Maybe it’s time to start rooting for Microsoft

Author: | Posted in General Interest, Google 5 Comments

Whew! As a Microphobe in good standing for over two decades, I never thought I’d say that. But the truth is, hating Microsoft just isn’t as much fun as it used to be. The reason is simple. As a web designer and developer, Microsoft and the indignities it inflicts upon the computing experience, just aren’t that relevant to me in the twenty-first century.

The 800-pound gorilla

Microsoft GorillaDon’t get me wrong; MS is still the 800-pound gorilla in the computing room. It’s just that the gorilla has taken to napping in the corner and only wakes to eat and pick lint from its navel.

  • Vista: Yawn…
  • Explorer 7: zzzzzzzzzz…
  • Windows Live: Sorry, I must have missed that one.

Suddenly it’s the chimpanzees – Google, Apple and Adobe –bouncing off the walls that have my attention.

That’s a good thing, right?

So far, yes. While Microsoft was trying to use its dominance in operating systems and office applications to put a stranglehold on consumers, Google, et al were busy exploiting the Internet and exponentially increasing computing power to build wildly popular services, devices and software outside Microsoft’s domain. They earned their success by creating, or at least redefining, their markets while Microsoft was busy looking elsewhere.

So what’s the problem?

The problem is that Google, Apple and Adobe now possess virtual monopolies in critical segments of the computing market:

Google = Internet: To many people, Google is the Internet. Don’t believe me? Take away the Google home page and most casual users can’t find their own website!

Apple = Entertainment: With the iPod, the iPhone and the iTunes distribution system in its portfolio, many in the traditional music, television and movie industries now consider Apple a bigger threat than downloads.

Adobe = Graphics: Acrobat, Dreamweaver, Flash, Illustrator, InDesign and Photoshop. Not enough to convince you? How about After Effects, ColdFusion, Flex and Premiere. I’m stopping now.

Sure they’ve produced some “insanely cool” products but, as the commercials say, “Past performance in not an indicator of future results.” Who’s to say what direction these companies, once they’re fat and happy or under new leadership, will take us. Will one of them become the next – evil implied – Microsoft (as some fear Google already has)?

What’s the answer?

It’s time for someone to wake up the gorilla, kick its butt and tell it to get the hell busy keeping those chimpanzees in line.

Like that’s going to happen?

Unfortunately, Microsoft has proven to be woefully incapable of competing on a level playing field and the current playing field is tilted against them. Think, think Zune, think Xbox 360. OK, quit thinking, it’s too depressing.

Microsoft’s goal has always been a Windows-centric world. It ain’t happening, but focusing on that goal has crippled its efforts in the online, entertainment and graphics spheres. The world has moved on, leaving MS dominant in areas that are increasingly less relevant.

In retrospect, the only thing worse for MS than losing those anti-trust loss suits is what happened, they won. In an era that was ready to reward the quick and nimble, Microsoft fought for – and won – its right to be big and clumsy.

I won’t pretend to tell Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer what to do…

Actually I will. I’d like to dust off my proposal from 1998 and suggest that Microsoft break itself into not two, but three, companies: Windows, MS Office and MS Network (which today could be simply .Net). If these three entities were able to compete unencumbered by the need to prop each other up, I’m convinced they could be strong and innovative competitors.

The story of AT&T comes to mind. Like Microsoft, AT&T was a big, lazy giant that fought antitrust regulations for years. When it finally lost, the competition sparked by its breakup launched a telecommunications revolution that is still being played out. And what happened to AT&T? It was broken into the Baby Bells that were swallowed by SWB (itself a Baby Bell) that also swallowed AT&T and then became the “New AT&T.”

So why not take the risk? Even if one or two of the Baby Softs fail, won’t it be better for Gates and Company if the ultimate Windows-killing company is a spawn of their own creation rather than Google? With a little forward thinking, in ten or twenty years everyone could be celebrating (or bemoaning) the emergence of the “New Microsoft.”

That’s not going to happen.

I don’t think so either. But the fact is that Microsoft is the only possibly viable competitor to Google and the rest that we have left. It has the software engineers, it certainly has the money and it even has the ideas. Microsoft Expressions for instance is, from all I’ve read, an excellent design tool. Unfortunately it’s (all together now) “only available for Windows.” And designers, for some reason, prefer Macs.

Come on Bill and Steve, if you won’t break up the company at least break a few Windows and let your engineers breath free. They might never come up with an “insanely cool” product but they deserve the chance to try without being crippled by an outdated, Windows-centric mindset.

And, Bill, think of the possibilities…

Mac Guy: “Hi, I’m a Mac.”

PC Guy: “I should care?” (And smugly walks away.)

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