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Fretting the Post-Microsoft Era

Two related items today.

The other day, I saw a post from ex-Microsoftie Don Dodge, who left (i.e. "was fired by") the software giant in November and began blogging. In this latest post, he talks about the ease in which he went non-Microsoft and why this is possible and even desirable. I disagree with a lot of this, but I also agree with a lot of it. I'd just point out that this guy was spurned by Microsoft, so take it with that grain of salt.

The move from Microsoft was complete. From Windows to Mac, from Outlook to Gmail, from Explorer to Google Chrome browser, from Office to Google Apps, from Windows Mobile phone to Android, from Zune to iPod. But this post is all about the move to Mac.

Design is probably the reason that high end buyers choose Mac ... One of the major advantages Apple has is controlling the end to end user experience ... The downside was that Apple products cost more and you could only get software and peripheral devices from limited sources. Microsoft, in contrast, was the Swiss Army Knife of the tech world.

The battery life is significantly better on the Mac. [Compared to what? My netbook gets 10 hours of battery life. The ThinkPad Edge I'm testing gets 7.8 hours. --Paul] ... most of the differences I mentioned are hardware design oriented. But what about the differences in the operating systems? Perhaps the best attribute of an operating system is that it operates silently in the background organizing everything automatically without end user involvement. Ten or twenty years ago users had to deal with the operating system to do anything on a PC. Today most people spend their time in the browser. From my perspective the underlying OS doesn’t matter much. All my applications run in the browser. Web browsing, email, documents, spreadsheets, music, photos,…everything is in the browser.

This mirrors two different discussions we've been having a lot on the Windows Weekly podcast. First, that anything familiar is, by definition, "easy to use." More specifically, Mac OS X is not intuitive or "easy to use" (in fact it's very Spartan and utilitarian, compared to Windows) ... unless you've been using GUIs like Windows for a long time. Moving from Windows to the Mac (or vice versa) isn't that hard. The basics are all the same.

Second, that the future is the cloud. If you put all your data in the cloud, use cloud-based email, calendar, contacts, and so on ... switching from OS X to Windows (or vice versa) or between Macs and PCs is all the easier. (As is, incidentally, upgrading to a new PC). It's one less thing to worry about. Once are apps are in the cloud--something Microsoft played with in Live Mesh, by the way--that will be the final major hurdle. Google's way, of course, is just web apps. But I do agree with Steven Sinofsky's view that the computer will also be necessary too.


And then there's Microsoft’s Creative Destruction, an editorial in the New York Times today by ex-Microsoftie Dick Brass. (Very "ex" as it turns out: He was forced out of the company six years ago.) As with Dodge's stuff, I agree with some of it and disagree with some of it. But he does discuss some very specific incidents which I find interesting. Beyond that, we see this kind of silliness:

Some people take joy in Microsoft’s struggles, as the popular view in recent years paints the company as an unrepentant intentional monopolist. Good riddance if it fails. But those of us who worked there know it differently. At worst, you can say it’s a highly repentant, largely accidental monopolist. It employs thousands of the smartest, most capable engineers in the world. More than any other firm, it made using computers both ubiquitous and affordable. Microsoft’s Windows operating system and Office applications suite still utterly rule their markets.

And yet it is failing, even as it reports record earnings. As the fellow who tried (and largely failed) to make tablet PCs and e-books happen at Microsoft a decade ago, I could say this is because the company placed too much faith in people like me. But the decline is so broad and so striking that it would be presumptuous of me to take responsibility for it.

While Apple continues to gain market share in many products [the Mac had 3.82 percent market share in Q4 2009--Paul], Microsoft has lost share in Web browsers [but IE 8 is now the worlds' most often-used web browser--Paul], high-end laptops [which represent a tiny minority of this sub-market--Paul] and smartphones. Despite billions in investment, its Xbox line is still at best an equal contender in the game console business. It first ignored and then stumbled in personal music players until that business was locked up by Apple. [Actually, it worked with device, services, and software partners to create a digital media business before Apple ever entered the market, let alone locked it up--Paul.]

It's very easy to be a Monday Morning Quarterback. But if we're going to apply this after-the-fact wisdom to products, how do we explain failures like the Apple TV? It came years after Windows Media Center, and completely ripped off the Media Center UI. (Well, first they came out with Front Row, which ripped off Media Center. Then they used that UI in Apple TV. Whatever.) Apple TV had/has one big advantage over Media Center, of course: It was in a device (i.e. simple) not a full-fledged computer (i.e. compex). And you know what? It completely failed.

So it's cute to point out places where Apple came in after the fact and did a better job. But Apple doesn't always win or get it right, and the Mac, for all its gains, is still a tiny, tiny fraction of the overall PC market. And while Microsoft is definitely on a downward spiral of sorts, let's not all pretend that everything it did didn't actually make plenty of sense at the time.

And let's not forget the record revenues they just posted. That's not too shabby for a company that's supposedly on the way down. Of course, as we also discuss on Windows Weekly, just because a company is big and successful doesn't mean they are interesting or make interesting products. I couldn't care less about IBM, for example.

But then I wrote about that too.

Anyway, there's a lot to discuss here. So I've asked Mary Jo Foley to join me today on Windows Weekly to discuss it all. We're on live at 2pm ET if you're interested.

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