How Microsoft Will Die

by James R. Stoup Jul 01, 2005

Longhorn, by the features

WFS: Cut
.NET Framework: Cut
Integrated Search: Cut
Avalon: Who knows?
Indigo: Who knows?
IE7: You can repaint a Kia, lower it down, put rims on it and think you are cool, but at the end of the day it is still a Kia.

And so it goes, on and on. Feature after feature is cut, promise after promise is broken, and what do we have at the end of the day? XP SP3. If Microsoft fails to deliver something approaching decent with Longhorn then they will be in trouble. Big trouble. And most people haven’t even realized this yet. But they will soon enough.

Why are they in trouble?

Momentum. It all boils down to momentum. Google has it. Sony has it. Apple has it pouring out of its orifices, Microsoft though. . .not so much. 

You see momentum is what pushes that reluctant manager to go ahead and upgrade his system instead of waiting for something better or (very scary music plays in the background) switching to Linux. Momentum is what gets a word of mouth campaign going that convinces your everyday user to go out and buy the latest OS. Momentum is what keeps the media friendly, sort of. 

But lately MS has been getting all of the wrong types of momentum. They aren’t getting that “battering ram” momentum no, it’s more like at sinking ship momentum. You see the ram is going through, but the ship is going down. Big difference.

Right now Microsoft can’t even hold a press release about Longhorn without either saying its going to be delayed again or that they are cutting even more features. This really makes them look incompetent. I mean, I know they are incompetent but this really lets the rest of the world in on the joke as well.

And no matter how they spin it they have now reached the point where it’s impossible to make the situation sound any better than it is. Three years ago they could have made these announcements from a position of strength. Two years ago they could have made these announcements and then lied heavily in hopes of saving face. One year ago they made these announcements and it started looking really scary for anyone whose business depended on Longhorn. And now this year these announcements make them look like a company that is adrift, with no real vision, desperately trying not to drown. Congratulations Bill you have officially lost any momentum you thought you might have had. 

The 3 nails in the MS coffin

In order of importance:

1. Microsoft
They have always been their worst enemy. Shoddy software practices are forced on programmers due to incompetent managers which in turn produces the mess that is Longhorn. Even if the computing world was relatively quiet (which it isn’t, not by a long shot) then MS would still be in deep horse pucky over the gross stupidity that their leadership has shown. And to make matters even worse management has now realized that this time there isn’t going to be a “quick fix”. There are no more features left to cut. This time the deadline is real because their competitors are getting their act together in a way that hasn’t ever happened before.

2. Apple
Making matters worse is Steve Jobs. He has Apple humming like fine tuned violin. Tiger is everything Apple promised and its only been released for three months or so. And I imagine things are only going to improve.  And if that wasn’t enough Apple is going to squeeze out yet another OS before Microsoft can get Longhorn out the door. Ouch, yet another kick in the balls. Then you have this whole Macintel thing going on plus rumors about the iPod/ITMS/movie business all of which draw the attention of the media towards Apple’s successes.

3. Linux
Never forget Linux. They may be a disorganized, fragmented group who may not present a challenge on the desktop but they are chipping away slowly at MS’s dominance. Then on the server side Microsoft has finally realized that they are fighting a losing war. And this is evidenced by the growing number of MS backed “independent” research groups claiming Windows server is (pick one, cheaper, better, faster, more secure etc.). Those tactics speak of desperation. They are a smear campaign plain and simple.

This is a good indication of how bad the situation currently is and how much worse its going to get. Think about how much of a market share Apple has. Something like 3% of yearly sales with an install base of about 10-15%. Now, think about its mindshare. What is mindshare you ask? Well, its the extent to which people know about a phenomenon. The iPod has enormous mind share. You might not own one yourself but chances are you know someone who has does. The iPod alone has made Apple’s mindshare sky rocket. Now factor in the ITMS and how profitable it has been. Now think about the recent announcement of their switch to Intel. And then there is the ever present rumors about them starting a movie store much like the iTMS. People can’t stop talking about Apple and Jobs is just fanning the flames, trying his best to fuel the fires and feed the rumor mills.

And all the while the media focuses on Apple do you know who they aren’t talking about? Microsoft. Think about all of the buzz that MS has gotten in the past when they released a new operating system. And here they are about to release an item they claim is their most revolutionary product ever and . . . no one is listening. No one cares. Redmond is no longer where all of the news is coming from. If you are about to release a killer product, something that is going to save your company and allow you to ride its success for years to come, the last thing you want to hear are yawns.

