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.
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.
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.
XBox, Surface and ergonomic keyboards would beg to differ. Not mentioning the countless other innovations that didn't become as popular as these ones.
I know the Hacker News hive mind likes to perpetuate the myth that Microsoft doesn't innovate but it innovates at least as much as, if not more than, Google and Apple.
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.
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.
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.
And then there's Windows 8.
Also, while we're on the subject, my 8 year old can put together an amazing Keynote presentation on an iPad. She has never used a Windows OS.
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.
From "Basic -> C/assembly"? Wow. That escalated quickly.
> Apple revolutionized the music industry
_Napster_ revolutionized the music industry. Apple saw the writing on the wall and made mp3s commercially legitimate.
You don't seem to be very fair in evaluating the merits of tech industries by focusing only on the bad parts of the one you don't like and the good sides of the ones you like.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
An academic friend of mine frequently tells me that Google et al do not compare to MSR in either quality or volume.
My point being, they produce (and ship) a lot of smaller innovations too, behind the scenes. Sometimes it's just detecting griefers.
Having them developing Kinect is obvious, but not so obvious inside MS world
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 kind of categorical statement always baffles me. How can you be so sure that they will never, ever release a product you might want?
You can't, so maybe you're just showing an emotional bias against a company, another thing that I find baffling.
That's not what they said. They said "likely", in the context of a comment predicting a future of Microsoft decline.
I agree with most of your comment, but that line bothered me. In my opinion, the single worthwhile accomplishment of Microsoft was that it led to the formation of the Gates Foundation.
I don't even agree with many of their objectives, but simply providing funding for "unprofitable" medical research alone has already left "a mark on the world".
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.
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?
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).
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)
No, ignore Microsoft at your peril :-(
For instance, MS had a "PC tablet" (WinXP based) much before Apple, but it took iPad to make a revolution.
The PC tablet from MS was a laughable joke. The iPad made a revolution because it was revolutionary. It took Android years to catch up and Microsoft is still trying to fumble something together today.
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.
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.
As Oedipus and the Titans showed, sometimes we create our own usurpers.
(I was on my phone at the time, HN's edit lock has enshrined it now, enjoy).
The only reason I haven't deleted my profile is that I don't want to cede the namespace. Don't cross the street to get your ass kicked.
1.1 billion people.
Which makes you part of the majority on the planet that doesn't use it. Does that make you feel good or were you going for the hipster angle?
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.