Microsoft is largely irrelevant to computing of late, the only markets they still play in are evaporating with stunning rapidity. Their long history of circling the wagons tighter and tighter works decently as long as there is not a credible alternative, and that strategy has been the entirety of the Microsoft playbook for so long that there is nothing else now. It works, and as the walls grow higher, customer enmity builds while the value of an alternative grows. This cycle repeats as long as there is no alternative. If there is, everything unravels with frightening rapidity.
A company that plays this game for too long becomes set in their ways, and any chance of real change simply becomes impossible. Microsoft is there, and has been for a long long time. Their product lines have stagnated, creating customer lock in is prioritized over creating customer value, and the supply chain is controlled by an iron fisted monopoly. Any attempt at innovation with a Windows PC has been shut out for over a decade, woe betide anyone who tried to buck that trend. The history books are littered with the corpses of companies that tried to make change the ‘Windows experience’. Microsoft’s displeasure is swift and fatal to those that try. Or at least it was.
In the end, Windows advanced only to the point of undercutting any competition, and even then to the minimum extent possible. The rules in Redmond were, “Do not change anything unless it is to crush someone doing something innovative”. They didn’t unless they did, and it worked. And the market stagnated. Ask yourself when the last time Microsoft did something innovative? Did it come from internal impetuses, or a clone of the competition?
Sooner or later, someone will come along and do a better job than the treacle that Microsoft, offers. Actually that happens all the time. How about, sooner or later, someone will come along and do a better job than the treacle that Microsoft offers, and for some reason, Microsoft won’t be able to crush them like a bug. Then the circled wagons have an alternative. Then the decades of built up enmity have an outlet. Then Microsoft is in trouble.
In such a situation, a company has two choices, both of which are quite stark. They can radically change their ways or they can wither and die. Before you point to Windows 8 and say, “But they are changing and innovating”, hold off a moment, it isn’t what you think.
Microsoft has three product lines that underpin everything, Windows, Windows Server, and Windows Mobile/Phone/WART/whatevertheynameitthisweek. On those, the other moneymakers, Office and Exchange, run exclusively. The apps use protocols that are locked down with dubious methods, and will not run on any competition. The competition is likewise excluded from doing what Microsoft can, either directly like Novell, or by raising the cost to the point of it not being profitable. This is how the wagons are circled, with every iteration, the cost of competing go up, and value of alternatives go up too.
Read more: SemiAccurate