Saturday, October 30, 2010

Prophet Speaks End Times for Microsoft, and I Don't Mind

Earlier this morning InformationWeek published an article spelling out the clues for the end of Microsoft, citing poor fiscal performance, failed fringe products including a blogger platform, and a lack of innovation in the new tech spheres that have become the main arena for thumb masters of late: “cloud, social media, mobile, and tablet.”

For the last several years, Microsoft has consistently seemed a day late and a dollar short in the tech world. Years ago Google skybombed members of Search Engine City (if you don't remember AltaVista, Ask Jeeves, Yahoo, then sneak a peek at some of the former citizens of Search Engine City here) and set itself up so strongly that its name was literally verbalized (“Verbalized? Let me Google that.”). In my mind, it was the search engine of choice because it gave not only fast and thorough results, but because its simple white page was easy to look at, its advertisements were not flashy color banners, and my search results for “how to get rid of poison ivy” weren't sidelined on the results page by news headlines for celebrities, sports, politics, and album releases. Google felt like a functional tool and not like a commercial machine. Not that there's no money to be made in being "anti" commercial. One search result suggests that the worth of Google is $153 billion.

People Named Bing (from left): Fan Bing Bing, Carmella Bing, Bing Crosby, favorite apartment neighbor Chandler Bing (played by Matthew Perry)

Microsoft's answer? Bing. I guess they wanted a name that would be quickly verbalized as well. Although originally loaded with news headlines for celebrities, sports, politics, and album releases (arg! I don't need another portal page!), the new search engine streamlined these features down to unassuming links available on the margins of the search page. Search results come up easily, showing results from wiki pages, eHow, and some suggested search terms. I can even easily switch my web search to an image search and be shown a grid of pictures gleaned from web pages according to my original search query, “how to get rid of poison ivy.” Hey, you know who had all of these features already? Google. Am I switching? No.

How about in the realm of computing? The article cited at the top of this entry has Microsoft claiming 90% of the operating system market when computers are sold, and this is supposed to be evidence for Microsoft's continued long-term strength. Too bad when it was time to upgrade from my Windows XP desktop to a shiny new laptop in 2008, Microsoft was just then getting on board (see: day late dollar short) with producing a system that looks good and offers some finger functionality as well, similar to the cool tricks that a Mac can do. Its name was Vista, and it had appeared on every single computer in Best Buy without me knowing about it until my poor self showed up at the store. I was not prepared to see a label that promised to double my PC memory and speed, only to find out that Vista runs like an old woman and needs all the rocket boosters you can strap to her.

Then of course, two days later and two dollars shorter, Windows 7 came out, promising to fix all that and add even more. The commercials for Windows 7, where Windows users each claimed to have created a cool feature in the software based on what they wanted before, really said this to my ears: “I've seen Macs do this ___________[cool feature], and I've wanted it for a long time. Microsoft, after years of deafness, finally listened to its customer base.”

If this is Microsoft's status pro quo, I don't mind seeing it die. Google has risen from the depths to provide a meaningful competition with Apple, and since I love both companies, I'm excited to see where it's going. What I don't need is Microsoft shouting from the corners in Round 3 that it's ready to start fighting.

Then again, as Paul McDougall says in his InformationWeek article, Microsoft might recognize that the future of computing lies in cloud, social media, mobile, and tablet. If Microsoft can stop producing knock-offs of great innovations and counting on its loyal customers to flock to it, and instead if Microsoft can become a true innovator in these new and fast-moving media, I won't mind seeing Microsoft stick around.

That's one teacher's opinion.

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