How Microsoft Will Die
Longhorn, by the features
.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:
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.
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.
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.
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