What A Curious State of Affairs

The reports of Microsoft's demise...

As you might imagine, I spend much of my time scouring the Web for material for my daily newsletter, WinInfo Daily UPDATE. I regularly hit every corner of the Web, from the traditional news organizations such as Reuters, CNN, and MSNBC to the seedy underside of the Internet, where I find out about leaked Microsoft product builds and the latest happenings in various hacker communities. You might not think that such diverse sources have much in common, but a single voice has been calling out from around the world lately, stating the same cold, clinical fact. Whether the source is the "Boston Globe" or a site about OS opinions where anyone can contribute, the message is the same: "Microsoft is in trouble. Big trouble. Impending doom trouble."

I read columns, opinions, and commentaries about the imminent death of Microsoft almost every day now, and I've noticed that the rallying cries against the software giant are growing ever more insistent. Lately, most of the stories involve Linux, the open-source software phenomenon that's taken a large chunk out of the low-end UNIX server market but has made no headway on the desktop, despite years of effort. But the release of Apple Computer's newest Mac OS X version, Jaguar, naturally triggered another round of doom and gloom stories for Windows. Mac advocates state firmly and with conviction that this release is "the big one" and "We have Microsoft right where we want it." You can almost imagine the authors of such articles rubbing their hands together like the villain in a James Bond movie. Unfortunately, the Mac user base continues to dwindle, and Jaguar simply refines a nice OS that, frankly, needed the refinement to stay competitive.

So my question is simple: Has there ever been a case, in any industry, in which a company with the unbelievable market power of Microsoft faced such constant cries of impending doom? I posed this question to some friends, and they came up blank, although one suggested that the Microsoft scenario was somewhat similar to the solar power industry claiming to have what it takes to overcome Standard Oil in the early 1900s. Solar power still hasn't overtaken fossil fuels today, 100 years later, despite almost constant press about solar power's advantages. (As an interesting coincidence, those who do use solar power are also strong advocates of the technology. Sound familiar?)

People who forecast the imminent death of Microsoft are probably just wishful thinkers, eager to see their favorite platform succeed. That situation might explain a large portion of the doom-and-gloom articles, although not, one would hope, the stories from major news entities in which opinion shouldn't be allowed to intervene with reality. Unfortunately, that state of affairs isn't always the case; I've seen from major news agencies some amazing examples of off-kilter reporting that are coloring the average reader's opinions of the real world.

One recent article discusses the "bitter harvest" of Microsoft executives, thanks to backlash against their renegade business practices. Naturally, the article sits between articles titled "How Linux Could Become the Next Killer Desktop" and "Mac OS X: The Tide Is Turning." But what's surprising is that I originally came across this article on Reuters, one of the most conservative news agencies. And like most articles of its ilk, the author isn't afraid to bend the truth a bit to make a point, such as when we learn that "former \[Microsoft\] allies are dropping the operating system like a hot potato" and "existing settlement rulings are forcing Microsoft to include new software ... in its Windows XP service packs." But my favorite part of this diatribe is that it uses the phrase "Microsoft's seemingly impending doom," which will occur, of course, when "the Justice Department busts up the empire."

I could spend the rest of my life debunking such articles, but that would be a hollow existence. Some day in the distant future, I suspect Microsoft will still be in a position of power, even though its latest technology at the time—a personal hyperspace transmitter, no doubt—is lagging behind the competition. The company will catch up. Doesn't it always?

A Bit More on the Shatter Attack
If you've been following my coverage of the Shatter Attack, you'll recall that Microsoft finally provided an adequate response to programmer Chris Paget's claims and admitted that the attack was a problem the company needed to address. However, Microsoft stopped short of admitting that the Shatter Attack was a deep architectural flaw in Windows and said that the problem was mostly caused by errant, poorly written applications.

Paget, predictably, takes some umbrage with this claim, and he's written a follow-up to Microsoft's response, which details why Microsoft might still be wrong about the attack and how the company is still spinning its wheels on semantics (see URL below). But, as Paget notes, at least the company is finally doing something about the matter. Frankly, I think Paget sums up the whole episode succinctly when he says, "Personally, I believe that the blame should ultimately lie with Microsoft; they designed Windows so that it was easy to use, easy to code for, and (as a consequence) easy to break into." We could say the same of virtually every product the company has released to date.

Paget, incidentally, is one of the good guys. I hope Microsoft works more closely with him going forward.

"Shatter attacks—more techniques, more detail, more juicy goodness"

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