Is Microsoft dead or not?
Paul Graham says yes.. He’s referring to the reduction in stature of the mighty giant from being the unstoppable force of the 90s into one of many software giants that may affect the future. In the past I’ve referred to the “big three” as GMY as others have before me. It’s true though, Microsoft is dead as a company that innovators look to for innovation. They’re still raking in the billions, having crossed the chasm many year ago, but they’re desperately trying to avoid the inevitable: realising that they themselves stand now as the old guard, post-chasm and can just sit and wait while a new breed of smaller, leaner companies are generating buzz pre-chasm. Some of them will be acquired and swallowed/destroyed by GMY but some will become the household names of tomorrow. Looking at the big three, you’d be looking at three very different companies.
Google, the media darling with infinite money and possibly infinite future products sitting waiting in the wings. For Google, the weather of their Spring has been brightening and we can see them entering the Summer of their development. Expect a lot of good things and a heap more money to be generated as they enjoy their growth.
Microsoft, the giant which has had a worthy Spring and Summer and is now sliding into senescence, well into late Autumn. They won’t be dead in the traditional sense for many years as they slip through Autumn and into Winter.
Yahoo? Well, I’m surprised they’re still alive really which goes to show yu my abilities as a prophet. They’re in their summer already but have managed to eke out a long, cool summer. They’re well past “exciting” or “cool” however.
Bob Grommes says no. This isn’t surprising as he concentrates on the .NET platform, architecting and building line-of-business applications, usually involving large databases.. He gives some good reasons why he thinks they’re not dead but in his argument he actually lends credence to Paul’s statements. The fact there’s uncertainty in his statements tells me all I need to know. The company is most definitely in a box with an atomic clock and a canister of nerve gas. They’re unlikely to die on Thursday but as time goes on the odds of their continued survival begin to fall.
Bob does come out with one corker however:
What he fails to understand is that Microsoft is perfectly capable of reinventing itself (again) and is already doing so.
This is an interesting use of the phrase “perfectly capable of” in the sense that he really means “serially uninterested in” or “philosophically entrenched against”. Microsoft’s ventures outside the box have been very hit and miss and hardly represent any shift in business direction so I wonder where Bob sees Microsoft having reinvented themselves “once” never mind “again”.
Bob’s business relies on Microsoft and .NET. He’s not building the Google, Microsoft or Yahoo of the 2010s or 2030s. Paul Graham on the other hand is working with the people who might be building the GMYs of the future. And these startups are treating todays Microsoft with the same contempt that Microsoft and Apple treated Digital and IBM.
Time for an anecdote. When I worked in Nortel in the late 90s, there was this thing that was becoming REALLY popular called the “Internet”. Nortel, still primarily a voice solution provider expressed a desire to transition to data networking. Entrenched and fearful management resisted the approach because they were confident that people would always need to talk and therefore their future was secure. It took a lot of effort, a large aquisition/merger with Bay Networks and a whole heap of internal marketing of a “Right Angle Turn” to get the voice managers of yesterday to be the data managers of tomorrow. Whether or not they managed it is a footnote I guess. (And I guess if they had listened to me at the time, things would be different but then they were more interested in hiring Microsoft shills at the time but I digress).
Microsoft is in this position at the moment. They can see a shift in the market but haven’t got the leadership or vision to make the call. In a company filled with brilliant people, they can’t see a way to change because their philosophy is entrenched in doing things the way they have been doing them for 30-odd years.
That’s why they are being outpaced by a teenager called Google. That’s why Google can sell web versions of word processors and spreadsheets and Microsoft can be reviled for trying the same thing. They’ve spent millions telling us the web is shit and now they want to sell it back to us?
This is also why they’re being force fed their own crap by Apple (iPod versus Windows Media and then iPod versus Zune) and Nintendo (XBOX360 sales pale in comparison to Wii sales). Oh, to have the decision making ability of a major product manager in Microsoft. Let them hate as long as they fear….
Q: So are they dead or not?
Simple question and the answer is most telling.
A: Who cares?
That is essentially the summary of Paul Graham’s essay and the perfect riposte to Bob Grommes’ parry.