News flash! Longhorn is going to be drastically overshadowed by Leopard and Macs running Intel. Make no mistake about it, Jobs is a master showman. As such, he will wait untill the best moment possible and then try and wow the world with all of Apple’s new toys. Who wants to cover a stripped down, bare bones, bug infested OS like Longhorn (which is already being called XP SP3 if that gives you any indication of how bad things are) when you can go look at Leopard running on a pumped up PowerMac with Intel’s latest and greatest chip inside?

Linux learns to game

More bad news for MS is called Cedega. And do you know why it is bad? Because it allows Windows only games to be played on a version of Linux called Linspire. Uh oh. Thats not good.

Gaming is the one area in which Microsoft can truly call their own. No one really even competes with them on the desktop as far as gaming goes. Anything else and Apple and Linux can put up a good fight but not when it comes to games. Until now. With the release of this product Half Life, GTA, Doom 3 and the rest can now be played in Linux. And if they can do it for Linux then they can do it for Mac.  And that simple fact should scare the heck out of Microsoft. Because if that program is ported to OS X then the top games in the industry can be played on a Mac, using Intel’s fastest chip, using NVidia’s best graphics card on a 30” aluminum display. Over night PowerMacs could become the best gaming rig in history.

And remember, its gamers who drive companies to produce the best product possible. Normal people don’t go out and buy the latest and greatest stuff just because it’s out, gamers do. When you are playing Doom 3 you want it to be as realistic as possible and if that means buying a $300 video card then they will do it. If that means buying the fastest processor they will do it. And if that means upgrading to the newest OS then they will do it. Say, we don’t know anyone coming out with a new OS any time do we?

Realistically how long do you think gamers will stick with Windows if it turns out that the best gaming experience can be had on a Mac? And if the rumors are true and Apple does bring AltiVec to the Intel side of things then it is quite possible that Apple may be the ones who very soon are producing the fastest computers anywhere. And remember, gamers always want more power.

Women and children first

Here is my best shot at what Microsoft could do to try and turn things around:

1. Admit defeat
If only to themselves MS has to admit that Longhorn is a complete and utter failure. To have come this far, spent this much money and wasted this much time to ultimately produce an OS which barely has any of the features that was to make it great, is a beyond pathetic. Time to own up to the fact that everybody screwed up.

2. Thin the herd
First one out the door needs to be Ballmer. He is an idiot on a good day and he has just reinforced that image with his bungling of the Longhorn situation. After he goes then its time to go down the line trimming the fat and doing some serious house cleaning. Once that is done then look outside the company for a few decent managers.

3. Do your best
Since Longhorn is the only thing you got at the moment that is what they are going to have to sell. Try to make the best out of a bad situation. This is the point at which you should be treading water while you work on something else.

4. Dump it
Throw all of the current Windows code away. All of it. Everything from 9x to XP to Longhorn, everything has to go. It’s all crap and its time to jettison those reeking piles of poorly written, buggy code.

5. Start over
This may be the hardest pill of all to swallow but the way I see it they have two choices. Plan A, try and make a new OS from the ground up. Just like the people who designed Unix, security and stability have to be your main goals. But that approach is going to take time, a lot of time in fact. And time is something that MS doesn’t have much of right now. So, they might want to look at plan B. Plan B involves doing pretty much what Apple did. Use BSD as the core of your OS then build around it. Now, I realize that doing this would be a major embarrassment and would require the biggest software company on earth to swallow its pride, but ultimately they would see that it’s the best choice.

6. Decouple
There is no need to make IE so deeply attached to your kernel. Bad things happen when you do stuff like that. Same thing with Media Player, uncouple it. Strive to make the system as small as possible. You build the basic system and then offer pieces that can be attached as needed.

7. Move on
It’s time to tell the public that if they want to use the newest applications for then they need to upgrade. Everyone who still uses 98 has to get real. All of you still using 95 need your head examined. And any of you using ME, God help you. Microsoft needs to stand up and inform people that they will no longer bend over backwards to accommodate their old, clunky, piece of crap software. Its time to update all of your applications. 95, 98, ME, 2000, XP and Longhorn are dead, move on. That step alone would make the OS much smaller, faster and more secure.

