Many people are probably asking themselves why I would take on a subject so broad, and so fraught with problems. After all, is Microsoft not doing well? Well, of course they are. However, they should be doing so much better than they currently are, and the problems are easily seen by many, though they only see the separate problems, after being pointed out by a long time viewer – because those new to the scene might think Microsoft was rolling merrily along.

The facts are, as extraordinary as the market share of the company is in today’s world, it has slipped much from the zenith of a few years ago, when no sane person thought that Microsoft would ever lose market share, unless possibly broken up by the government as part of a monopoly case.

Well, there are no signs of any government action, and that is because Microsoft has slipped in its domination of the computer scene. Though there has been no mass migration to OS X and Apple machines, the company continues to build upon the successes of the return to the company of Steve Jobs. It has gone from a company few would have given odds on for survival, to one that dominates in many areas not gotten into early by Microsoft, and now those at Microsoft are envious of the position Apple has made for itself.

In computers and operating systems, Apple continues to grow slowly, bolstered by the sales of iPhones, iPods, and of course, the latest darling, the iPad.

Apple has become wildly successful through its ability to diversify, while Microsoft has become less successful through the same process.

How can that be?

If you are a long time watcher of all things Microsoft, you might not know that the company based in Redmond has never done well when it was trying something on its own, and from the minds contained within those walls. This may sound harsh, but it is completely true.

Every Microsoft success has been because the company examined and copied (or bought) a competitor.

Think about it.

MS-DOS – bought from a small company for a small price, slightly modified, and made part of every PC sale for a very long time. It is the original golden egg.

Microsoft Windows – copied unashamedly from Apple’s Mac OS, and using parts of a Xerox idea (as Apple had also done) it was slow to catch on but when it did…

Microsoft mice – few people put this one up as a big winner, but you know it was. Everyone, including me, wanted on of those original dove-bar mice, which was made so well, and was so much better than any other mice of its time. It was a killer – Logitech survived, but Mouse Systems, the other large manufacturer of mice at the time, did not.

Microsoft Office  – they took the very best ideas from Lotus 1-2-3, Ashton-Tate’s dBase III, and other smaller companies (like Harvard Graphics) to make the first killer office suite.  Others had much better individual programs, let’s not kid ourselves for one minute, but Windows, and Dynamic Data Exchange is what made Microsoft Office work. They had copied, or stolen, the best parts from the other productivity apps, and tied it up nicely for everyone to open…at a hefty price. But the customers saw the convenience, and paid the hefty price – another inconceivably huge win for Microsoft, and, perhaps one that will never be undone.

Now think about the failures of Microsoft.

Bob – something someone came up with that had too much time on their hands. I’ll leave it at that. (if you want to know more – look here)

Vista – this was Microsoft engineers left too long alone, with nothing to process but their own ideas, and nothing to copy or nick from Apple – so you might even say Vista was Apple’s fault!

Bing – this is simply the hubris of Microsoft, and the “we have to have one of those too” mentality, and perhaps it will be great, but not in my lifetime will it ever overtake Google – unless all the intelligence at Google is sucked away by aliens, or I live much longer than the average life expectancy in my family, which is 90+ years.

Windows phone – no matter the version. The older version was eclipsed by the Blackberry models, and Windows Phone 7 has been labeled a failure before launch because it fails to grasp some key ideas about the mobile space, because it was extremely late to the party (a Microsoft trait that gets worse with time), and because the company will not put it out on the right carrier (Verizon) and the right architecture (CDMA) from the start.  This will set back the phone offering at least another year, and be another thing we’ll talk about as a “what were they thinking?” moment in a couple of years.

Over at PC Magazine, John Dvorak cites another couple of things Microsoft could have done to keep the fires burning in the minds of the customers, one of which would have been to do further work on Spaces, effectively turning it into not only a blogging platform, but Microsoft’s own version of Facebook.

Microsoft killed Spaces because it’s forgotten how to do what it once did best: copy and extend.

There are a lot of copycats in the tech world. A lot of people steal things from each other, often blatantly. You have to wonder how Facebook, Twitter, and other big products manage to avoid this. I mean, how hard would it have been for Google, Microsoft, or IBM to rip off Facebook when it first appeared—or when it was growing like crazy? It baffles me.

This sort of failure began with blogging. Blogger and a few other systems emerged with a simple mechanism that would have been incredibly simple to copy. To an extent, the only company that took the hint was WordPress, which stems directly from the early blogging concepts. Everyone else had to do it their own way, with many eschewing the simple yet powerful mechanisms established by Blogger.com. Eventually Google, a company loaded with coders, bought the service. That was laughable. Are you telling me that iGoogle could not have been written from scratch over a weekend?

I suppose that Google wanted the customers more than the code. At this point, no one can afford Facebook’s customers. You’d think someone would have produced an exact clone by now. One company really comes to mind: Microsoft. When the blogging phenomenon was heating up, Microsoft was again behind the curve. It tried to rebound with Microsoft Live Spaces. This week, the company threw in the towel. Now it’s asking customers to go to WordPress.

Spaces arrived in 2004, years after the blogging phenomenon was established. And like many of Microsoft’s online products, it missed the point. I’m not sure if the company has meetings trying to deconstruct the world outside of the Redmond compound, but it seems to be clueless. Microsoft’s ideas about blogging are off-the-mark to this day. For some reason, there seems to be the impression that it’s only about social networking and not about professional presentation and modern content management. In short, the entire MS interpretation is wrong.

Here I disagree with John, but just a bit. I don’t think that Microsoft never got the point; I think it was somehow lost in the corporate structure because it was not seen as an immediate cash cow. Remember, this was 2004, and Microsoft was already feeling the hurt of not having Vista ready to milk the buying public another time.

Microsoft has become a culture of yes men and toadies who are apparently afraid to say anything. There are hundreds of serious bloggers at the company who could straighten them out in a minute, if anyone would listen.You have to assume this was tried and failed.

Which brings us to Facebook. Apparently not one person at Microsoft as the ability to say, "hey, this is popular. Let’s copy it!" like in the old days. Not that I’m encouraging or liked the fact that Microsoft was derivative in the past, but let’s face it, its best work was derivative. Now it has evolved into a NIH (not invented here)-type company that cannot accept the fact that anyone outside the gates has a brain. Instead, it does a deal with Facebook to sell ads. When did selling ads become a core competency at Microsoft, anyway?

Mr. Dvorak continues to state that Microsoft will not get back on track until such time as someone gets the nerve to challenge the dimwits running the place, and bring them back to reality – that Microsoft is only good at improving things, not inventing them, and they have not been doing much of either lately.

So, it is time for a Microsoft iPad, one that runs x86 code, and makes transfer of files easy with the desktop. Forgetting about the Windows phone (non)phenomenon would go a long way here, and then putting a CDMA/ 4G phone interface into that Windows iPad would be a big win for us, as well as them.

Also, perhaps Mr. Ballmer could get a nice, full bonus before his retirement.

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I don’t really trust a sane person.

– Lyle Alzado

~ must have been the steroids talking…


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