Microsclerosis, Redmond Style

Could Microsoft be in trouble?

On the surface, it seems silly, and I remind myself uncomfortably of the people who were predicting Apple’s demise when they had $4 billion in cash reserves. Microsoft has many times that amount in cash, and they could operate for a couple of years with zero revenue. But note that I’m not saying Microsoft is about to fold; I’m just saying they’re starting to act like a, ahem, “beleaguered” company.

Windows Vista, their new operating system, is starting to look more like a failure than a successful upgrade. Various reviewers compare their promised features to Apple’s current operating system, 10.4–but the Big Deal, improved search a la Apple’s spotlight, isn’t even estimated to ship until 2007. Apple will likely be two operating systems further down the line by then. Google may take two features out of beta in that time period.

That coupled with the massive reorganization announced recently makes Microsoft look like a troubled company. The years of spending more time utilizing and protecting their various monopolies rather than even stealing good innovations (I can only think of one or two innovations that came from within Microsoft, and weren’t simply purchased from outside) has caught up with them. The lax attitude toward performance and security has caught up to them. They’re actually slipping in market share.

But none of it brought the point home to me as much as a product my friend Jason pointed me to: Microsoft Codename Max. This software, quite frankly, is a copy of Apple’s iPhoto–except it’s not a copy of the current version. Its feature set resembles iPhoto 1.0, which Apple released three and a half years ago. The current version of iPhoto is iPhoto 5. Even one of their icons is a direct ripoff of an Apple icon:

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Usually Microsoft has at least one feature that doesn’t exist on another platform, even if it’s poorly implemented, so their apologists can claim it’s “better” than all the competition. From the feature descriptions, there is no such thing with Microsoft Max.

When even your copies are years late to the market, something is deeply and fundamentally wrong. Maybe Microsoft’s reorg will help, though I honestly think that the best thing that could happen to the company would be spinning off these divisions into separate companies. Once they stop wasting effort trying to reinforce and extend the monopoly, and put the effort back into competing, you could actually realize some of the potential that seems to be wasted. They supposedly hire the best and the brightest. But if Microsoft Max is all they can produce, they’re going to need that cash reserve.

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