8. Accept the losses
Microsoft is going to lose market share no matter what they do. If they followed this strategy then they would lose market share faster than if they stuck it out with Longhorn but in a few years they would be in a much better position to come back and reclaim what they had lost.

Wrapping it up

So, there you have it. The current state of the Longhorn, a prediction of things to come and a few hints for the folks in Redmond. It will be fun to watch what happens in the industry in the next few years. We will see if I am right. What do you think? What did I miss?

Since I have received so many comments that seem to dwell on the same point let me clarify my position.  I don’t think Microsoft is going to go anywhere soon.  However, I do think that they are on the downturn.  They have reached their peak and now they are in decline.  It will take a long time for their influence to fade (a decade at least) and for a good part of that time they will still be a force to be reconded with.  But that still doesn’t change the fact that, as a company, they are falling instead of rising.

Check out my views on all of Microsoft’s business endeavors (present and future) here:
Microsoft’s Future Prospects


  • Ain’t it funny, James.  I was going to write an article saying why MS are doing ok!!

    I think we in the Apple world get a distorted view of both how good Apple are doing, and how bad (we think) MS are doing.

    Among the many IT Managers I know, Apple isn’t even a long term consideration. Although most of them have at least one Linux server.

    My impression is that MS are not weakening at all. Yes Apple are getting stronger but that’s barely a mosquito bite on MS.

    MS are not going to dominate every market - but they sure as hell will try. Just because they fail, we think they are weakening.

    Look at the PDA market.  It took them a while, but now MS dominate.  You try buying any corporate app that has a handheld interface, and most will need a Windows CE PDA.

    IT Managers are an amazingly tolerant lot - maybe they have become too accustomed to MS’s bumbling and bugs.  Or maybe their investment in MS products is too great.

    So they will wait patiently for Longhorn, and they don’t care if it’s cut down - because all those bells and whistles aren’t what’s important to them.

    They don’t buy Windows for the bells and whistles.  And they certainly don’t buy it for the games it runs.

    They buy Windows because that’s what their corporate apps run on.  Their records management systems. Their GIS systems. Their departmental specific systems. Their finance systems. Etc. Etc.

    It is the corporate world that made Microsoft. In the 80’s when the corporate world was getting behind one standard (DOS), the consumer world had a plethora of choices - Atari, Amiga, BBC, Apple,

    With the advent of Windows 95, MS coup de grace was destroying it’s competition in the application sphere - Word Perfect, Lotus Notes, Freelance and dBase.

    How? Two things.
    1) They made Office, an all in one consisten interface across all apps
    2) They made it difficult for the others to get hold of Windows APIs.

    Once they’d done that, they had the corporate market all tied up.

    And it’s the corporate world that continues to give Windows it’s massive marketshare.

    When we say “Windows has 90% of the market” just how much of that 90% is in the corporate market? 60% of the 90%? Or more?

    Where are Apple gaining marketshare? I’d reckon in the much smaller home market.  And the home market won’t influence buying decisions in the corporate market.  But the corporate market influences the home market.  People buy at home what they use at work.

    MS are safe for a very long time. They’ll still be doing fine come 2020.

    Chris Howard had this to say on Jul 01, 2005 Posts: 1209
  • PS And none of those IT Managers I know even care about Tiger.

    Chris Howard had this to say on Jul 01, 2005 Posts: 1209
  • This article echoes most of my thoughts regarding Longhorn.

    Right now MS are in the same pickle Apple were in with their “Next Generation” OS “Copland” - except that Gil Amelio (often much maligned in my view) realised the thing was a mess and never going to come together. OS8-9 used the bits that could be phased in comfortably and began laying the ground for the shift to OS X. OK 8 and 9 were good enough but Apple realised they needed to make a quantum leap forward to stay in the real game. 8-9 were used to keep the ship afloat and prepare the way while X was readied for action.

    With X Apple dropped support for everything pre-G3 (yes you can run X on older stuff if you *really* want to) so allowing them to strip away a lot of dead wood required to support machines going back to the 80s.

    Microsoft’s problem though is twofold:
    1) they don’t have the luxury of a fixed closed hardware base with a nice tidy cutoff point (PII, PIII, MMX, HT, AMD, etc. etc. how and where to cut the apron strings?)
    2) MS (as a software company) would find it really hard to admit that their much touted new OS is actually “just not really any good” and “we’re going to have to go back and start over - can you just wait another couple of years while we get a beta version ready?”

