But just as communism collapsed under the weight of its own inefficiencies, arcane protocols and an inability to retire what was old and broken, and replace it with new inventions, Microsoft faces the same paradoxes.
Maybe the Live services strategy is the harbinger of greater days ahead. But I just don't see it.
Why? One only has to look at a recent reading of the "Services" field in my Task Manager where it shows almost 300 Megs of memory usage, which effectively renders my PC as unusable, to see the writing on the wall. Immediately prior to "upgrading" to IE7, the system worked great.
When your own upgrades kill your customers' computers that is the beginning of the end in my book since the message to the customer is upgrade equals dead-end. Or, upgrade if and only if you have an incremental two grand to spend.
To be clear, I have a healthy respect for just how hard of a job it is for Microsoft to simultaneously protect legacy customer investments by maintaining backwards compatability, support infinite thousands of hardware/software combinations in the Wintel ecosystem, add functionality that speaks to their massive installed base of enterprise customers and create cool, new modern OS'es and applications that drive upgrades.
But that is the point. All of this complexity leads to brittleness. My Outlook gets gummed up 2-3 times a week, forcing re-launches and .PST file rebuilds that take 15-30 minutes of lost productivity each time. Word crashes with regularity. IE is as unstable as ever. And I spend less and less time in the MS sandbox than ever before.
Simple, good enough and web accessible is the rule of the day, a gravity that increases every day, and a gravity that makes Microsoft technologies feel more and more like a black hole. Baggage that slows me down as opposed to making me more productive, or minimally, not getting in my way.
That said, don't plan the "going out of business" sale just yet. Just as communism lasted another 30 years after its apex, Microsoft is in no danger of falling off a cliff. They will be counting their annual billions when I am a grandparent. Of that, I have no doubt. Legacy takes far longer to retire itself than people ever give credit for. Just ask the legacy mainframe vendors, a much smaller industry than the PC space.
But central-ness in the equation, pricing power and embrace/extend/extinguish are slowly fading into the sunset. Those classic Microsoft power moves now officially have a limited shelf life.
UPDATE 1: WIth Microsoft reporting disappointing earnings, it's Windows franchise under assault, and missed opportunities in social networking, mobile, search, etc., Daring Fireball takes a look at Microsoft's Long, Slow Decline. The only difference is that I wrote my article over two years ago. :-)
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