The Post-Microsoft World

by Frank 15. January 2014 06:00

Sometimes companies get to believe their own myth and end up going down a path that is different to the path taken by their users. This creates a major disjoin between the company and its users which the users recognise immediately but the company doesn’t. The users usually then perceive the company as arrogant and out-of-touch and as a company that has stopped listening to its customers.

Sometimes the company fails with a particular product line (e.g., HP and its first tablets) and sometimes its fails altogether. Recent examples of companies that completely misread the market are the aforementioned HP, Kodak and Blackberry.  It was also only a few years ago that IBM almost came to the same crossroads but it managed to stem the collapse.

I guess the lesson is that it doesn’t matter how old the company is or how big or how respected, it can still get it wrong and it can still fail. This is probably truer today than it has ever been because trends and fads and favourites change so rapidly compared to yesteryear. For example, for how long will Twitter and Google rule the roost? I am positive that the next Google and Twitter are already in production and gearing up for the conquest. Does anyone not think that Google is arrogant; dictating what users want, not asking?

However, the company I fear is in more danger than most of becoming suddenly irrelevant is Microsoft. To my mind, Microsoft has pursued a path of change for change’s sake (and to hell with what the customers want) for too many years and I see it today as a giant room full of programmers and marketing people with no one minding the shop and no one steering the ship.

It makes most of its money from Windows and Office and yet these are two of the most disliked pieces of software on the planet. How many people actually love Windows 8 and Office 2013? Does anyone at Microsoft actually know this? They could ask me or anyone out of millions of users but they don’t and won’t. Like HP and Kodak and Blackberry they will internalise all marketing discussions and push through users’ complaints doggedly pursuing their own wayward path to the cliff top.

Windows ME and Windows Vista should have been big red flags but obviously they weren’t because we now have Windows 8 and Metro soon to be replaced by Windows 9. Remember the old expression, “Those who don’t learn from history are bound to repeat history.”

In the past Microsoft has got off almost scot free because there was no real competitor waiting in the wings.  Even today, there may not be a single competitor waiting to replace Microsoft but there are competitors such as Apple PCs and phones and tablets, Android PCs, phones and tablets, Linux PCs and servers, Chrome books and the like. There is also Windows 7 (Vista fixed) and Office 2003 and Office 2010 to tide people over under a really strong challenger emerges. You do not have to buy Windows 8 and you do not have to buy Office 2013; there are alternatives.

Even the major fall-off in PC sales over the last couple of years doesn’t seem to have been taken seriously by Microsoft.

There are a lot of factors pushing Microsoft towards the edge of the cliff and all that is needed is a really strong ‘alternative’ (to Windows and less so, Office) or an acceleration of the trend away from Windows PCs to push Microsoft over the cliff. When the end comes, it will be fast, like the next ice age.

When it happens senior management at Microsoft will say to investors and soon-to-be-redundant staff, “We didn’t see this coming” and the rest of us ordinary consumers will just smile knowingly and shake our heads, “Why didn’t you talk to us?”

The post Microsoft era will be one of much, much simpler operating systems (e.g., iOS), much more stable operating systems, much simpler office products and corporate application software that runs in a browser on most devices and under most operating systems (e.g., iOS and Android and Linux).

We won’t need Windows and without Windows, we won’t be forced to use Microsoft Office.

The most important factor contributing to Microsoft’s downfall will be software vendors like us moving away from developing for Windows and into developing for browsers.  This is happening now and the pace is quickening. I predict that by the end of 2015 almost any application software you or any company needs will be available running in a browser. You will not need Windows.

By my reckoning, Microsoft needs to change direction and have a new and popular paradigm in place by the end of 2014 or it doesn’t have a future as the desktop king. Let’s see if I am right; we don’t have long to wait.

Frank McKenna is the CEO of the Knowledgeone Corporation, a long-time Microsoft ISV and the producer of the RecFind 6 product suite.

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