    Linux is already starting to cut into their user base, common internet access has made even the “average Joe” at least aware that something called “Linux” exists (something that a few years ago didn’t present MS much of a problem, to the man on the street MS was computers…) and as more users get totally cheesed off with Windows more of them are going to at least experiment with some form of Linux. And many of them may well stay there.

    Serenak had this to say on Jul 01, 2005 Posts: 26
  • Oh, yes BTW, Chris Howard is right.

    No matter how rubbish Longhorn is MS will shift billions of copies just because it is from Microsoft.

    But rubbish OS upon rubbish OS begins to weaken your position. It might take a lot of mosquitos to suck the blood out of an elephant but sure as eggs is eggs enough of them surely will.

    Anyway I don’t want to see MS destroyed utterly in some insane “revenge” fantasy. I wold just like to see the market sort itself out and bring their dominance down to a “sensible” market position maybe 60-70%?

    Whatever happens I doubt MS will crumble to dust - nor do I wish it to, but that doesn’t mean the fact that Longhorn is in trouble will go away…

    Serenak had this to say on Jul 01, 2005 Posts: 26
  • Microsoft will continue to succeed in spite of themselves, at least for a great while to come.  Their mistakes, regardless of what product line they are in, are never even close to being overshadowed by their marketshare.  Public awareness is a great thing but it doesn’t guaranty sales - only the knowledge that something exists.  Mac has existed for over 20 years and has received some of the best press around but it’s hardly ever delivered Apple the bottom line, and it took iPod to negate most of the 90’s. 

    If we want Apple to succeed then we need to shift our focus, much like I think they have.  Apple won’t put a dent in Microsofts OS marketshare in the near future, but what it can do is beat them to the punch in areas like iTunes and iPod - producing quality products in emerging markets reaching the point of going beyond the early adopter.  Positioning itself as THE media hub to beat in the home will give Apple and OS X a distinct advantage in the long run, not Microsofts failings.  Apple has had the better mousetrap for years, the mice just have no reason to show up yet - at least not in great numbers.

    dickrichards2000 had this to say on Jul 01, 2005 Posts: 112
  • I totally agree with Mr. Stoup.  As one long time tech pundit wrote that over a year ago he was visiting the folks in Redmond and he began to smell the smell.  An odor he had smelled many times in the past.  The smell of the beginning of the beginning of the end.  Or big time problems.  And those companies that had that smell all either ended up going away or were downsized greatly.

    But ahead of all of that is a another very interesting scenario which I believe could happen that could make all of the above moot.  This possibility has been put forward by many analysts.  That is a long A in the word analysts.  Yes, Mr. Jobs has been executing a plan that has been in place and has evolved since 1982-85.  It is personal and it is loaded with ‘revenge’.

    The folks at Intel cannot stand Bill Gates and M$.  With a passion right up there with Mr. Jobs. For all kinds of reasons and easy to list.  You put the two together and watch out.

    Intel buys Apple Computer by or before 2007.  Intel has been inching it’s way into the software arena for years.  The MacTel transistion is successfully underway.  The implications are obvious with 80% of the chip market in tow.  And the AMD lawsuit will not succeed in all probability.  Steve Jobs ends up running not only Pixar but Sony America and Disney as well.  Well, maybe not all three but this is what Mr. Jobs really wants to be.  An entertainment mogul. 

    Don’t think for one moment that when Jobs had the opportunity to come back to Apple that this end result wasn’t well up on his list of to do’s.  One Lego at a time.

    Granted, this is a very simple summary and who knows how all of this will turn out.  But this is the plot that really creates the probable diminishing of Microsoft market share near term along with it’s own expertise at shooting off it’s toes.

    Norsk had this to say on Jul 01, 2005 Posts: 8
  • I think the only area where MS will lose significant marketshare is in the home market ... the corporate world is dependent on MS whether they like it or not ... not even considering company applications which run on Windows ... think of how many businesses have locked themselves into proprietary MS document formats (Word, Excel).

    I think Apple will continue to make large strides in the home market ... as much as I would like to see that happen in the corporate market ... I don’t see it happenning anytime soon.

