Why Microsoft vs Mankind still matters
The Penguin is missing, while Apple's gone to Hollywood
Comment For all but three of the past 17 years, Microsoft has been involved in antitrust litigation with government agencies. That's enough to wear anyone down. But as Europe's highest appeals court delivered its judgement on Monday, I did notice some ennui - not from dogged old hacks, but from a new generation of pundits.
Take this example from former teenage dot.commer Benjamin Cohen - who was six when FTC first trained its lawyers on Redmond. After taking a pop at the at "anti-Microsoft lobby", he declared on the Channel 4 News website:
"The judgement is based on an old case and in many ways an old world - where Microsoft really was the dominant player in information technology," wrote Benji.
Stop kicking the kindly old man in the Windows outfit, he said.
"It's hard for it to have too much relevance today."
You'd think from this brilliant piece of insight, that there is hardly anyone left who uses Microsoft Windows or Office. Maybe, like the Acorn Archimedes, it's a hobbyist system lovingly kept alive by a few, devoted enthusiasts! Benji even sounded slightly resentful at being torn away from Facebook (or Sadville) for a few minutes, to write about this piece of computer history.
But the question of "how we deal with Microsoft" is more relevant than ever for two very important and reasons: the second follows from the first.
It's Microsoft's game..
Firstly, the proportion of national wealth that goes to Microsoft is higher than ever. More people have Windows PCs at home, and as more countries acquire more PCs, so the dependence on Microsoft software grows. As a measure of how much, look at the earnings. Microsoft earned $36bn in 2004, and is projected to earn $63bn in FY 2009. Some "declining relevance".
In addition, Microsoft now has the desktop computing franchise for as long as it wants it - because its rivals have given up and gone home, or carefully avoid competing too hard with it. This is a hard truth for many people to accept.
Linux has failed to compete on the desktop because it isn't up to the task of being a consumer operating system, and Apple avoids competing because its focus is on digital media, and the Mac is a nice little earner as it is. Why should it rock the boat?
These days, Steve Jobs is a director at Disney - and Apple isn't even called "Apple Computer" any more.
Even with Mark Shuttleworth's benevolence, Ubuntu is still a long way from providing the ordinary user from a drop-in Windows replacement.
And Microsoft has countered the threat of the institutional adoption of Linux, particularly in emerging markets, by lowering the price. Few could would have predicted a few years ago that China and India would go Windows. Few anticipated Western public sector bodies continuing to pay large license fees to Redmond. But a slightly lower license cost, and the more abstract notion of "software freedom", weren't enough to win the day for F/OSS.
As the FSJ [aka Forbes' Daniel Lyons] wrote recently:
"You've lost. You've had sixteen years to try and build a desktop operating system, and you still can't get your shit together. Nobody wants your software. It's not Microsoft's fault. It's yours."
All of which makes Apple's position all the more frustrating. For a small premium it offers a substantially better and more secure experience than Windows. When ordinary users and businesses have the chance to use it, they like what they see. They'll typically opt for Windows, however, with consumers put off by the perceived price difference and the Mac's niche status, while enteprises are wary of lock-in to a single hardware vendor - especially with Apple dropping the "Computer".
… and Apple won't play
Yet Apple could remedy both if it embarked on a carefully selective licensing program, and permitted chosen OEMs to offer the Mac in more diverse forms. The company has never been in a position to do so before. Today, it can: in the last quarter Apple earned $2.53bn from computer sales, while $2.17bn came from iPod and music and phone products - and this before selling 1m iPhones.
It isn't hard to envisage Mac OS X reaching 25 per cent market share - which would address the last remaining reason for choosing Windows: there's more good specialist software written for it. But Apple won't allow it. With the Mac it's not a case of "can't compete", but "won't compete".
But ahh, you say - what about some great paradigm shift? Twenty years ago the PC wrenched control of the industry from IBM and other big vertically integrated companies, and handed it to Microsoft and Intel. What Nick Carr calls "The Big Switch" may make expensive desktop computers redundant. Just as Marc Andressen promised to make Windows "a poorly debugged device driver layer", Google's service bureau model of computing promises to make a PC an off-line backup, for those rare moments when the network goes down.
Well, we were here before with thin clients, and today it's called SaaS, or software as a service - and each time the economics are compelling. This time there's evidence of some steak behind the sizzle: Salesforce is a great example of businesses doing more work in a bureau model. But to think of one model entirely superseding another is quite wrong: IBM is still here, and the unique flexibility of the PC means it will be around for a very long time too.
In addition, the sheer inefficiency of the browser-based "Web 2.0" environment (Yahoo! 2.0-ified Mail Beta brings a dual core PC to its knees) pretty much guarantees you need some hefty hardware. So for the foreseeable future, SaaS services will be another application you run on your PC.
And once you've got a PC, you've got Windows. Now what?
people are forgetting
I think the main thing people are forgetting here when they talk of innovation is that. if you are the market leader by such a huger percentile and people will still flock to you do you really need to bother changing, theres no real competition in the home and bis pc market. I don't care what people say Linux is not user friendly enough for most people to use at this moment in time it really isnt. if someone said "ey up mate ive got this new version ive self coded" and it was as user friendly as windows you guys wouldnt use it purley on the basis that you like having to do work arounds playing with the terminal etc. the avg bloke or buissness want something thats fast easy to use with good support and thats semi reliable. if i was for example to say hell lets add usb wireless adaptors to all the pcs it would be a snap in windows, in linux it could take days to get a driver that was compatible. It's just not an option at the moment. Don't get me wrong i think linux is brilliant but devs need to focus on one distro get it sorted good and proper. I suppose this is the dissadvantage in open source, too many cooks and that. I have no doubt at one point linux will get up there. As for macs unless they start fighting back its going to be MS forever unless you do something creative. They are focusing far to much on the fasion side of things. they've bled the market dry with Ipoops and they might as well have given up with any thing to do with joeblogs systems.
all in all i think the problem is focus and support. moaning that companis don't offer the drivers of something in linux isnt the awnser i'ts not a supprise they dont support it theres more distros then crappy actors in eastenders Focus people Focus
Did anyone notice that all of the Linux comments were, "It works if you do ___."
Glad to see *somebody* round here forgot to put their blinkers on. The end of your original post was the most inciteful and accurate comment I've seen for a while.
Anybody remember Lotus 123? The Borland Quattro restrictive practices by Lotus whine wars? No?
The perfect example of a multi-million dollar, de facto software monopoly disappearing down the tubes faster than you could say "WTF was that?". All they got wrong was backing the wrong horse in the OS wars and sinking all their effort into OS/2 and relying on the semi-gui DOS product to handle Win 3 (supporting that shit was a stressful time).
The same thing could just as easily happen to MS, who knows what the catalyst might be?
Of course the *really* funny circular argument here is that what eventually killed off Lotus was a spreadsheet ubiquitous on the Mac but unheard of on PCs, MS Excel. Oh the irony!