Is Microsoft becoming the IBM of the new millennia? It sure looks like it through my tar colored glasses.
Back in the Bad Old Days of the 1980′s IBM was near bankruptcy. In his memoirs, Lou Gerstner noted that after decades of market dominance, IBM had devolved into a navel gazing sloth, unaware of how the universe around it was changing. Though Microsoft has yet to slide into the utter dementia that possessed IBM, it has started down the same path, which will have the same results (though $40,000,000,000 in the bank might delay the seemingly inevitable).
In their dark past, IBM suffered from what I call “mainframe mania.” The strategic plan within IBM (if I can abuse the words “strategic” and “plan”) was to make the mainframe the center of their entire universe, and thus the center of the IT market. No product plan and marketing maneuver within IBM was executed unless it reinforced the notion that the mainframe was the center of every enterprise’s infrastructure.
Why did IBM choose to do this? Well, when your major source of revenue and market leadership is a single product line, you certainly would like to preserve and grow that line. And, IBM actually believed their own hype – that the mainframe could and should be the center of all IT activity.
But like the mighty dinosaurs who didn’t notice all the small, agile, furry little mammals that were suddenly dashing between their feet, IBM didn’t notice the growing hordes of small, agile, (but noticeably not furry) UNIX boxes dashing in and out of data centers. IBM failed to adapt to the changing environment (market demands), and tried to survive on an outdated genetic code.
And it almost killed them.
Microsoft may be in the early days of the same crisis. Ignore Microsoft’s growing bureaucratic ways, and stifling lack of creative freedom. Microsoft is repeating IBM’s earlier error of believing that their core technologies will withstand the onslaught of a changed market (and note the past tense of the word “change” – because the shift has already occurred, and the tipping point has arrived).
Microsoft is obsessively focused on the two elements that breathed life into the small start-up – their developer community and their core infrastructure technology. Microsoft believes that .NET is the end-all in infrastructure design, architecture, and management (just like the mainframe). And Microsoft believes that developers adoption of .NET will carry Windows forward as the preferred application platform (just like mainframe programmers).
Both conclusions are self-deluding.
Microsoft, though aware of the Open Source threat, is intellectually immune from understanding why Open Source came to life, and why IT executives have made it the center post of their strategic planning. Open Source has solved the one most persistent complaint of IT since 1′s and 0′s were invented: that technology is not a commodity. And CIOs and CTOs want commodity technology so bad, the taste of vendor blood is in their teeth.
Unless Microsoft accepts this fundamental change in the market, and devises a way of meeting this new demand, Open Source will get the better of them. Already Microsoft’s focus has turned toward their navels, and it is tough to see the horizon when a bunch of bellybutton lint obstructing the view.