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How Microsoft blew it
July 26, 2012 6:45 PM   Subscribe

Microsoft’s low-octane swan song was nothing if not symbolic of more than a decade littered with errors, missed opportunities, and the devolution of one of the industry’s innovators into a “me too” purveyor of other companies’ consumer products. ... How did this jaw-dropping role reversal happen? How could a company that stands among the most cash-rich in the world, the onetime icon of cool that broke IBM’s iron grip on the computer industry, have stumbled so badly in a race it was winning?

If that hasn't put you off, you can compete to Be the Next Microsoft Employee.
posted by Egg Shen (124 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
Todd Bishop raises a number of ways this article isn't exactly "fair."
posted by dw at 6:52 PM on July 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


Maybe if Bill Gates hadn't been so distracted by sick children in Africa, he could've put a little more thought into Windows Vista.
posted by Davenhill at 6:53 PM on July 26, 2012 [5 favorites]


How did this jaw-dropping role reversal happen?
Easy: Steve Balmer.

You don't want to be an MBA in a technology-driven industry.
posted by b1tr0t at 6:53 PM on July 26, 2012 [9 favorites]


But since 2000, as Apple, Google, and Facebook whizzed by, it has fallen flat in every arena it entered: e-books, music, search, social networking, etc., etc.

That's not exactly fair. What about the Xbox and Xbox 360?
posted by jcreigh at 6:58 PM on July 26, 2012 [21 favorites]


B-but developers!
posted by JHarris at 6:58 PM on July 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


Wait, no, I thought there was going to be pie? I was a MS employee, who was laid off sent to create a clone of FB called "Yammer" - after a while, and with several NDAs, I was "rehired" after Yammer was bought by M$ and then fired again, after making a comment on Metafilter about it.

Oh, wait...
posted by Monkey0nCrack at 6:58 PM on July 26, 2012 [8 favorites]


I maintain that Microsoft never lost anything but the illusion of invulnerability (and an aura of "cool" that's so long gone I can't even remember them having it). They still make money hand over fist, they have a deprecated browser that still has more market share than most competitors, and Office is every bit as invincible as it was at the start of that "lost decade." Their failures have all been in efforts to expand beyond desktop computing (although let's not forget that they've had the odd success, too) - they were so dominant there that everyone pretty much assumed they'd be able to extend it into areas that were beyond the reach of Windows altogether, and that turned out not to be so - and, indeed, to never have been so. They just hadn't tried before.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 6:59 PM on July 26, 2012 [11 favorites]


I sometimes picture Steve Jobs as Khan Noonien Singh, the Lisa as Khan's wife, and Kirk as Gates. "For hate's sake, I spit my last breath at thee."

Oh, and the iPhone is the Genesis Device. Except Microsoft has no Spock willing to die in the reactor control room.

/too much wine spritzer
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 7:01 PM on July 26, 2012 [10 favorites]


the iPhone is the Genesis Device

from the article:
... today the iPhone brings in more revenue than the entirety of Microsoft.

No, really.

One Apple product, something that didn’t exist five years ago, has higher sales than everything Microsoft has to offer. More than Windows, Office, Xbox, Bing, Windows Phone, and every other product that Microsoft has created since 1975. In the quarter ended March 31, 2012, iPhone had sales of $22.7 billion; Microsoft Corporation, $17.4 billion.
posted by Egg Shen at 7:03 PM on July 26, 2012 [11 favorites]


One-time icon of cool? When was this?
posted by Celsius1414 at 7:04 PM on July 26, 2012 [10 favorites]


Celsius1414 : Ten years ago in a parallel universe.
posted by Grimgrin at 7:04 PM on July 26, 2012 [8 favorites]


One-time icon of cool? When was this?

The historical evidence is clear.
posted by jaduncan at 7:08 PM on July 26, 2012 [10 favorites]


One-time icon of cool? When was this?

