Microsoft is on its way out.
The bare statement that Microsoft is starting the
long slide to becoming just another company
probably sounds idiotic to most of you. Even with
its stock sinking, it's still worth more than
most small countries and chances are you're
reading this using Internet Explorer on a
Microsoft operating system. Things change.
Back in 1995, with Microsoft 95, Office 95 and NT
4, Microsoft consolidated its personal desktop
rule and made deep inroads into the server
market. Alternative desktop operating systems,
like OS/2, began permanent declines. WordPerfect
Office and Lotus SmartSuite became almost
irrelevant. And in the server market, we saw
Netware begin a long fall into the server
operating system dustbin.
Today, Microsoft presents users with a
bewildering array of end-user operating system
options: Windows 95, Windows 98 SE, Windows ME,
Windows 2000 Professional and Windows CE. With
so much potential confusion, is it any wonder
that people are beginning to look at other
end-user operating systems? Corel Linux, a
consumer's Linux, while far from a hit, has
garnered a small following. As the Unix desktop
interface programs KDE and Gnome mature, we can
look forward to seeing even more user-friendly
interfaces appearing on top of Linux, the BSD
OSes and Solaris.
Think that none of those are really suitable for
a desktop? Think again. Many hardware OEMs--like
market leaders, Compaq, Dell, Gateway and
IBM--are now placing Linux desktops on PCs due to
customer demand. Even Sun, with its new Sun Ray
line, is giving the desktop market another try.
Give users a familiar, Windows-like
interface--which you can do with both KDE and
they can use with both KDE and Gnome--and a low
price tag, and you've got the making of a
The usual response to that by Microsoft fans is,
"But there aren't any applications!" Give me a
break. You've got Sun's Star Office and
VistaSource's Applixware for office work,
Netscape Navigator for a browser and mail readers
that aren't susceptible to Outlook Transmitted
Diseases (OTD) like Melissa. That argument hasn't
held water for years.
And as for servers, International Data
Corporation numbers show that Linux is taking the
server operating system world by storm.
Microsoft's other server enemies, such as IBM,
Sun and SCO--shortly to be incorporated into
Caldera System--also are riding the Linux
bandwagon to server victory.
Simultaneously, a new price war is developing in
PCs as peripheral makers, such as display giant
ViewSonic, move into making computers and
Internet appliances. When a Windows license is
often the single most expensive item in a PC,
some vendors are already shipping devices that
come sans Windows. The IBM Network Station line,
thin-client computers for business, has BSD Unix
at its heart. Consumer Internet appliances, like
Netpliance's i-opener, also are typically Windows
Microsoft itself, with its support for the still
unproven application-service-providers model, is
moving away from its former revenue sources of
box operating system and applications sells. Even
Microsoft .NET, MS' grand plan for reorganization
of its products and the entire Internet into
Microsoft proprietary technologies, is a major
shift away from Microsoft's traditional revenue
There are good reasons why Microsoft is doing
that. The traditional box application sales model
is dying as surely as the hardware box sales
model did before it.
While Microsoft's revenues continue to grow, its
rate of increase has dropped back to mere human
But perhaps most telling of all, productivity
applications and developer tools sales actually
fell 9.9 percent in the last reported quarter.
If developers are beginning to look elsewhere,
it's only a matter of time until consumers will,
Put it all together--viable alternatives, near
flat revenue gains, an increasingly cost
conscious audience, the changing of the
management guard, the shadow of lawsuits and the
DOJ case--and the end of Microsoft's incredible
run of computing dominance is in sight.
Sound impossible? People said that about IBM and
General Motors, too. Like them, Microsoft won't
stop being a major player, but it no longer will
be the bully of the computing sandlot.