After posting my note about Microsoft on Tuesday, I’ve found a couple of posts on the TechCrunch blog that explore further some aspects of Microsoft’s current position. (Thanks to pensiveharsh for his comments on the original post, and for pointing me toward these articles.)
The first of these articles dates back to February of this year, and talks about reports, which have been around for some time, about corporate infighting at Microsoft. Essentially, the claim made by some former Microsoft employees is that there is ongoing friction between the product groups responsible for the existing “cash cows” — Office and Windows — and the groups working on new products, like the ill-fated Kin phones. I have no direct knowledge of the accuracy, or lack thereof, of these claims of internal “civil wars”; but it would not surprise me if they were true. Think of, for example, the internal resistance to the development of smaller cars in the American “Big 3” manufacturers when Japanese imports first started to gain popularity. The internal resistance to the development of the PC at IBM is, of course, the classic example in the technology business.
The second article focuses more on the growing perception that perhaps Microsoft needs a new idea. The company has done a fantastic job building on the idea of the desktop PC with the GUI interface, but that’s not where the action is today in terms of new development, or in developers’ attention. As I mentioned in my earlier post, the company has done well with some new products, like the Xbox, but it has also struggled with getting new ideas launched successfully. Microsoft has had tablet PC products for years, but the tablet everyone is talking about today comes from Apple.
Microsoft is still a very big, very wealthy company, and I have no doubt that it has the technical resources to develop successful products in any number of areas. But I sense that there is a lack of overall focus in what the company is doing. None of this means that Microsoft will disappear, or that it will not continue to be an important factor in the technology marketplace. (After all, as an IBM vice president remarked to me back in 1989, it takes a while to run a $200 billion company into the ground.) But I think there is a good chance that Microsoft’s dominance of the industry has seen its best days.