Where’s the Chatter About Microsoft?

This article on the Kindle Fire versus the iPad inspired my previous post. Reading it again I noticed something else…

… there is no mention of Microsoft.

This article isn’t unusual. Microsoft seems to be disappearing from the casual computer related “chatter”, such as the Wired article. I’m not talking about the Microsoft specific press like PC World or the like but rather the less specific and more general press and blogs that sometimes writes stories about computer issues.

Five years or more ago, you simply did not see computer stories that didn’t mention Microsoft. When Apple did something there was always some notice paid to how Microsoft might respond. More importantly, Microsoft showed up in political, economic or cultural writing that weren’t computer specific. Microsoft was on the minds of the general public, not just computer geeks.

Today, Microsoft is almost invisible. I’m an Apple/Unix guy so I don’t read the Microsoft specific press but in the past Microsoft intruded into every part of the industry. Today, when the Mac/Unix specific press talks about non-Apple companies, they talk about Google’s Android or one of the web services. Microsoft has been reduced to an afterthought. The company no longer has “mindshare”.

I’ve seen this before. From 1975-1995, computers meant IBM, especially in the minds of the general public. There was a great deal of “chatter” about IBM. Sometime after 1992, the chatter began to drop off and by 1995 it had virtually disappeared. With the release of Windows 95, Microsoft supplanted IBM as the main computer company in the popular culture and quickly in the industry itself.

I think the same thing is happening to Microsoft. Microsoft is certainly in no danger of disappearing. The majority of computing on earth is still done with Microsoft software. But IBM didn’t disappear either it just became old hat and uninteresting.

Might want to short Microsoft long-term.

9 thoughts on “Where’s the Chatter About Microsoft?”

  1. A lot of us are staying with XP – if something works and is relatively trouble free why “upgrade”?

    Plus Win 7 seems to be downright annoying – asking you if you really want to download this or install that.

    Plus – desktops aren’t nearly as popular as they were a few years ago – there is a lot more action with the tablets and Ipads.

    I find it ironic that IBM started sliding when they tried to control the market – do they still stick with EBCDIC instead of ASCII on the mainframes? Maybe I am showing my age –

    In reading about it IBM needed it for the System 360 when ASCII wasn’t really off the ground.

    And the PS/2 – only good thing about that was the keyboard which was modeled on the world-famous Selectric typewriter. I miss that quality – we get cheap crappy keyboards these days.

    Well, I should say what worked for 30 years wasn’t working by the 80s.

    Microsoft has tried to do the same. Even tried to mold Java to “its” standard. Which was a joke.

    The whole purpose of Java – like COBOL, was platform independence. Whether you are running an Apple, Linux, unix, Windows you are processing java off the websites – and it works.

    If I weren’t so embedded with Win stuff over 20+ years I’d be on Linux.

  2. Microsoft is a company imprisoned by its own success. Nothing they ever do will be as profitable as the Windows/Office monopoly was. I guess the Xbox is a modest success, but gaming remains a very competitive business. Their acquisitions have not done much for them, and they have spent an enormous amount on research with little to show for it. OTOH, they have enormous piles of cash and no debt, so they can hold out for a long time.

    I would not short MSFT. Their P/E is under 10, and their dividend yield is almost 3%. Their cash on hand far exceeds all of their liabilities. I would however view it as value stock an analyze it on that continuum.

  3. Linux is the ultimate expression of Microsoft’s market failure. Microsoft’s warping of the market by repeat invocations of government power through legal manipulation extinguished its competitors so thoroughly that it triggered the rise of “free” competitor whose funding didn’t come from selling the software itself but from selling goods and services around it. Microsoft’s competitors fed cash into this effort and bled Microsoft to irrelevance. The massive datacenters driving the third or fourth comeback of timeshare computing as “the cloud” were made possibly by an alternative software system ecosystem where the costs are not licensing fees for the software platform. It may just be a reversion to form: software was not a profit center when mainframes ruled the earth. Bill Gates’ invention of a company that made its profits by selling software licenses may be a transient phenomenon.

  4. It is pretty rare that a company which leads at one stage of a technology becomes the leader at the next stage. The big integrated steel companies were not the pioneers of the mini-mills and of continuous casting. The vacuum tube manufacturers did not lead in solid-state electronics. Steam locomotive manufacturers did not dominate the market for diesel-electric locomotives. And so on.

    Christensen & Raynor discussed this phenomenon, and offered advice on the best ways to navigate through it, in their book The Innovator’s Solution, which I reviewed here.

  5. David – over the last 20 years I have been astounded at how a company will dominate the industry – then fade into oblivion.

