The Microsoft Botch — Part II
I’ll start by saying, “No”. I do not think that Microsoft is ‘going down’. Microsoft is certainly in a bad way at this point in time, but they still have far too much market share with Windows XP, Windows 2000 and Windows 2003 server as well as Exchange and several other enterprise products. So, the monies they are making off of these existing installations (and licenses) will carry them on for quite some time. Combine that with Xbox Live and the licensing of the Xbox 360 games… Microsoft isn’t going anywhere for quite a while. The real question to ask, though, is.. Is Microsoft’s userbase dwindling? At this point, it’s unclear, but likely. Since the Vista debacle, many users and IT managers have contemplated less expensive alternative installations including Linux. The sheer fact that people are looking for alternatives doesn’t say good things about Microsoft.
As far as alternatives, MacOS X isn’t necessarily less expensive than Windows, but it is being considered as one possible replacement for Windows by some. Some people have already switched. MacOS X may, however, be less expensive in the long term strictly due to maintenance and repair costs. Linux can be less expensive than Windows (as far as installation software costs and continuing licenses), but it requires someone who’s knowledgable to maintain them.
To compare Microsoft to another company from the past, IBM comes to mind. IBM was flying high with their PCs in the early days, but that quickly crumbled when IBM started botching things up. That and PC clones took off. To date, there has not been a Windows OS clone to compete head-to-head with Microsoft. So, Microsoft has been safe from that issue. But, Linux and MacOS X do represent alternative operating systems that do function quite well in their own environments. Although, MacOS X and Linux interoperate poorly, in many specific cases, with Windows (primarily thanks to Microsoft).
Linux as a replacement
While it is possible to replace Windows with Linux and have a functional system, the Windows compatibility limitations become readily apparent rapidly. Since most of the rest of the world uses Windows, Linux doesn’t have fully compatible replacement softwares for the Windows world. Because of Microsoft’s close-to-the-vest approach to software combined with their release-just-enough-information to allow half-baked Windows compatibility. Thus, Linux (and other non-Microsoft OSes) can’t compete in a Windows world. This is a ‘glass is half empty or half full’ argument. On its own, Linux interoperates well with other Linux systems. But, when you try to pair that together with Windows, certain aspects just fall apart.
That doesn’t mean Linux is at fault. What it usually means is that Microsoft has intentionally withheld enough information so as to prevent Linux from interoperating. Note, there is no need to go into the gritty details of these issues in this article. There are plenty of sites on the Internet that can explain it all in excruciating detail.
However, if your company or home system doesn’t need to interoperate with Windows, then Linux is a perfectly suitable solution for nearly every task (i.e., reading email, browsing, writing blogs, etc). If, however, someone wants to pass you an Adobe Illustrator file or you receive a Winmail.dat file in your email, you’re kind of stuck. That’s not to say you can’t find a workable solution with some DIY Linux tools, but you won’t find these out of the box.
This is not meant to berate Linux. This is just a decision specifically by Microsoft to limit compatibility and interoperability of non-Microsoft products. This decision by Microsoft is intentional and, thus, Windows is specifically and intentionally designed that way.
Microsoft’s days ahead
Looking at Microsoft’s coming days, it’s going to be a bit rough even when Windows 7 arrives. If Windows 7 is based on Vista and also requires the same hardware requirements as Vista, Windows 7 won’t be any more of a winner than Vista.
Microsoft needs to do some serious rethinking. They need to rethink not only how their products are perceived by the public, they need to rethink what they think is good for the public. Clearly, Microsoft is not listening to their customers. In Vista, Microsoft made a lot of changes without really consulting with their target userbase and, as a result, ended up with a mostly disliked operating system.
Apple, on the other hand, is able to introduce new innovative tools that, instead of making life more of a hassle, it simplifies things. Microsoft isn’t doing this.
While this flavor of ice cream might be appealing, Microsoft’s road ahead won’t be quite so much that way. They are heading for a few rocky years coming. Combine their bad software design decisions with a bad economy and you’ve got a real problem. Microsoft’s problems, though, primarily stem from lack of vision. Windows roadmap is not clear. Instead of actually trying to lay out design goals for the next several revisions, Microsoft appears to be making it up as they go along… all the while hoping that the users will like it. But, their designers really do not have much in the way of vision. The biggest change that Microsoft made to Windows was the Start button. That’s probably the single most innovative thing that Microsoft has done (note that the start button is not really that great of a design anyway).
Microsoft forces everyone else to do it the Windows way
Microsoft’s main problem with Windows stems from its lack of interoperability between Windows and other operating systems. While Windows always plays well with Windows (and other Microsoft products), it rarely plays well with other OSes. In fact, Microsoft effectively forces the other OSes and devices to become compatible with Windows. Apple has been the one exception to this with many of their products. Apple has managed to keep their own proprietary devices mostly off of Windows (with the exception of the iPhone and iPods). Even Apple has had to succumb to the pressures of Microsoft (with certain products) and compete in the Microsoft world even when Apple has its own successful operating system. Note, however, that Apple’s softwares on Windows leave a lot to be desired as far as full compatibility goes.
Microsoft has an initiative to allow open source projects access to deeper Microsoft technologies to allow for better compatibility between open source projects and Windows. There’s two sides to this ‘access’. The first is that it does help open source projects become more compatible. On the other side, the developer must sign certain legal agreements that could put the open source project in jeopardy if Microsoft were to press the legal agreements. So, to get the interoperability, it becomes a double-edged sword.
The tide is turning
Microsoft’s somewhat dwindling installations of Windows, lack of quality control and bungling of major products may lead more and more people away from Microsoft to more stable devices. But, the market is fickle. As long as people continue to generally like Microsoft products and solutions, Microsoft will never be gone.
Note, you can follow my Twitter ramblings here.