Microsoft at the Tipover Point

The Inquirer has this article on “the IT industry is moving away from Microsoft” (by way of Slashdot). While it contains a lot of typically vague and vehement Inquirer/Slashdot statements, it IS worth a read, especially by MSFT folks. I do believe the software game is going through an inflection point and I do believe the long-term implications for both Microsoft and the rest of the industry will be significant. But I also believe that Microsoft will come out of this a stronger, healthier company (queue the theme music from the Six Million Dollar Man). We’ve been through significant inflection points many times before and we’ve evolved to meet the new challenges. Do I think we need to do a better job of providing value to our customers? Yes. Do I think we could respond in a more mature manner to certain challenges? Yes. Am I totally happy with the way certain things are being done internally? No. But name another company of this size that IS perfect? A large organization is just that – an organization of people. And Microsoft is much like you’d expect a hugely successful, pretty intelligent, vastly wealthy, self-made 28-year old human to be in character. Have you ever met someone like that (any dot com founders in their brief moment in the sun)? They can be, quite innocently, rather obnoxious at times. Does that mean they cannot learn and mature into someone with more wisdom and better interpersonal skills? No. Will they need to go through some change pain to get there? Probably. But it ain’t over yet. Netscape was supposed to destroy Microsoft 8 or 9 years ago. We probably wouldn’t have the internet-centric, open standards supporting products we have today without Netscape. Java was supposed to make Microsoft redundant. We probably wouldn’t have C# without Java.

One of the things that especially bugs me about this ultra-negative, no redemption view of Microsoft that the Inquirer article perpetuates is that it isn’t balanced. There is no mention of the awe-inspiring work that the Gates’ Foundation is doing. As I posted recently,

· he is pumping $800 million a year into his global health initiative -- nearly matching the entire World Health Organization budget.

· Gates' immunization efforts have saved hundreds of thousands of lives.

As Scoble is fond of pointing out, Microsoft is really nothing more than 55,000 smart, passionate people trying to build, sell and deliver compelling and useful software solutions for businesses, government, schools and consumers, while at the same time, trying to maximize shareholder wealth. And sure, Microsoft employees are shareholders and option holders, but so are millions of other people around the world, directly and indirectly. We have a responsibility to them to continue to be successful. Not to mention that tens of thousands of partners and millions of customers who rely on our technology.

The other part of the article which strongly rubs me is the insinuation that all of our customers are annoyed with us and are desperate for an alternative. I can tell you quite honestly that this doesn’t gel with my direct experience working with CxOs in Australia. Sure, they are always making sure they are paying a fair price for their software, and they demand value and quality, but we deliver both of those things in spades WHEN DONE CORRECTLY. I know of heaps of organizations, both in Australia and globally, who have recently become a Microsoft shop OUT OF CHOICE. Some of them threw out Linux, AIX, Unix, Solaris, Oracle, etc. Not because these aren’t good technologies and valid solutions, but because we had something better for their particular needs. McNealy and Ellison (and the IT press) have predicted 5 of the last 0 “end of Microsoft”s. Does that mean we are infallible? No way. But does it mean we sometimes get it right? I think so.

As for discounts… it’s really REALLY hard to get discounts for customers. It’s the OTHER guys who discount, sometime almost to ZERO, in order to win the business. I see this time and time again. Let me ask this: if the technology solution is SO compelling for the customer, why do the vendors feel the need to discount below the MSFT price?

And as for “oh Microsoft used its profits from Windows/Office to prop up loss making divisions”… how much money do IBM make out of Linux licenses to feed back into R&D?

Come on Inquirer – if you are going to act as journalists, at least PRETEND to be balanced.