Monday, July 10, 2006


Bye Bill

With Bill Gates having departed Microsoft to varying degrees of applause and a great deal of commentary, what will happen to Microsoft? Will they continue to dominate the software landscape for the foreseeable future, or will they succumb to the same fate as IBM? Is it a coincidence that mini-microsoft decided to stop blogging just before Bill Gates left???

In my view, Microsoft has the same fundamental problem that affects all producers of shrink-wrapped software: you eventually reach a point of diminishing returns where you can’t sell the same end user any more of the ‘same’ software (by that, I mean yet another upgraded version of a product, such as Office for example). Hence Microsoft’s abortive foray, spearheaded by Steve Ballmer, into the world of leasing software applications to end users. Is he just waiting for all pervasive DRM to be incorporated deeply into the OS and hardware, and will make another attempt soon?

Now I don’t want to be branded a MS hater (I’m not), but Microsoft’s strength until recently has not been raw innovation. Microsoft knows a good product when they see it, with the usual result of them buying the company that produces it! Microsoft has possibly been the world’s best software ‘refinery’. I wanted to use the word immitator to paraphrase their famous sound bite, but I don’t think that accurately describes what Microsoft does best.

Take the .Net framework for instance. It was hardly that innovative (can you spell Java?), but I applaud what the teams at Microsoft have done. It’s nothing short of bloodly marvelous. Imagine the type of systems you can easily create now compared to ten years ago. And SQL Server 2005; well I think it examplies the best aspects of what Microsoft can do well. I’m not ashamed to say that I love SQL Server! I hope that all MS software will become this solid.

How do companies create great products that sell? Unless it’s a paradigm shift (i.e innovation), one way is to listen to consumers to find out what they want, add expertise and flair, and then give them something that goes byond what they asked for.

I think MS should adopt a policy with more emphasis on innovation if they want to be as successful in the next ten years. The ‘Bayesian’ like abilities of Google are something MS should have been incorporating into their products years ago (especially given the size of Microsoft’s research department). I think Microsoft would better serve their consumers by creating products that contain more ‘think ahead’ for the user, rather than coming up with a succession of new interfaces for the core products (as they seem to have done in Office 2007, although it is early days yet and I’m sure it will include new features of value).

I believe Microsoft is likely to dominate as they move into the corporate office arena of content creation, management and (especially) workflow. No other company is so well positioned with Microsoft’s hooks into the Office suite.

Anyway, that’s enough dribbling on from me!


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