Sun Scott-free? Microsoft's albatross

Sun awaits the networked future that has yet to arrive; Microsoft keeps bracing for the networked future that has yet to arrive.
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer

A couple of things ripped from today's headlines:

Scott McNealy steps down at Sun. He may have stepped down as CEO, but he's still chairman over at Fireball.  Remember how Bill Gates "stepped down" as CEO of Microsoft a few years ago? I expect to hear plenty more zingers from Scotty at conferences future. (ZDNet posted some good ones here.) Here's a classic McNealyism: "Microsoft is now talking about the digital nervous system. I guess I would be nervous if my system was built on their technology, too."

And I'm still waiting for Scott's "Big Freakin' Webtone Switch" to engulf the IT world and make all local processing and storage a thing of the past. 

Sun's catch-phrase of "the network is the computer" always had resonance, especially these days in the era of SOA and grid computing. And it seems to keep giving Microsoft severe, chronic gas pains.  

PC Magazine's John Dvorak talks about the nervousness that seems to define Microsoft, noting that it's nothing new. 

Dvorak points out that whenever the market seems to close in on Microsoft, it undergoes a panic attack of sorts and makes ham-handed attempts at jazzing up its business model (which still keeps churning out billions of dollars, by the way).  I wrote out Microsoft's latest "panic attack" last November, when Big Red realized it wasn't the center of attention with all the fun Web 2.0 stuff that was emerging.

Microsoft keeps knee-jerking to the notion -- which constantly surfaces from year to year -- that the fat-client PC is archaic, medieval, and ready to die. As IE7 works its way through the beta testing process, Dvorak points out that IE has been the root of everything that has gone wrong for the software giant over the past few years.  Ironically, it's a piece of software Microsoft gives away for free. As Dvorak puts it:

"If you were to put together a comprehensive profit-and-loss statement for IE, there would be a zero in the profits column and billions in the losses column—billions. The joke of it is that Microsoft is still working on this dead albatross and is apparently ready to roll out a new version, since most of the smart money has been fleeing to Firefox or Opera. This means new rounds of patches and lost money."

Dvorak says that whenever people start talking about a new paradigm, "Microsoft buys the fear." That's why Big Red came out with IE in the first place -- everybody was saying the browser was becoming the new client operating system. He adds that the software giant "must have some of the lowest corporate self-esteem for any dominant company in the history of modern business. The company is like the panicky old woman wondering how she lost a penny in her purse while giving exact change in the express line at the grocery store. Hey lady, you are holding things up!"

The penny that keeps falling to the floor seems to be Internet Explorer.

But remember, in business, complacency is not a virtue.


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