Face It, Microsoft (as We Knew It) is Dead

Published on Author Eli Fennell

Microsoft, as the “King of Personal Computing”, is dead and gone.  It is nothing but a previous history so remote and forgotten in technological terms that a generation is already growing up having never really experienced it, some of them nearly of age to vote or serve in the military.  Since at least the early days of Google, many have grown up children of the web, and now the mobile device.

If it was any other company, there would be a universal refrain across the media: “Windows is dead.”  It would be regarded much like landline phones, a lingering technology not yet vanished but increasingly irrelevant.  That story would have long since been given its postmortem.  Accompanying this, if less accurate, would be headlines declaring, “The Death of Microsoft”, as we’ve so long been accustomed to thinking of Microsoft and Windows inseparably.

So I will say what everyone else is really thinking (or fearing): Microsoft isn’t dying, they’re dead.  They have ceased to be.  There will be no meteoric comeback, no return to the days of “Windows Everywhere”.  They have lost every battle of the computing wars since the MP3 player and the internet.  They lost the web and online services to Google, Amazon, andothers.  They lost mobile to iOS and Android.  They’re rapidly losing the low-end of PC’s to mostly-non-Windows tablets and budget Chromebook models and the high-end to Macintosh.  They lost the youth to Apple, Google, and the social networks.  They appear to be losing the console war to Sony.

Windows Phone is going nowhere.  Windows RT is dead, and only Microsoft is still in denial about that.  Windows 8 was once again being lapped by its predecessor Windows 7 during the Back-To-School shopping period.  Bing remains a paltry 18% of the U.S. Search market and is not moving the needle in the right direction, save for a useless Search deal with Yahoo! that the latter seems eager to get out from under.  The Playstation 4 seems to be in considerably higher demand than the Xbox One.

These products all ape other products in markets they were late to.  Who really needs Bing?  Does it do anything substantially different than Google?  Not really.  It’s a facsimile with a different coat of paint on it.  Same goes for the latest Windows OS’s, they’re just three more mobile OS’s that do exactly what the other two do but with a different coat of paint (and way fewer apps to take full advantage).  One can double as a desktop OS, just in case you wanted such a chimeric creature, but odds are you only want it to be one or the other depending on your needs.  Worse yet, these products and the corporate decision making associated with them have dragged the Xbox brand down with them, by trying to force Xbox into their larger “Windows Everywhere” ambitions.

Microsoft has never been more irrelevant, because increasingly we use them for almost nothing.  We turn on our Windows PC’s and live in the browser.  We turn on our Androids, iPhones, or iPads and live in the apps.  Windows is irrelevant in itself for likely the majority of consumers.  The longer Microsoft pursues un-winnable wars for markets they missed out on until it was too late (or sabotaged themselves in on the verge of success, in the case of Xbox), the bigger chance that they will become a wrecked brand desperately seeking an acquisition.  Of course they can’t simply abandon mobile, the web, and consumerization of technology.  It’s understandable they feel they need Windows Phone, 8 , and RT, Bing, and Xbox to succeed.  Nonetheless it will doom them if they don’t course correct.

I’m sorry, Microsoft, but you have been weighed, you have been measured, and you have been found wanting, and you’ve effectively proven that no matter how many billions of dollars or thousands of patent claims or exclusive partnerships you throw at the problem, it isn’t going to work if you keep trying to be a late mover to the market.  There is still hope, albeit a slim one, and it means a radical change of vision and culture.  For the first time in a long time you need to turn off your copiers and return to the start-up mentality.  Stop looking at the things that already exist, and start imagining solutions for the world of five years from now even if that means radical ideas like embracing Linux, developing for multiple platforms, or experimenting on the bleeding edge like Google X Labs.

Aping successful products may keep you afloat for awhile, but wouldn’t it be so much better to be the one being imitated again, instead of the one being steadily rendered obsolete?  Microsoft needs to stop inviting Coke vs. Pepsi comparisons on its products, and for the first time in many years it needs to build products and services that are in a category by themselves and which will excite potential users.  They need to truly press their research and development prowess to deliver a few grand slams over the next several innings.  If the new Microsoft, after Ballmer, remains simply the old Microsoft in a freshly pressed suit, then all hope is lost for the company Bill Gates founded.