Before the dot-com boom, circa Microserfs.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:08 PM on July 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think Office might be vulnerable now. Unshackled from Sun/Oracle, LibreOffice seems to be turning into something nice, and of course there's Google Docs slowly making the entire notion of a monolitic office suite you pay hundreds of dollars for obsolete. And a lot of power users have gone on record as hating Windows 8. I know I have no intention of upgrading.

As for the iPhone's success, it is worth noting that Apple's great genius there was in finding a way to make cell phones not suck quite so bad, while giving people a massive discount on the hardware in exchange for tying them to long contracts. That's not really something you can compare to Microsoft fairly, although they've tried (badly) to ape that success.
posted by JHarris at 7:11 PM on July 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


Dunno man . The DOJ consent decree?

I think Balmer is good for Microsoft ,and that it has been moving in a pretty good direction because he is more technology agnostic than gates. F#, total abandonment of WebForms and Silverlgiht in favor of "HTML 5", open source of Entity Framework, open source of ASP.NET MVC, Pushed changes for Redis to GitHub(!), Even the Aids Quilt thing today was not Silverlight. Say what you want about Windows 8 and WP9, but people have been calling for MS to "innovate" and now we see it. Kinnect,SmartGlass (supporting iPad no less), Office 365.

And Microserfs made them sound very cool, in a geeky i have all the back issues of Byte magazine kind of way.
posted by Ad hominem at 7:11 PM on July 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


That's not exactly fair. What about the Xbox and Xbox 360?

The Xbox was outsold 5:1 by the PS2 and the XBox 360 has less than a 30% share of the global home games console market (and a huge amount less than that if you take into account handheld games consoles). All that for some huge multibillion dollar loss on the project so far.

If they dominate the next generation maybe it will be a hugely successful gamble, but the transition between console generations is notoriously hard to predict and there's no guarantee that their current customer base will move across to whatever succeeds it, as Sony saw with the PS3.

And that's all assuming that nothing comes along from outside to completely upset the market like the iPhone has done to the handheld console market.
posted by dng at 7:12 PM on July 26, 2012 [5 favorites]


Make sure to read through to the part about "stack ranking":
“If you were on a team of 10 people, you walked in the first day knowing that, no matter how good everyone was, two people were going to get a great review, seven were going to get mediocre reviews, and one was going to get a terrible review,” said a former software developer. “It leads to employees focusing on competing with each other rather than competing with other companies.”
If you have the choice (and in this economy, you might not, but if you ever do), do not work for a company that does this. I can't imagine who ever thought this would be a good idea. At some point, the workers always come to the basic realization that it doesn't matter how well or poorly they do, so long as enough people do worse, they'll be fine.
posted by mhum at 7:12 PM on July 26, 2012 [16 favorites]


MS lost its cool when it ripped off MS-DOS - it stole something rather than created it, followed rather than lead, and it never recovered its cool again until it did X-Box, and even then, they had to steal a Mac gaming company to do it.

However - MS Basic was, indeed, incredibly cool, and licensed out everywhere in 8-bit land. It was Ruby on Rails and Javascript and Python all rolled into one. People loved the hell out of Basic, and if you were running Basic on your 8-Bit, it was MS Basic or a slavish clone.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:14 PM on July 26, 2012 [7 favorites]


If its a lost decade it's a bloody short decade, preceded by a decade in which they dominated pretty much every field and which several product lines have remained highly successful. Still, Vista was a disaster, and they failed to recover phones and ended up seeming late and imitative as a result.

Still, win7 is as a good an OS as there is, and I have high hopes for 8 and the Surface which seem innovative and forward thinking in the face of a major shift in what is expected from UIs. I wouldn't beleive the doomster hype.
posted by Artw at 7:17 PM on July 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


I sometimes picture Steve Jobs as Khan Noonien Singh, the Lisa as Khan's wife, and Kirk as Gates. "For hate's sake, I spit my last breath at thee."