    DEC, Visicalc. (for that matter, Lotus), what was the data base
    everyone” used in the 80s?

    Netscape – I am sure we could come up with another 20 dramatic examples….

  6. The main reason that the Wired article doesn’t mention Microsoft is that it’s not a good article.

    Microsoft isn’t releasing any new platforms this year, so technology writers who only write about what’s in their hands aren’t writing about Microsoft. That says more about short attention spans than it does about where Microsoft is in its corporate life cycle.

    Trust me, when Windows 8 comes out, you’ll long for the days when you could read a whole article on tablet computing without encountering the word “Microsoft”. That won’t mean that Microsoft has regained its heyday any more than the lack of coverage now means the company is an afterthought.

    I think you may be right that the period from Windows 95 to Windows XP represents “peak Microsoft”, but comparisons between Microsoft and IBM are not particularly apt, at least not yet. Recall that IBM is 100 years old this year, only 8 years younger than Ford Motor Company. If you take the 1975-1995 period that you mention and shift it from IBM’s incorporation to Microsoft’s, you get 2039-2059.

    Of course things are different now than when IBM was king of all it surveyed, but that’s just my point. You might as well compare Microsoft to the British East India Company for all the market insight it will give you.

    And as for shorting MSFT, that would have been brilliant advice in March, 2000. In 2011, it’s kind of embarrassing. (Unless of course you meant it humorously, in which case it’s very embarrassing.)

  7. Partly I think it’s because Microsoft, being a software company, doesn’t do a very good job with hardware and a lot of new and exciting things are hardware based. Take the Zune, for example.

    “If I weren’t so embedded with Win stuff over 20+ years I’d be on Linux.”

    Anecdote warning. I switched to Linux a few years ago after frustration with Windows. I now have to use Windows sometimes for work (relatively new job) so I am getting used to using it again some of the time.

    I kind of expected after switching back to Windows, having gotten used to Linux, that I would regret having switched to Linux because I would realise how clunky it is in comparison.

    The surprise was that instead, I realised how clunky Windows actually is (XP and to a similar extent but in different ways, Windows 7).

    Things like Windows constantly “stealing” focus while I’m trying to do something in another window. And the characters I’m in the process of typing end up causing buttons in the new popup to unintentionally get clicked! (And I sometimes don’t even know which option I’ve accidentally selected). Linux doesn’t do that to me.

    Linux also seems faster for common things like switching between applications, especially compared to Windows 7. Web browsing can be somewhat faster too. This is on the same hardware. Some of it is, I think, Windows “animating” things unnecessarily and causing a delay but in other cases it’s just plain slower.

    I’ve also had several bluescreens – very annoying – I don’t think Linux has ever crashed on this machine in the last few years (maybe once). It seems to be dodgy video/sound drivers but I’ve tried upgrading and downgrading them with mixed success. I got the nVidia driver to stop crashing by going back to an earlier version but I still get occasional sound driver-related bluescreens and I can’t figure out how to get rid of them. No such problems with Linux (with common hardware, anyway).

    Overall I don’t hate using Windows but I still find it frustrating compared to Linux. There’s more software available in Windows although Linux has a pretty good selection now, eg, OpenOffice, GIMP, Firefox, Thunderbird, gcc, avr-gcc, etc. But Windows more often does something other than what I want it to do and many common tasks take me longer to complete (I have a lot of practice with both systems).

    I certainly feel stupid paying to use what seems like an inferior product.

    The only reason I use Windows really is that there are a couple of pieces of software we use at work that I don’t think will run well in Linux. But maybe I should be running them in a Windows VM inside Linux…

  8. Nicholas – the best explanation I have heard about the reason people stay with Windows is that “it isn’t great but it is good enough”…

    Windows – some versions more than others – is horrible with memory management.

    I was mentioning the dynamic nature of this business – some years ago, I thought I saw the future – during the 386 and early 486 days.

    My company (and I) had developed an application for automotive garages – generating work orders. Me being more engineering than marketing oriented kept working on it giving it enhancements and cleaning bugs – to the point we had the best DOS based application just as Windows was coming out. That was one reason it failed on the marketplace. Expensive lesson in learning that just having a better mousetrap doesn’t guarantee any success.

    But, with the increased power of the processors, I saw a crying need for multi-processing applications.

    I had 2 versions of the program – one DOS and one Unix. I had selected SCO as our Unix vendor. I figured – with the more powerful processors – that Unix was the way of the future. At one time there were a good 10 companies all selling a version of Unix for the Intel-based processors.

    Today of course SCO is gone (as far as I know) – Linux has taken over – and DOS-based apps – well, no need to go into that….

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