Microsoft is the new IBM

I read a really fascinating article on Vanity Fair about the state of Microsoft today. I've preferred Apple products as long as I've been a computer user.  I started with the Apple II and then fell head over heels for the Mac.  As a Mac fan, the domination of Microsoft's products frustrated me.  Windows lacked the ease-of-use and setup that so naturally came from the Mac.  The hardware required endless tinkering to keep running.

I was too young to understand the platform advantage Microsoft held.  I was convinced that if Apple could just show everyone that their products were better built, then Microsoft would be powerless to stop their ascent.  Over two decades followed and my hope was never fulfilled.

And then this:

One Apple product, something that didn’t exist five years ago, has higher sales than everything Microsoft has to offer. More than Windows, Office, Xbox, Bing, Windows Phone, and every other product that Microsoft has created since 1975. In the quarter ended March 31, 2012, iPhone had sales of $22.7 billion; Microsoft Corporation, $17.4 billion.
— Kurt Eichenwald, writing for Vanity Fair

Apple is no longer a scrappy little challenger.  Their movement in the market is so powerful that individual product lines capture more revenue than their competitors entire balance sheet.

Apple's rise has been well studied, but Microsoft's fall is just as interesting to me.  You can't say Microsoft isn't making effort: the Xbox represents real innovation in the gaming industry.  Windows Phone 7 is the best example I've seen at trying to re-imagine how mobile computing could work.  Bing is nice enough.  Surface is at least interesting, and the keyboard-as-a-tablet-cover concept is genuinely innovative.  So, if Microsoft is making many of the right moves, why aren't they gaining traction?

The article above is scathing when it talks about Microsoft's structure.  It seems Microsoft has allowed business people to take over a technology company.  It's ok to have a business wonk at the helm–hello Tim cook–but that person needs to see his job as enabling product people, designers and engineers to pursue amazing work.  Microsoft keeps creating great concepts and metaphors and them executing them in a mediocre way.

I don't want Microsoft to fade away.  I've lived through eras of monoculture in computing, and the market is better when really strong competitors wrestle for marketshare and profits.

Steve Ballmer needs to retire, and someone passionate about product needs to take the helm.  Otherwise, spin of the Xbox and transform the company into an enterprise services and software offering.

Just like IBM.