Does that mean Internet Explorer for Macintosh is Ceti Alpha V and iTunes for Windows is the Ceti Eel?
posted by RonButNotStupid at 7:17 PM on July 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


And that's all assuming that nothing comes along from outside to completely upset the market like the iPhone has done to the handheld console market.

Steam Box, maybe. The Linux Steam port; the improvement of the infrastructure through things like hiring the lead SDL developer; the competition from the Windows 8 app store. That's a relationship that's about to die, and Valve could sell their console with instant access to the whole of someone's Steam collection.

They've got the relationships to do it, and need to find somewhere to jump. I wouldn't count them out for next-gen.
posted by jaduncan at 7:18 PM on July 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


You have 90k employees, do you want your devs strategizing how to take on google or outdoing each other to implement features. Keep in mind Jobs is regarded as some sort of management genius because he Pitted the Mac and Lisa teams against each other. Dunno, blaming stack ranking seems too easy, it is grading on a curve, plenty of other companies do it as well as academia.
posted by Ad hominem at 7:19 PM on July 26, 2012


Surely smartphone adoption points at the future of Microsoft. At some point in the next five years we'll have a phone that functions as a do-everything utility device to replace laptops and desktops, synced with the cloud for terrabytes of storage, and that connects to monitors in the home or office for productivity.

Maybe with W8, Microsoft has a chance to compete in this environment.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:19 PM on July 26, 2012


Vista was pretty good. The driver situation sucked at first, though. But the "it's eating all memory" stories were basically one journalist running malware (to spy on people's computers) and not understanding how caching works.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 7:21 PM on July 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


That's not exactly fair. What about the Xbox and Xbox 360?

Well, judging from this outdated graph, the division that includes the Xbox made its first profit in Q4 '08, and only fairly recently started turning significant profits, but in a more recent quarter that same division posted a loss. My guess would be that if you consider the whole life of the Xbox/360, they have yet to break even on it, and not by a small margin, either.
posted by the painkiller at 7:22 PM on July 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh, and plus the fact that phones are getting to the point where you can just plug them into the TV and play games, so no need to buy something big and fancy for the kids when they can already play on something that's becoming good enough.
posted by jaduncan at 7:23 PM on July 26, 2012


Apparently the XBox has been making a profit more consistently since the end of '08, but has the misfortune to come out of the same division responsible for Windows Phone.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 7:25 PM on July 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


they have yet to break even on it, and not by a small margin, either

There was also the recent $6.2 billion write-down on aQuantive.
posted by Egg Shen at 7:25 PM on July 26, 2012


blaming stack ranking seems too easy, it is grading on a curve, plenty of other companies do it as well as academia.

What every MBA learns early on is that every ranking or measuring system risks creating the wrong incentives. I saw it myself at RSA, where one support team was ranked on number of cases closed--so they played stupid, obvious games to inflate the number, and knifed each other every chance they got to steal easy cases and pass of/skip over hard ones; my team, OTOH, was ranked by responses on the customer satisfaction survey, and we did awesome work to make the customers happy with us.

It sounds like the singular issue for MS with stack ranking is simply that they're doing it wrong. What's puzzling is that it seems painfully obvious to everyone that they're doing it wrong because everyone sees that it's causing internal warfare--so why doesn't someone high enough up the food chain do something about it? Surely someone like Jim Allchin could trace the failure of Longhorn back to a huge, dysfunctional team, and have the clout to say "if we want this product to succeed, we ditch stack ranking as we're doing it.
posted by fatbird at 7:31 PM on July 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


As for the iPhone's success, it is worth noting that Apple's great genius there was in finding a way to make cell phones not suck quite so bad, while giving people a massive discount on the hardware in exchange for tying them to long contracts.

Oh, my god, THIS. The iPhone is incredible as a $650 pocket computer. Just unparalleled in what you get for your money.

As a $200 device... well. You wind up paying the difference plus a huge, fat profit margin in your contract phone service over that span of time, but buy-now-pay-later always, always appeals... massive instant gratification for minor long term pain.

