How has Microsoft has been able to eliminate so many of their competitors in so many of the most lucrative application areas? My theory is that they use their intimate knowledge of the operating system to create applications that nobody else can compete with. I compare it to a world where the auto industry had only one engine manufacturer and all of the car makers would have to buy that engine to build a car. And they also had to compete against the engine manufacturer because the engine company also built cars. But the engine company would not tell the competition everything they need to know about building a great car around this complicated engine. So, the other car makers made cars that stalled a lot and crashed a lot and were just not very stable. So, Microsoft now has it all. They control the operating system (the engine). They control the browser, email and most of the major applications (the car).
Is that a bad thing? Could it really be better? The Microsoft Monopoly on the computer industry is a travesty. In the past, application development and advances drove processor manufacturers to build faster and more powerful computers. Now, that doesn’t really happen anymore. And faster processors invited more powerful applications. I still use Office 2000 and I have no plans to upgrade. And now after so many years of stagnation, there is only one application area that is driving the hardware manufacturers to create faster computers. That application is gaming. If you want to play the newest computer games, you need a fast computer with a terrific graphic card, a lot of fast RAM and a very high-definition screen. Microsoft does not do games. Microsoft does not have the programming skill to compete with game developers. It is a wide-open, competitive market and Microsoft can’t compete. So, the only major application that Microsoft does not control is the only application that demands state-of-the-art hardware.
Now, put your hand in your pocket and pull out your cell phone. If you are into technology, you have a device that incorporates computer, phone, camera, GPS, music and other capabilities. Go back ten years and think about your cell phone and look at your phone now. Would you be satisfied using your 10 year old cell phone?
The cell phone industry is so competitive and exciting. The iPhone is just the latest incarnation but Palm, LG, Nokia, Motorola and the rest are coming out with new models that will bypass the iPhone. The phone industry is leading the charge to increased mobile computing and data access. If I had told you that would happen 15 years ago, you would called me a madman. Now, I am just mad.
Back in the 1980s computer users had to upgrade their computers every year or two. They were excited and challenged and motivated by the new capabilities of this office tool. Now, most companies are using the same old programs and productivity is flat. But where should we be? Microsoft advertises that they are inspired by their customers. It sure does feel good to watch their commercials but it also reinforces the fact that they aren’t being pushed by any competitive forces and mostly rely on feedback from consumers for new innovative ideas. “We are inspired by our customers.” Baloney. It’s a veiled admission that they just don’t have any competitors. They don’t innovate. They debug. The promise of computing was to have competition that created new, unimagined capabilities. That is gone. The promise of computing was to be able to have full access to your data from anywhere. Imagine that. Web-based applications are the future of computing. The Internet is mature. The application tools are sophisticated but the applications are still lagging. Microsoft does not want applications to run in the browser. If and when that happens, Microsoft Windows will no longer be the platform for applications. When all programs are running in the browser that will be the day that we no longer need Microsoft and we will be able to run our applications from any device (even your phone) that is running a browser. And with VOIP phones, the virtual office becomes a very real possibility.
And do we really need a new operating system every few years? That is like saying that you need a whole new foundation for your home. Maybe you need new floors, new doors or a new roof. But the foundation should be solid and stable and rarely upgraded or replaced. If you need a new foundation, than you will have to rebuild your home. Oh, wait, that is what Microsoft wants. They make us by the new operating system and then the older versions of their software need to all be reinstalled and sometimes they just won’t work at all. I liked Windows 2000 but just as it had become stable and reliable (because Microsoft had distributed Service Pack 4), Microsoft decided to release Microsoft XP. The first versions of XP were very unstable. That is the ongoing pattern of every new release of a Microsoft operating system. They replace a stable mature one with a new unstable one. And software developers are constantly trying to figure out how to program on it.
The microcomputer industry started in the 70s. But the introduction of the IBM PC in 1981 was the breakthrough computer that launched the revolution in technology that we experienced in the 80s and into the 90s. But where do we stand now? Do you recall the innovative and exciting years in the 1980s when homes and businesses were constantly striving to acquire the new software tools that would make them more productive? There was a time in the 1980s when I would tell people that there were more programs for the IBM-PC than had ever been developed for all of the previous computer systems combined. There were over 100,000 programs. They ran in DOS and there were newer versions coming out for the Windows platform. Every year or two we had to buy new computers because the software was demanding more hard drive space, more RAM and more speed. Then the computers would get faster and we would buy them and then the software would get more sophisticated. Back and forth. Fast hardware would create a platform for advances in software development. And more sophisticated programs would create a demand for faster computers. That is not true anymore. Most of what we do now can run on old computers. My computers are about 4 years old. I am fine. There is no new software innovations for me to justify buying new computers.
Microsoft started as a operating system company. They developed DOS and then they developed Windows. When Windows came out there were a few graphic user interface (GUI) options. But Microsoft won out. Windows v1 and Windows v2 were horrible. Then Windows v3.1 came out and it was stable and capable of running more than one program at a time while creating an easy-to-use interface, the advances in software development really accelerated. There were so many choices in word processing, spreadsheets, networking and every other major application category. Then Microsoft decided that they wanted more than the operating system. They decided that they wanted the networking platform and ultimately they targeted most of the major applications. They released Windows for Workgroups and over time they have eliminated most of the other networking options. They also bought and developed Word, Excel, MediaPlayer, Outlook, Internet Explorer and PowerPoint and the battle for the major desktop applications began.
Microsoft was sued by Sun and Netscape. Microsoft was guilty of using unfair influence and power to illegally compete. They changed Sun’s Java application which violated the agreement with Sun and made Microsoft’s ActiveX more appealing. And they gave away Internet Explorer when Netscape had only one product, Netscape browser, in the market. Both companies could afford to fight Microsoft. But hundreds of other companies that are now broke and gone do not have the resources to fight Microsoft because they are now out of business. Microsoft was also being sued by the U.S. Government but President Bush killed the case. Also, consider this. Microsoft is primarily a software company with a market capitalization of $200,000,000,000. Borland is a competitor. Borland is a “big” competitor. Borland has a market capitalization of $110,000,000. That makes Microsoft almost 2,000 times more valuable than Borland. Corel is another competitor. They have a market value of $53,000,000. That makes Microsoft almost 4,000 times more valuable than Corel. Is there any other “free market” industry where one company so thoroughly dominates all of its competitors? The Lesson: Do not try to compete against Microsoft. They will crush you.
The solution? Microsoft needs to be split up. The operating system division needs to be separated from the application division. And the operating system must be stripped of all non-operating system functions. They would be part of the application company. The browser, music player, firewall and other built-in applications force us into unsatisfactory and poorly performing solutions. And you can’t even uninstall them. Microsoft is bad for the economy. They are bad for the environment. Shouldn’t we all be able to work seemlessly from home by now? And they are bad for business productivity. Wake up, America! When we really see what Microsoft has done to our computing systems, we will be able to convince our government to insist on a solution that reopens competition and brings back the excitement and innovation that has disappeared from our home and business computers. Now, go out and buy Call of Duty 4. But don’t try to run it on your computer. Your computer is too slow.