Thursday, June 29, 2006

All good things....


"Microsoft is dying. Windows will lose it's crown as the dominant desktop OS within 5 years." - Robert Rittmuller

There, I said it. I suspect that many who read those words will disagree, but I suspect that there are those who are beginning to suspect I might just be right. Why? Read on!

If you have been following the news lately you might have noticed an interesting trend. Microsoft seems to be generating a significant amount of negative attention from most media outlets, and for good reason. The giant software company has been thrashing around in what seems like a never-ending attempt to find corporate direction. Over the last 10 years all Microsoft knew was how to expand it's core products. If it needed something "innovative" it simply looked outside itself for some small company to buy. Also, it had the deep pockets to lure talent to back up those transactions. I remember back during the boom years, being purchased by Microsoft was considered to be "making it". Wow have times changed, now Microsoft is struggling with several major issues. Together these issues will present an insurmountable challenge over the next five years leading to a vastly different operating system and general software marketplace than we have today.

So what are these challenges? Out of the almost unlimited possibilities I have selected several key challenges that I feel are critical to the developments leading to Microsoft's OS downfall over the next five years.

1. Too big for their britches.
Over the last 10 years Microsoft has grown from a small software company to this 800 pound guerilla that can't get out of it's own way. Innovation came mostly from acquisitions of smaller companies and through imitation, often long after it became obvious that the industry was moving in that direction. Today's computing markets move many times faster than those of 10 years ago, leaving Microsoft with a huge mobility problem in supporting the current implementations of both Windows and Office. Combine this with Microsoft's belief that they "own" the OS market and you have the makings of downward trend.

2. Brain drain.
With Bill Gates heading for the door, and several key engineers also making a run for it (to google no less), I think we can expect to see things begin to gum up even more than we are seeing now. Recent missteps in both product development (Windows Vista delays) and customer support (Windows Genuine Advantage Program) have show how the software giant is starting to falter just when the market in finally in a position to take advantage of these mistakes.

3. Brave new world.
With recent advances in virtualization technology, multi-core processors and most importantly, the introduction of the Linux desktop OS market, Microsoft has to face a battle on several fronts. This is by far the greatest technological threat Microsoft has had to face yet. Until recently Microsoft almost always was the direct beneficiary of whatever new hardware technology that was coming down the development pipeline. Recent advances have focused less on Windows directly, playing more to the general OS marketplace. This industry trend is a strong sign that vendors are worried that Microsoft might not be the only game in town anymore. Over this past year, hardware virtualization has also allowed several non-Microsoft OS platforms to run Windows at a performance point good enough to impress even the most critical business user. This is very important for business who wish to support legacy Windows applications while still having access to recent advances in both Mac OS and Linux (plus many others) operating systems. Virtualization will allow existing Windows users to run their older applications right alongside state-of-the-art, modern (aka legacy-free) software with far less concerns about both security and stability.

4. The foundation is cracked.
One major problem that has plagued Windows for years now has been that it was never designed for today's world. Each new version of Windows has simply been a revamp of the version that came before, adding new features without removing any old ones. This might be good for compatibility, but it has been a disaster for security and OS stability. Windows Vista appears to be a continuation of this trend. Linux and several other OS platforms were developed much more recently and, most importantly, are being developed on a almost constant basis. Both Linux and Mac OS X undergo annual releases and in the case of Linux, sometimes even more frequently than that. This new rapid software development cycle also puts the code out in front of the general public so legacy problems are found and addressed much faster. Another interesting byproduct of this process also seems to be a rapid cycle of what I usually call "code rebirth". This occurs when developers abandon legacy code when it has outlived it's usefulness in favor of leaner, more modern code. Through the "code rebirth" process we get applications that benefit from legacy knowledge (same developers) without the dangers of legacy code itself. Simply put, today's OS and application environment is running circles around the traditional development cycles. This has put Microsoft at a huge disadvantage and will continue to produce problems for the software giant through the next five years.

5. When money can't save you.
Out of all the reasons listed so far this one is the biggest. Why? It's simple. Microsoft has always had deep enough pockets to pull itself out of every hole in the road so far...until now. Enter Google, with bright and highly motivated engineers, and most importantly, pockets too deep for Microsoft to get their hands into. And Google is not the only company that Microsoft can't buy. We now have an entire marketplace full of companies that are valued far above what Microsoft could hope to realistically offer. In addition to the pure money factor we also have an environment where anti-trust issues are all to easy to run into. This situation has Microsoft paralyzed. They simply don't know what to do! For the first time in 10 years they have to face a market where they have no choice but to compete.


So to wrap up this mega-post, I predict that in five years Microsoft will no longer be a "player" in the OS, and maybe even the general software market thanks to both recent technology changes and the rise of OS independent software, and the companies that support it. I am sure there are many more reasons than the those I listed, but I think real change is in the air, and ultimately for Microsoft, all good things (like this post!) must eventually come to an end.

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