Meanwhile, I just bought a Samsung Galaxy Nexus HSPA+. It's almost the equal of the iPhone: a small bit its better in terms of 4G speed, a wee bit worse in its camera and build materials. It's $350, $380 with tax and shipping. I'll be using it contract-free for $60/month - a savings of $30/month over my equivalent 3G plan. The phone will pay itself off inside a year. I loves me some Macs, but I'm slow to warm to iOS. The good news is that instead of having to switch to Micosoft, we're in, like, 1991 - if in 1991 Commodore was an OS vendor, and the Amiga raced Apple neck and neck, and Microsoft was some sad old joke trying weird shit everyone hates.

I love living in the future sometimes.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:31 PM on July 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


I worked for a very large computer company that did stack ranking and it really did suck. The worst part was that they refused to admit officially that was the policy even though everyone knew it was.
posted by octothorpe at 7:34 PM on July 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


what we need is an in-depth article on "How Vanity Fair Blew It"? Has it become Conde Nast's dumping ground for tech pieces too stupid for Wired? And pieces on other topics too stupid for The New Yorker? If magazines are dying, Vanity Fair has become too stupid to even commit suicide properly. But I digress.

As Slap*Happy hints at, in another 10-15 years, there will be "How Apple Blew It" articles, just not in the long-gone Vanity Fair.
posted by oneswellfoop at 7:35 PM on July 26, 2012 [5 favorites]


And Microserfs made them sound very cool, in a geeky i have all the back issues of Byte magazine kind of way.

"Here's a nickel, kid. Get yourself a better computer."
posted by Celsius1414 at 7:36 PM on July 26, 2012 [10 favorites]


And Windows 8 is fine, if not terribly innovative. Making the Start menu full screen makes tons of sense, since "starting a new app/program" is basically a context switch. Some of the nuts & bolts have also been improved, like the task manager. The apps are sort of useless on very large screens (resolution & physical size), though. But I guess they would work pretty well on laptops & tablets.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 7:37 PM on July 26, 2012


Yes, I've seen games that that too where devs hide bugs from QA or event more insidious leave dozens of easy fixes only to go on a tear later on to inflate stats. Hiding bugs not only obviously leaves bugs, but poisons your relationship with your testers and can kill a project.

There was someone mandated to "fix" stack ranking, she was recently singled out in the tech press as Microsoft's most hated exec.
posted by Ad hominem at 7:39 PM on July 26, 2012


if you were running Basic on your 8-Bit, it was MS Basic or a slavish clone.

TI BASIC and Advanced BASIC were pretty different. I think they were homegrown -- they were certainly slow as molasses. They were actually double-interpreted -- the BASIC interpreter was itself written in an interpreted language. This was extraordinarily slow, and made the fairly zippy 3.5Mhz, 16-bit CPU in the TI feel like total crap.

I had thought that Applesoft BASIC was different, too, but had misremembered. It was Integer BASIC that was written by Woz, not Applesoft. Oops. Integer BASIC was much faster than Applesoft, but of course it didn't do floating point math -- thus the name.

The later versions of BASIC from Microsoft kept improving. BASICA, which came with the IBM PC, was quite good. And then Microsoft got serious, and delivered QuickBASIC, a fully compiled variant with tons of super-advanced features for the era. It was an outstanding development tool, with an integrated compiler/editor/debugger. You still had all the problems of working on a 16-bit computer, like 64K strings, and a total program space of maybe 550K or so, but that was an outstanding environment to work in, and you could produce Real Executable Programs that you could even sell. It was extremely fast, both compiling and running, and you could actually write fairly nice code in it.

It lost a lot when it transitioned to Visual BASIC, which I've always found kind of horrible. I haven't really liked very many Microsoft products in the years since Windows, I've always sort of tolerated them. Their hardware was usually very good -- their mice and force feedback joysticks were outstanding. And I thought Windows 2000 was very good, when Linux first scared and embarassed them and finally made them get serious about OS stability. And Windows 7 has a bunch of genuine improvements over XP, and I've come to like it very much.

