Microsoft’s Lost Decade

What happened to Microsoft? I used to love their products, know each release in their line-up, enjoy every innovation. But lately (more than lately, I could say like for more than ten years ago) it seems like the innovation front has moved from MicrosoftLand to some other fertile grounds. So I would like to share some ideas about what I think about them, taking a step back and looking at their last ten years.

For what I can recall, the last good operating system they released was Windows XP, and that was in 2001! Let’s forget about their whole Vista fiasco, and just face that Windows 7 is just Vista’s Service Pack 2. I remember when XP SP2 went out, they got a totally reliable system back then! Innovative is not an adjective you can put on any of those two releases: Windows still suffers the same security problems as always, it got more annoying and more difficult to manage than before, and it still does the same old things: filesystem management, presentation management, peripheral devices management. So many great things to do on so many fronts, so many lost opportunities! Let’s just take an example: Apple Mac OS’s Time Machine. Boy, I would really like some of that on my Windows. And there are so many great things to still make computers easier to use. But, no, they have this silly TV ads where they tell you that W7 is better just because you can arrange your windows by just dragging them to the borders of the desktop? C’mon, is that all that you could think of as an innovation?

So, what about Office? I think Office is just a finished work of art, guys. We really don’t need anything else in our word processors, spreadsheets and presentation software. That’s why OpenOffice caught up with them and offers a totally free (meaning you don’t have to pay a penny) bundle of software that does pretty much the same that Microsoft Office does. And with browser’s and JavaScript getting its fair share in the development world, you also have Google Docs, now followed by Microsoft’s version… Office Web! Even Apple has some nice products on that field: Pages, Numbers and Keynote. Have you noticed Keynote lately? Is so easy to make such wonderful presentations on it, I wish Powerpoint got that same “designer” treatment (I know they’re doing better on that, but again, this change wasn’t lead by them).

In development tools, the last good product Microsoft released was .NET around 2001. I know this is not fair to say, they were many many advances in the .NET area, and it was planned to be this way. NET is a platform more than a product, and that’s how platforms go, they grow slowly and steadily over time. But those changes seem too much now. Remember the good old days when all you needed to know was just a little bit of Visual Basic (maybe VBScript) and you could come up with a nice Windows Application, or even a website in ASP? Well, now that is so much more complicated and fragmented now. You have to know WCF (Windows Communication Foundation), WPF (Windows Presentation Foundation), WWF (Windows Workflow Foundation), Silverlight, ASP.NET is way more complicated than ASP (that’s why so many people couldn’t come up with it and jump the fences to easier PHP). And let’s just assume that you don’t want to know how to put .NET assemblies in your SQL Server, instead of just writing some simple stored procedures. And all of that just because of trying to keep up with the latest tendencies in programming!

So let’s talk about their product lineup. They used to have the Server products (Exchange, SQL Server, MOM and some other great stuff), the Operating System products (Windows in all of its variances), the Office products (with productivity tools like Project) and their Home line (all the software that you would buy for your kids, including the old Encarta). If you look at their product lineup now is a total mess, just the names of the products are confusing. It seems to me they need a house cleanup in that area!

Mobility is an area that I really used to love. Microsoft was THE player in mobility. Windows Mobile, based on the solid foundations of Windows CE, was the only serious smartphone that was around. You could develop applications for it using almost the same tools you used in your desktop applications: C#, SQL Server (with some quirks) but it was totally bearable. As soon as Apple released iPhone is like they totally froze up! And they’re coming up with an incomplete operating system in the next few months: no database support, no filesystem access. Really!? I knew that they had to ditch the original project they were working on and start all over again. Can they be so out of focus? Guys, this was THE opportunity, you were the ones that were calling all the shots, and now look at you, you’re just another player on the battlefield. I know you have all your big friends like HP, Dell and such, but is this really how you want to see yourselves, as another one on the list? Are you happy with just that?

Open source is another battle they’re losing. First, they tried to convince everybody that OSS is a bad word, you would get sued, the software is not as good as theirs, and lots of nonsense that time took care of proving they were wrong. Now, Linux is a pretty good alternative on the server front (specially for web servers where all you need is LAMP: Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP) and is becoming better on the desktop field too, thanks to the guys at Ubuntu. They came up with a “good enough” version of a computer operating system and set of productivity tools that you can use even if you’re not a NASA engineer (as it used to be when I ran RedHat Linux in the old days). They guys at the open source movement showed all us that you don’t have to be a multi-billonar company to write quality software. You just have to good programmers and good policies to get things going. And as Microsoft started to slow down, more people starting to notice that there were some other options, and that those options were not so bad as we had been told. So why not try them? They’re free, so it wouldn’t cost us a dime to just see what’s up with that. And that is a hard battle to fight. How do you compete with free?

So what happened? Well, my idea (and it seems I wasn’t the only one with that in mind, as I been reading some other people’s blogs) is that Microsoft has a serious management issue. And it might even have a name: Steve Ballmer. If you think when all the innovation stopped, and when was the last change of management, both things coincide. As soon as this man got the steer, the company’s star started to fade. Maybe it’s because Bill Gates is more of a technology guy (makes sense to have such a person running a technology company), maybe he is not so smart as it seems (just look for some videos of him on YouTube to find it out). But for me, those to things happening at the same time are not just coincidence.

I don’t intend to rain on anyone’s parade, that’s truly not my intention. As I told, I used to love Microsoft, and I still have a pretty amount of respect for them. They make one of the best software products in the world. So this post is just a summary of ideas I have on my mind right now. I would really like to help you guys regain the leadership position you used to have. But it looks like there’s a long way to go, and as far as I’m looking, no one is acknowledging this inside the company.

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