Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Coming Irrelevance of Microsoft

Forty years ago, when we were in the midst of the first "real" generation of practical computing technology, it was unthinkable to suggest any vendor other than IBM. In one vein, they were the only vendor, although historians would be correct to point out that others were in the game. But, in that time, IBM was the 800-lb gorilla.

Then, as the eighties rolled around, an upstart called Microsoft stiffarmed its way into the computing business, and with a slew of low-cost PC clone manufacturers to push out their creaky old MS-DOS operating system, thumbed its nose at IBM and made words like "PowerPoint" and "Windows" household names, and Microsoft a lightning rod for criticism for its marketing tactics as an indomitable and even illegal market behemoth.

Now, as 2010 hits, the process is repeating. Microsoft is heading to irrelevance not because someone built a better word processor, but because the technical world simply changed around it - and Microsoft has been perpetually lagging in its efforts to play catch-up, all while realizing the ability to squeeze milk from its Office cash-cow may well be finite.

The workplace of 2010 is dominated by PDA's, iPhones, instant messages, blogging, electronic commerce, intranet-based social and intelligence networks. Microsoft is at the leading edge of exactly none of these areas. Google is plotting its own world order with Android, and its GoogleDocs platform of word processing and spreadsheets seemed at least as much a sand-kick to Microsoft as they leave Bill Gates leftovers in the dust.

Microsoft will likely always be a player. But their era of dominance is already at an end.

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