    I think the biggest problem MS faces with Longhorn is that many customers are still perfectly content with W2K and XP ... and since there are likely steep H/W requirements for Longhorn ... it makes it even less compelling (especially for home users).

    dmcleod had this to say on Jul 01, 2005 Posts: 10
  • Few comments have left me laughing as hard as points 4 and 5. So, the great brilliance of Apple is that they realized that their OS sucked and dumped it overboard for BSD? The writer seems to believe that the best course of action for Msft is to follow in Apple’s footsteps. The only time that has worked in Msft’s favor was in the adoption of the GUI (which as I recall worked out poorly for Apple’s market share)

    netmarcos had this to say on Jul 01, 2005 Posts: 2
  • I do believe that the above post is a troll….

    Serenak had this to say on Jul 01, 2005 Posts: 26
  • As much as I’d like to believe this is true, it just won’t happen.

    The vast majority of computer users are drones.  They don’t know good from bad.  They can barely manage to boot up the computer and check their e-mail.  Windows is what they use at work.  Windows is what comes pre-installed on their Dell.  Windows is all they have ever used.  Those folks aren’t going to care if Longhorn doesn’t include all the bells and whistles the Microsoft promised.  If it comes pre-installed on their next PC, that’s what they’ll use.

    The only way OS X, Linux, or any other OS is going to topple Windows is if you get Dell and HP to start shipping <u>all</u> of their new computers with it pre-installed.

    Until that day, Microsoft has a bottomless goldmine.

    bomalley had this to say on Jul 01, 2005 Posts: 4
  • I wish that this article was true but Microsoft has far more clout and money than Apple. Even if Microsoft totally imploded the inertia they have in the corp sector would ensure that MS products could still survive for years with fledgling support.

    Linux is beginning to wane and there is discontent beginning to brew. Bill are bills and we all need to pay ours and linux’s ideal of “free free free” is just the antithesis of standard business.

    Apple is happy to have their niche but their recent actions are decidedly consumerish and of no threat to Microsoft’s hegemony.

    hmurchison had this to say on Jul 01, 2005 Posts: 145
  • Windows Server 2003 is a very good OS. 
    They are cutting features because they are busy beefing up security and fixing bugs so their desktop OS will be as good as 2003.  And that will sell to corporates.

    xbaz had this to say on Jul 01, 2005 Posts: 11
  • Should we start the Microsoft Death Knoll?

    Seriously, this article seems to be based on wishful thinking more than anything else that I can see.

    Microsoft took in $9.62 billion in revenue during the last THREE months.  In the three months prior, they took in $10.82 billion!  Most likely, it only takes the company a few minutes to earn your salary for the entire year.  If the money pouring into Microsoft was instead pouring into a window in your house or apartment, it wouldn’t take very long before you were crushed to death by its weight.  Think about that for a second.

    In other words, Microsoft is a money making machine.  Even if they aren’t growing, I don’t see any indication at all from their financial results that they are in any danger of dying.

    Over $3 billion a month…  wow…  I wish my company had Microsoft’s problems.

    whymustichooseausername had this to say on Jul 01, 2005 Posts: 2
  • While it was fun reading this article, I think I have to agree that all the proprietary apps written in big business for the Windows platform make any drift/shift away from Windows problematic at best.  Businesses will not spend a dime rewriting their apps just because Longhorn is a bust.  They probably won’t consider going to Longhorn for at least five years after it’s finally released, and then only because Microsoft refuses to support its current OSes as new bugs crop up and aren’t fixed.

    I think I do agree that interest in the MacOS for home use is expanding.  While users can call their IT staff to fix their PCs at work, it’s a different story at home.  There they want their computers to just work.  Here the MacOS/hardware integration is unrivaled.  I’ve just given an old G4 Tower to a friend who contracts supporting Windows machines, because he’s beginning to get requests for Mac support and wants to learn how to support Macs.

    On the local front, I’d really like for Apple to find a way to turn on the Quartz 2D Extreme feature in Tiger.  I wonder what’s holding it up?  Oh, and I’d like for ATI to release the X850 retail product for the Mac, since Apple is now offering it BTO.

    Dave Marsh had this to say on Jul 01, 2005 Posts: 44
  • Re: #9 Not a troll at all. As a matter of fact, I hope Apple continues to improve in both product and market share. Many of my family and friends - and my clients - have and love their MACs. But to claim that Msft’s best hope for the future is to abandon the entire Windows XP/2003 code base in favor af some rival platform strains the bounds of credibility.

    netmarcos had this to say on Jul 01, 2005 Posts: 2
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