"We've done some good work, but all of these products become obsolete so fast....It will be some finite number of years, and I don't know the number -- before our doom comes."
- Bill Gates
(Gross, Daniel. Greatest Business Stories of All Time
"The major advances in civilization are processes that all but wreck the societies in which they occur."
- A.N. Whitehead
"Based purely on character (or lack of it), I confidently predict that Microsoft is going down."
- Robert X. Cringely, "Prisoner of Redmond: Yet Another Way Paul Allen Isn’t Like You or Me"
Microsoft®'s affect on technology and computer users will decline until becoming almost insignificant.
Virtually all major innovations in computer software have occurred from independant minds thinking outside a narrow corporate goal. Typically the software itself is not the goal, but a means toward it. The mouse and windowed graphical user interface came out of the research department XEROX PARC. Unix came from AT&T Labs. HTML was born to solve issues sharing scientific documents over the early Internet.
Corporations with a goal of inventing and selling exciting new concepts in software have failed to do so. There are successful software companies, but their success was mostly not the result of intentional innovation. Sun Microsystems was created by a group of Unix enthusiasts to profit from their software invention. The invention itself, however, was born elsewhere and not from the goal of profit. Microsoft did not invent the windowing system, yet profit impressively from it. It seems truely bold innovations do not come from motivations of profit.
As Eric S. Raymond explains in The Cathedral And The Bazaar
, innovation occurs within a single mind. Whether a truely new idea comes out of a corporation, volunteers, or any group, it's an individual who creates the first spark. Once the candle is lit a group can expand on the idea. Any group is then not a requirement or even a help to innovation, implementation aside.
The open and free environment with which the Internet was invented occurred outside the corporate world. It's design was made before most software corporations like Microsoft came into existance. The closed, proprietary software eminating from corporations have never been a requirement for quality software. In fact, many argue they are a hindrance to the advancement of technology. Corporations aren't a need in the world of computer software.
While free and [open source] software has existed longer than most software corporations, it is only now reaching mainstream recognition. Corporations are themselves now finding the value in the open source software development model.
A clear distinction must be made between the two kinds of corporations important to this discussion. There are companies that use software and possibly write some for their own purposes and these must be considered apart from companies whose purpose is the sale of software. In an open source world the sale of software as a property is taken out of the market. What we find instead of companies going to software sellers is companies hiring or outsourcing software developers to meet their needs, hiring the services of an open source software company, or relying purely on the open source community, which only the smaller and most technically adept companies can do. Most large companies already employ software developers or outsource. Many are also now contracting the services of open source software companies. The need to go to a software vendor is quickly fading.
European and Asian corporations and governments are very reluctant to rely heavily on one U.S. company for all of their software needs. Governments are finding that by switching to free and open source software they can reduce their dependance on a foreign company while helping strengthen domestic businesses. Many European and Asian municipalities, national governments, and companies are in the process of switching to open source. Some have created legislation mandating its use. Other governments specifically vote against the use of Microsoft software. Even the president of India recommended to his nation to focus on open source and not rely on Microsoft.
Corporations and governments are now on a mass scale seeing the value in open source which has existed for universities and hundreds of thousands of individuals for years. With lower cost, ability to customize, and robust support services it's almost impossible to ignore. Software companies such as Microsoft will need to supply value-added services to their software as their software's additional cost will not provide features better than those in open source software. As a service company Microsoft will face far tougher competition than they do as a software seller.
As people are introduced to open source software by their employers and universities it will become much more common to find it on home computers. Innovative companies will provide quality open source software installed on the hardware they sell. Those who are less proficient on computers will become comfortable using it at work and will be less inclined to purposefully choose Microsoft software.
With the majority of software being open source software, developers can still be paid for contributing to their art. It's often argued that programmers can not make money if the programs they make aren't sold for profit. The simplest argument against this can be made by looking at the primary source of employment. Most professional software developers in the 1990s and 00s do not work for software vendors, but for companies in other industries where custom software is needed, such as financial services and electronics. Companies requiring software will always hire software developers to create the software they require which isn't available in an open market. For as long as software is needed, programmers will have jobs.
Proprietary software manufacturers are not a requirement for quality software. Capitalism will cause their demise as the competition by open source software provides higher quality at lower cost. The Microsoft of today is very different from the Microsoft of tomorrow. The methods of their success to the present will not be valuable in the future to software companies. They're already spreading themselves across multiple fronts and may one day suffer the same fate as the ancient Roman empire. Microsoft's overly aggressive tactics are enabling open source software to become popular quickly as users seek alternatives. Competing for services will be extremely difficut when competition can come from small and large groups all over the world. With a poor reputation, unrealistic and unrelenting ambitions, and the difficulty they will have in becoming a pure valuable services company, their success will drastically decline in the near future.
What do others think?
Microsoft is out of touch with customers, dismisses industry trends, and ignores small ideas that later turn into big innovations. Am I the only one who believes Microsoft is now like the old IBM?
- Darrow, Barbara. "Microsoft, The New IBM." CRN 7 Jun 2004
- Goldberg, Aaron. "Microsoft Hits Downslope." eWeek 19 May 2003
- Kanellos, Michael. "The Rise and Fall of the Wintel Empire." ZDNet 5 Aug 2004
- Reifman, Jeff. "Microsoft's Sacred Cash Cow." Seattle Weekly 2 Jun 2004
- "Spot the dinosaur." The Economist 30 Mar 2006