Dying Microsoft? Don’t Panic

Is Microsoft a dying company?

I’d say “dying” is a strong word for it, but my perception is of size and hubris problems enough to place them near their pinnacle of size and success before having to rethink themselves, and probably shrink, whether in a controlled, planned, voluntary way, or a more chaotic, seemingly unpredictable way.

Malone’s observations are good ones. Microsoft really is, as Ian notes, full of marketing and business smarts. My experience working in Microsoft tech support years ago was that they wanted superior customer service because they were fully aware they weren’t automatically going to stay on top forever, and it was important always to scramble as if you were still the scrappy underdog, not the IBM. Have they forgotten that? Probably not overall, but maybe in parts of the company.

All of which might matter little if they are up against sufficient powerful outside forces, accumulated perceptions, and maturation and demystification of the PC market.

I always point out the problem of creating a magnum opus and then not being able to improve on it enough to be compelling. For instance, Word 97, or even Office 97 more generally. Almost nobody would ever want or need anything more in that type of software. If they ended up on Word 2000 instead, the same applies. Microsoft ends up chasing a tiny share of people who really do need exotic new or improved features, first time or “with a new computer” purchasers, and any upgraders they can force. In that last case, they end up looking like bullies. Blam! There goes some mindshare.

Which is not to say that Office 2003 isn’t nifty, but there’s no compelling reason for most users to upgrade, and it’s a business challenge for Microsoft that they seem to have trouble facing. It’s worsened by the fact that writing an adequate word processor is a relatively easy programming challenge, so there is price pressure to boot.

I think Malone is onto something. I also think it will be a long, slow decline that could be arrested at any time, and will be in no way complete, ever. They’re not going to be the next DEC getting eaten by Compaq getting eaten inexplicably by HP in a fit of corporate rock star CEO insanity.

Article link and some of his own commentary via Ian Hamet, who also keeps us posted on the Hitchhiker’s Guide movie here, here, here, here, and probably elsewhere, but those are the recent ones.