People have told me they feel sorry for Microsoft these days, that we should be thanking them for all they have done for the industry, that Bill Gates should be praised for “placing a PC on every desktop.”
I see what you did there. You almost got me. You see, I think about what the world would be like if Microsoft were left to their own devices, if it weren’t for the likes of Netscape, Mozilla, Google and Apple. You know what it would look like? If you can’t remember, here’s a reminder of the kind of experience we’d have:
Remember when Microsoft had such a monopoly that they could get away with anything? Remember what that was like? Without pressure from Apple, Google, and others, Microsoft “innovation” would be more focused on helping Microsoft rather than helping users. We’d have things like Passport privacy violation run rampant, myriad anti-piracy activation nightmares for legitimate customers, and so on. Yes, it would be a bleak world indeed if Microsoft had not had to respond to competition.
In the end, Microsoft’s potential carnage on the industry was only limited by their own hubris and strategic errors that left the door open for others, mostly Apple and Google. These other companies don’t always get everything right either. But that’s the point. They also need competitive pressure from other innovators and disruptors to keep them honest, in the same way that they forced Microsoft to get real.
So now Microsoft finds themselves on the verge of irrelevance. Bear in mind, however, that despite perception, the company generated $24.5 billion in revenue in the fourth calendar quarter of 2013 (compared to $15.7 billion for Google for the same period, excluding Motorola). Overall, though, Microsoft revenue still comes primarily from licensing software used on corporate PCs, which is seen as a vulnerable segment, currently under intense attack on multiple fronts, including tablets, Chomebooks, and cloud-based alternatives. Meanwhile, Microsoft’s announced strategy shift toward “devices and services” has achieved little real impact on anything, with Windows phone and Surface tablets unable to break out of single digit market share.
Time will tell, but either way, I won’t shed a tear for Microsoft.
Only those that don’t remember what things were like under an unfettered Microsoft rule can now say we should feel sorry for Microsoft or praise them for the good they did for the industry. What’s far more important is what they were not allowed to do to the industry.