first computer ever, every day, and very, very few run Windows;
3. Millions of people use computers every day and are still deeply confused when the start button moves.
Regardless, the point I was responding to was that Microsoft had some sort of special advantage over the run-of-the-mill enterprise soul-suckers like IBM or Oracle. They might; but they won't for long.
Ultimately, I don't see how any reasonable person could disagree with simply making note of the fact that Microsoft no longer has the ability to change the course of computing: enterprise or consumer.
My point is that operating systems are largely commodified now, and that Windows' strategic value (for both Microsoft and the corporations using it) only holds in very homogenous environments.
That is the state of most corporations today, but at best, I would consider Windows a rapidly depreciating asset (in a strategic sense -- I'm sure it will continue to be a major source of cash for a while).
The person that I originally responded to, whose statement you're apparently defending said:
"Microsoft used to control the future of computing. Now they are yet another enterprise software company with no apparent mission except to make money.
Meanwhile Apple/Google/Amazon/Facebook/etc look toward the future"
I disagreed with the part where they said "just another enterprise software company". I also happen to disagree that they have no apparent mission, but that's another story; please forget that I said it :)
So, would you argue my point for a second? Why is Microsoft NOT just another enterprise software company now or in the next decade? I think I can come up with more, "bigger" and more provable reasons that they are NOT than that they are, but could be wrong. And who knows the future? Right now, they're surely not just another enterprise company and the future is not static, it's based on the now.
I was arguing your point; specifically, I don't think their "major footholds" have sufficient strategic value to push Microsoft into a class of its own.
And to be clear, my "just another enterprise software company" category includes IBM and Oracle, as well. And I imagine Microsoft is still on the top of that list, but I don't think they have a radically stronger position. It is a very profitable position for now, but that wasn't what the original comment was about.
The question is whether they can again "control the future of computing" or just continue to make a lot of money on roughly the status quo (i.e. simply be "yet another enterprise software company"). I can't speak for the original commenter, but I suspect their emphasis was on "enterprise software company with no apparent mission except to make money" rather than "yet another", so that line could probably be replaced with something like "yet another boring, immensely profitable company".
On that question, I think you can make a good argument that some of their footholds are actually a handicap now. For example, Windows and Office make so much money that the company becomes conservative, unwilling to do anything that might significantly disrupt them.
They haven't released an OS without the Windows name in about 20 years now. Even with their mobile OS attempts, it always has Windows in the name. Even the original XBox promotion had a bit of "it's based on Windows" push. And on that line of thought, why hasn't there been an XBox Phone? The smartphone market is largely consumer right now, so why not try a different brand approach?
Yes, Microsoft dominates in the enterprise space right now, but they are losing badly in the consumer space (which will eventually break into the enterprise position) and the cloud space (which is the enterprise position of new companies). What do you see them doing to change the course now?
On a "consumer tech" tangent, IE 11 will finally implement WebGL. Direct3D gave them a unique hold on desktop gaming, paired with a really strong console gaming position. WebGL finally forced them to submit. I expect there are a few divisions that are wickedly pissed off now, and I totally understand why: Direct3D is now in its deathbed.
An utterly dominant, gaming tech position undermined and eliminated in the span of maybe five years.
In the enterprise market, I'd give them a longer timeline, but it's hard to imagine a moribund, hydrogen blimp of that size managing to see (much less avoid) the fireball collapse that's coming.