If you've read many of my articles over the past 20 years, you may have noticed that I don't care for Microsoft or its products. That isn't because I think open-source software or Apple products are unbeatably great. It's because Microsoft's products are usually awful.
A lot of you are thinking I can't possibly be right about that. After all, you work and play with Windows, Office and other Microsoft offerings every day. You're hardly in the minority. But has Microsoft enjoyed its enviable market position because it produced the best products? Nah.
Microsoft became No. 1 because, in business, Bill Gates had the morals of a great white shark in a feeding frenzy. By the time the courts finally slapped Microsoft down in the Netscape case, it was too late. The great monopolist had either killed off or bought out its competition.
To quote Thomas Penfield Jackson, the presiding judge in U.S. v. Microsoft, "Most harmful of all is the message that Microsoft's actions have conveyed to every enterprise with the potential to innovate in the computer industry. Through its conduct toward Netscape, IBM, Compaq, Intel, and others, Microsoft has demonstrated that it will use its prodigious market power and immense profits to harm any firm that insists on pursuing initiatives that could intensify competition against one of Microsoft's core products. Microsoft's past success in hurting such companies and stifling innovation deters investment in technologies and businesses that exhibit the potential to threaten Microsoft. The ultimate result is that some innovations that would truly benefit consumers never occur for the sole reason that they do not coincide with Microsoft's self-interest."
That's why most of you are using Microsoft products today. But just as Microsoft stomped out its commercial competition, open-source systems, such as Linux and Firefox, began appearing, and Microsoft's usual tactics couldn't touch them. At about the same time, Steve Jobs returned to Apple and refocused what was then a wreck of a company on creating "insanely great" products. Against Jobs' high-end, high-price approach, Microsoft was again unable to compete.
At first, Microsoft didn't really care. Even though it lost its antitrust case, it got away with little more than a hand slap. Life was good.
Until, that is, Microsoft started noticing that open source and Apple were slowly eating away at its markets. Microsoft, now an old, fat dinosaur, finally had to start making good, competitive products. It took ages, but today, Windows Server 2008 R2 is a great server operating system, Windows 7 is an excellent desktop operating system and even Internet Explorer 9 is a reasonable Web browser.
Too bad it's too late. Now that Microsoft is finally making good server and desktop operating systems and programs, we're moving to the cloud , smartphones and tablets . Yes, Microsoft has Azure for the cloud, but it's only one of many cloud platforms, and there's nothing compelling about it. As for the mobile device market, Windows 8 will never make it out in time to compete with the open-source-based Android and Apple's iOS. It's a dead OS walking.
Don't get me wrong. Microsoft won't drop dead tomorrow. But like the fat-client desktop, it's in decline. I won't miss it when it's finally gone.
Next:Preston Gralla sees Microsoft's recent app blitz as a sign that the company is learning to compete.
Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols has been writing about technology and the business of technology since CP/M-80 was cutting-edge and 300bps was a fast Internet connection -- and we liked it! He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .
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