Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Is Microsoft becoming “statesman-like”?, asks Winer - Microsoft Weblog

Winer's original posting.

My thoughts:

I think Winer's point may be valid even if he picked bad examples. For one thing, Ford is a privately held company, and Carter was not a particularly successful President, even though he seems to have been trying to re-invent himself ever since. GE was probably a good example though, they are extremely diversified, and influential.

Microsoft, on the other hand, considering its success, is one of the least diversified companies on earth. I'll give you half credit for the Xbox (hey it's really just a PC) and the MS mouse?, really now, who are you kidding?

I don't think Microsoft will ever be able to expunge the fact that it was IBM that "standardized" the PC, which is why there is no longer a Radio Shack/Tandy PC, or a Texas Instruments PC, or an Altair or Imsai PC, and so on. IBM made a PC that COULD be cloned, and did not much about people who cloned it. They did nothing to stop people from running other operating systems on it or using it for purposes they had not envisioned. As an IBM stockholder you could criticize them for not exerting enough control over the architecture, but if you think it through you have to conclude that any more control on their part would have just caused some other architecture to be more successful in the long run. And with MS stock flat-lining as far back as most people (these days) can remember, it's that long run that MS (and ITS stockholders) should be thinking about.

Ford, come to think of it DID invent the mass produced car. But I bet its financial troubles have more to do with its relationship with autoworkers unions and their pension plans than it has to do with the fact that Ford doesn't get 20% of every car manufactured in the world. That gets right to the heart of Microsoft's situation, because Microsoft has no moral right to a percentage of the sale price of every PC sold in the world either. There is no right and certainly no rationality in Microsoft expecting that obeisance be paid to them every time someone flips on their PC or TV set or game console for that matter. If that were the case then Boeing would be making all the world's airplanes and Ford would be making all the world's cars and Jimmy Carter, no, make that Gerald Ford, would still be President of the US. Like any individual, reputation gets you in the door, but what you say afterward can wind your applause or respectfully mumbled mockery.

As someone who spent thousands of dollars of my own money on Microsoft products when others were "borrowing" copies from the office I've gone from someone who was completely sold on Microsoft products as indispensable to computer usage to someone who doesn't use a single Microsoft product at all. I remember reading in Bill Gates own words how the Windows API (the first time I had ever seen the term used) would standardize peripheral use and make it easier for more programs to work seamlessly together. That all came true, although, conceptually the API was nothing new, mainframe OSs had been masking the differences between multiple peripherals for a long time.

What also came true was that the Windows API, and other Microsoft APIs that followed became weapons of control which allowed other software companies to grow in the shadow of Microsoft, but only to grow so big, and only in certain directions without being enveloped or extinguished.

I think those days are, for the most part, over. We all know what a TV set looks like, and what it does. The same goes for airplanes, cars, refrigerators and toasters. But what kind of world would it be if Boeing made all airplanes, Ford made all cars or if GE made all TVs, refrigerators, and toasters? Well, it would be a pretty good world for Boeing, Ford and GE wouldn't it? But that's not the world we live in. Other companies make those things, and other countries feel it is in their best interest if those things are made by their own companies too. That diversification of products is, and WILL continue to be the way of the world. It isn't even conceivable that an exception will be made for the PC or the operating system that runs it. There is no product whether simple like the paper clip, or complex like the Space Shuttle that has reached such a stage of perfection that everyone worldwide uses the same thing. The Space Shuttle, in particular, serves as a perfect example of what Windows, coupled with the Intel architecture has become: Entrenched, bureaucratic, expensive, overly complex and failure prone.

The party's over. All is not lost for Microsoft by any means, but the falling-off-a-log-easy road to success is behind them and what is ahead looks like hard work. Frankly, I don't think it is something that Microsoft or its founders have much of an appetite for. I've always said that Ford would be better off it it were more widely held. All or most decisions would not be left up to the Ford family. The same is true of Microsoft, while it is publicly traded, it is long overdue for the founders to magnanimously move on to bigger and better things. Look at what Paul Allen has done with his winnings. True genius is being able to succeed over and over rather than just being able to defend a once won position. For the leaders of Microsoft, they need to learn the difference between going on offense and being offensive. Better yet, they need to move on and let others work, and it will be work, to keep the parts of the old Microsoft viable.

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