I was literally in the middle of writing a post about Microsoft’s (MS) problems shipping Vista when I took a break, clicked over to Slashdot and found a link to NY Times article that covers most of what I intended to say.
So, read the article and then, if you want, you can read my thoughts as well.
Many people look at large organizations like Microsoft, Walmart or governments and see only the advantages of size. Few stop to consider the disadvantages. Economists have long recognized a counterpoint to economies of scale called diseconomies of scale. As organizations get bigger, their complexity often rises non-linearly. If a firm doubles in size, its complexity (the amount of information it must process) may not double but triple. It takes time to process information, and as the information burden grows the decision cycle for the organization slows. The organization can no longer respond to changes quickly. Many companies have literally grown themselves to death. Lets call this phenomenon complexity choking.
Microsoft is particularly vulnerable to complexity choking because it bases its entire strategy on tying its many, many products together so that customers are encouraged, if not forced, to chose MS products for virtually all their needs. However, that means that each new product must be fitted into the existing matrix of products. New versions of the operating system must support applications written for older versions. Applications can’t be simple single-purpose tools but must interoperate with other applications. This is not even considering what happens when the guys in marketing start writing specs.
Microsoft’s mania for interdependence and interoperability is also the major cause of their security problems. They can’t apply modern concepts of security without breaking older software, and the interlinkages between applications allow malware to spread quickly.
Microsoft’s broad market share also works against them. Each Microsoft product must meet the differing needs of each segment of the market. Often these needs do not overlap. For example, a study once showed that 80% of the users of MS Word never used more than 20% of the features provided. However, those 80% of users divided into many subgroups, each using a different subset of the features. MS Word is such a monster because in order to attract enough users to become a de facto standard it must include a large number of features that only a small minority of users will ever use. The operating system faces the same hurdle. It has to meet the needs of everyone from emailing grandmas to corporations running databases.
I have real doubts whether Microsoft’s business model can even survive for more than a decade. The more they try to tie everything together the more they choke on complexity. Customers too have to deal with complexity overhead. Eventually, the cost of doing so will outweigh the advantages of interoperability. When that point is reached, Microsoft is dead.