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Hoses of the Holy in the Parallel Universe

March 30, 2006

The State of Microsoft

Charles Arthur and Jack Schofield in Technology Guardian ponder the state of Microsoft:
Microsoft's challenge now is not to turn into the sort of slow, bureacratic company it tore apart - IBM. But that may be happening. 'The constant these days is reorganisation,' one Microsoft UK executive said last week. That's reminiscent of what IBM's employees used to say - that the company initials stood for 'I've Been Moved'."

It's interesting, isn't it, that the larger a company gets, the slower its internal workings become. There was a quote on the wall in my old office: "There are two kinds of companies. The quick, and the dead." I think it was that Intel bloke who said that.

The bigger the company, the more it turns inward, and the more concerned it becomes with internal politics, backbiting, and reshuffling. In a small company, one person can come in and have a huge impact, become an agent for change, and possibly success and growth. The company management immediately decide to use some of the profits from this growth to expand the efforts of this individual, throwing resources in, adding members to the team.

But the more people there are involved, the more resources they have, the slower the efforts become.

Even the Mac, which turned out to be the main thing Apple did for many years, grew out of a kind of skunkworks splinter group. The main project, viewed as a replacement for the original Apple II, turned out to be a dud (Lisa).

Stay hungry is obviously the message. All companies have their day. Microsoft still has a massive installed base, and if all those people eventually replace their old PCs with new ones running a new version of Windows, whenever that may be, I can't see MS going out of business. Stagnating, yes, but stagnation is what causes you to keep postponing your next major release.

Apple stagnated, in the late 90s, never quite getting round to shipping a new operating system, the so-called Copland project. in the end, they had to buy one in, and even then it took a good few years to get it ready for prime time. If it hadn't been for the dumb-shit enthusiasm of the Mac Moonies (people like myself) to put up with the Spinning Beachball of Death and other notable "features" of the early OS X, they might not have survived at all.

Big companies sometimes think that spinning off bits of yourself, demerging, as it were, is the way to go. But it's a lot of energy and expense to expend in internal re-organisation, energy that could be spent developing and shipping products. Actually, what you need to do is cut your customers loose. Apple frequently do this. "That's old," we're not supporting it any more." You have a serial port on your printer? Sorry. Your machine is over three years old? Tough titley, Mr Shitley.

As long as your revenue stream relies on a constant stream of "upgrades" and "improvements", a rigourous focus only on those customers who spend money with you on a regular basis is the only way to go. You have to cut loose all the so-called "enthusiasts" who buy once and spend 5 years complaining about being left behind. Legacy support will suck you dry.

3 Comments:

  • Actually, to be correct, the byline on the article is "Jack Schofield and Charles Arthur". It's a joint work.

    By Anonymous Charles, at 5:48 am  

  • Corrected!

    By Blogger bot37363838, at 7:04 am  

  • Microsoft aren't so easily able to be dismissive because of the number of mid-size servers running Windows. They have to be supported if they want to retain market share in F&P, Email, database and application server markets.

    Once you get over as few as 15 users on a server upgrades are always something that you have to think twice about.

    In the olden days up to say about 5 years ago I've seen Netware 3 and 4 servers running on PCs that hadn't been touched for two years, still running without a hitch. That's the sort of thing people with servers would like: not having to reboot, never mind upgrade anything.

    Replace? (makes sign of cross with garlic clove and spits salt over left shoulder)

    Still, that hasn't stopped Microsoft from generating a rainstorm of patches, hotfixes and updates to everything. Different times I guess.

    By Blogger SimonHolyHoses, at 8:28 am  

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