Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Microsoft - The Next GM (General Motors)?

A lot of ink and cyber ink has been spilled about the recent woes of Microsoft and their much publicized delay for Vista - The Next Generation OS.

There has also been much written about the woes of GM (General Motors) and their steady decline. Much of the blame has been laid at the feet of the unions and you won't get much argument from me as all the failing industries (Airlines, US Car Makers, Teachers, Symphony Orchestras, etc.) today are heavily unionized. But in the case of GM, much blame can also be laid at management and the steadily deteriorating style, excitement, and quality of products they offered for sale. It this feature that I think bares some real resemblance to the current day Microsoft. Could Microsoft be the next GM that will rapidly decline into irrelevance?

I find it interesting that Bill Gates has been oft quoted as being a fan of Alfred Sloan who led GM. Could Microsoft and Seattle become the new rust belt of American Capitalism?

My tenure at Microsoft from 1993 to the beginning of 2000 was an interesting ride. By the end I had become convinced that Microsoft was running out of steam and that it was no longer a place that had any attraction for me to work there. During my time at Microsoft, I helped move tens of thousands of users in various Government agencies from DOS word processing to the then modern GUI interface of Windows and Office. It was a revolutionary time. I also worked hard to lobby for more Internet features in the Windows before the Windows 95 rollout. Sometimes, I would get a lot of push back from Microsoft corporate developers about the need for Internet capability. From my involvement in technical Government sales, I was sensing the pressing need for Microsoft to get on the Internet train. Of course, Bill finally had his "epiphany" about the Internet (better late than never) and a sea change was underway.

Microsoft is now in the unenviable position of producing the software equivalent of the bland "K Car" (a Chrylser product but GM also churned out bland me too products). Sure they sold skid loads of software to businesses just as train loads of K Cars were sold to fleet users, etc. Nobody had any passion for the cars just as Microsoft products no longer generate much love or passion for their products. One simple fact is Microsoft simply has just too many products. Just scan their newserver list to see list after list of products that many people have probably never heard of. In a recent article in the Washington Post about American Car manufacturer woes it makes the comparison of large number of brands and cars that American manufacturers make compared to European and Asian manufacturers who only have two or three brands in total. If I were Bill Gates, I'd slash and burn at least 50% of the products that Microsoft currently makes. Boil down the company to its bare essence and go hells bells on that core that makes real money and make these products best of breed. Jettison all the money losing products.

I don't have time to explore all of my comparisons to GM but I may revisit this topic in a further post. Bottom line is Microsoft peaked on August 24, 1995 (Windows 95 launch and my birthday by coincidence). I was there and participated. It is now ten years and counting and the decline of Microsoft is becoming extremely apparent.

Billg as softies refer to Bill Gates was often cited as saying that he was afraid of Microsoft turning into an IBM (large, slow, lumbering, etc.). Bill, it's worse, Microsoft has become the next GM!