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Who's Laughing Now?

Entry 688, on 2008-02-04 at 21:42:35 (Rating 2, Computers)

About three or four years ago at a Mac users' meeting I predicted the gradual decline of Microsoft and its disappearance as a major force. At the time a few people probably had a bit of a laugh at that, especially since I am well known for my rants against Microsoft! But I think the signs are now clearer, and who's laughing now? Well, I guess Microsoft shouldn't exactly be panicking just yet, but I do think the signs of their inevitable demise are now plain for all to see.

Microsoft's attempt to buy Yahoo isn't exactly a great sign of original thinking and innovation is it? They realise they have fallen behind and that they are almost irrelevant in the Internet services area so they try to buy their way out by procuring a company which is surely already past its prime and suffering the same ailments as Microsoft itself. I don't suppose the idea of creating good quality, easily accessible, reasonably priced services ever crossed their minds. Apparently not.

When was the last time Microsoft actually did anything innovative or truly original? Oh silly me, the answer is never, of course. Microsoft seem to have thrived on the basis of creating something that was "good enough" for most people. But if what you make is already good enough where do you go next? Making another mediocre product which is also good enough (like Vista) isn't likely to convince many people to swap (and it hasn't). So Microsoft are really doomed. My advice would be to stick with XP and just make minor improvements to it instead of creating something which tries to do too much and ends up doing nothing.

The problem with big companies is that they almost always end up becoming too slow to keep up in a rapidly changing environment like the computer industry. Twenty years ago no one would have predicted that IBM would ever not be a dominant part of the PC hardware market. Now they don't make PCs at all! IBM seems to be very good at producing brilliant innovations in the lab but not so good at translating that into innovative products.

So inevitably the discussion gets back to Apple. Despite many people's perceptions, Apple is a huge company and yet it doesn't seem to suffer from the short-sighted, slow reactions to change that many others do. What is their secret? Well, in some ways Apple is a benevolent dictatorship run by (as I heard him called recently) Saint Steve of Cupertino! A single person with real vision and enough corporate power can steer a large company down the right path quickly.

But genuinely visionary people rarely end up in positions of power. Those are usually reserved for mediocre people who are good at playing office politics. During the period that Apple went through its decline in the 90s it experimented with these more standard management models. It was only with the return of the visionary that the company started performing again. I'm not usually into hero worship much but the evidence seems clear: committees and management hierarchies achieve nothing. Compare Steve Ballmer with Steve Jobs and tell me which company you think will really make the difference.

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