Microsoft’s Windows won the desktop operating system wars, a defeat acknowledged by none other than Steve Jobs himself. Instead of buying Apple and putting the company out of its misery, Microsoft invested money in Apple and agreed to ship Office for the Mac for five years. It was a humbling time for Apple, but less than 20 years later the tables have turned.
That Was Then, This Is Now
As the post-PC mobile device era picks up steam and heads racing into the future, it’s Microsoft that is on the ropes, flailing and failing with remarkable consistency.
Unlike Apple in 1997, Microsoft isn’t about to go broke, and doesn’t need an outside savior to invest in the company.
Yet, as the world moves toward mobile computing devices Microsoft has been marginalized and moved to a position of insignificance in the mobile era.
Just as Apple needed to assure the Mac faithful that Office would be around for a few years back in 1997, it’s Microsoft that needs Apple today.
Microsoft made billions in profits every year by shipping Windows and Office to PC manufacturers and captive home users. The might Microsoft Office suite is nowhere to be found on most of today’s mobile devices.
You would think that having Office on Microsoft’s own tablets and Windows phone models would be a plus for the company, a clear indicator of differentiation. The truth is even simpler. No one in the mobile space cares about Office.
Not on the iPhone, iPad, or even Android devices; all of which are selling in record numbers– without Office.
No Growth In The Shadows
The problems Microsoft faces in the mobile arena are many and varied, though operating cash isn’t one of them. Unlike Apple, a company which seems to embrace change at every opportunity, Microsoft keeps itself firmly wedded, perhaps welded, to the past.
Like Windows, Office is a relic from the 20th century that may have a few hundred million users, but they’re not happy about having to use Office and have eagerly embraced lesser and less expensive substitutes.
Google gives away a capable suite of apps in exchange for your personal data. Apple doesn’t care about data, but makes money the old fashioned way– hardware– so most apps are free, including Office counterpart iWork (Pages, Keynote, Numbers) on all three product lines and the web browser.
From the user interface and user experience, Microsoft remains in Apple’s shadow, using the Cupertino company like a distant research and development lab, but never copying well enough to be loved in the same way Apple delights their hundreds of millions of fans and customers.
Apple has taste and that extends to hardware design and software usability. Microsoft does not have taste (or, if it does, it’s really bad taste), so copycat hardware and software always seems lacking the flavor and character of Apple’s products.
The Shadow Doesn’t Know
As the mobile device industry speeds up in markets and penetration, all Microsoft has, besides a diminishing pile of money, is Windows and Office, neither of which are doing well in a post-PC world. Under Steve Jobs, Apple rushed to invent its own future with the iPod, iTunes Store, iPhone, App Store, iPad and free software for all.
Microsoft, forever in Apple’s shadow, much like a rich but constantly confused an inebriated old uncle, brings the baggage of the past to the nimble mobility of the present and future. Even the enterprise and corporate environment, once Microsoft’s stronghold, has moved into the post-PC era and mobile devices where the leader is Apple.
As a recent round of desperate purchases (Skype and Nokia come to mind) tells us, Microsoft will not go gentle into that good night, but the company missed opportunity after opportunity to copy Apple’s advances into mobile computing, and the vultures of change are coming to Redmond to roost.
Back in 1997, James Daly penned 101 Ways To Save Apple, published in Wired Magazine. Some on the list are prescient while others, in hindsight, were ludicrous (#1, Admit it. You’re out of the hardware game. Or, #27 Relocate the company to Bangalore and make it cheap, cheap, cheap).
Now is the time to make a list of 101 ways to save Microsoft.