Windows 8? That is an absolute disaster for power users. What a heaping pile of shit. They're trying to make my $2500 PC work just like a $500 tablet with no keyboard. It has to be one of the worst design goals ever in computing. "Let's unify interfaces across all our platforms, so that all our devices work just like the very worst ones we sell!"
posted by Malor at 7:41 PM on July 26, 2012 [15 favorites]


I'm kind of happy that big rich powerful companies aren't guaranteed continued industry domination, but have to keep earning it. Google.
posted by msalt at 7:41 PM on July 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


That description of 'stack ranking' always makes me think of the sales competition in "Glengarry Glen Ross".
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 7:44 PM on July 26, 2012 [12 favorites]


.One Apple product, something that didn’t exist five years ago, has higher sales than everything Microsoft has to offer. More than Windows, Office, Xbox, Bing, Windows Phone, and every other product that Microsoft has created since 1975. In the quarter ended March 31, 2012, iPhone had sales of $22.7 billion; Microsoft Corporation, $17.4 billion.

Not to defend Microsoft, per se, but this is not the whole picture. Comparing hardware to software - especially in regards to revenue - is a fool's errand. What is the profit difference between the two? The margins on software are incredible; and would put the healthy margins of the iphone to shame. Apple receives more money selling iphones, no doubt, but it also spends a lot more making em.
posted by smoke at 7:45 PM on July 26, 2012 [9 favorites]


Slap*Happy: Meanwhile, I just bought a Samsung Galaxy Nexus HSPA+. It's almost the equal of the iPhone: a small bit better in terms of 4G speed, a wee bit worse in its camera and build materials. It's $350, $380 with tax and shipping. I'll be using it contract-free for $60/month - a savings of $30/month over my equivalent 3G plan. The phone will pay itself off inside a year.

I have one of those too, and love it to death. I've been meaning to get over to Walmart to buy one of their prepaid T-Mobile phones, because apparently the Nexus is fully compatible with T-Mobile. If the bandwidth works well enough on that network for me, I may be able to have a nice phone for $35/mo instead of $70.

This probably wouldn't work well anywhere but in the South, but down here where AT&T used to be Cingular, which was run very well, there's enough bandwidth in their cell network to very comfortably stream in radio off the Internet. It works so well that I cancelled my satellite radio contract -- they've been sounding like total shit ever since their big channel reorg, so I was very happy to give them the boot. So far, streaming audio has been almost as reliable, and I have a bunch of NPR stations on my presets, instead of the 2 that were on XM, and with a little effort I could easily set myself up to stream music right off my home server. I haven't bothered, yet, but it would be easy to do.
posted by Malor at 7:48 PM on July 26, 2012


And Windows 8 is fine, if not terribly innovative. Making the Start menu full screen makes tons of sense, since "starting a new app/program" is basically a context switch.

People who use computers to do actual work have more than one thing going on at a time. It's even a huge annoyance that doing something simple like looking up a phone number in a browser and typing it into another program is almost impossible on mobile OSes. Why you'd want to encourage this kind of "single task" work with a desktop UI like Windows 8 is just baffling to me.
posted by odinsdream at 7:53 PM on July 26, 2012 [11 favorites]


"Let's unify interfaces across all our platforms, so that all our devices work just like the very worst ones we sell!"

Speaking of ill-fated attempts to copy Apple!
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 7:53 PM on July 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think Balmer is good for Microsoft ,and that it has been moving in a pretty good direction because he is more technology agnostic than gates.
Mostly irrelevant. In the Gates era, Microsoft repeatedly bought the second best product (or occasionally, but rarely, developed themselves) in a tiny niche, and then blew that niche up to many times its original size, obliterating the competition along the way.

Balmer has never even come close. The best he has done is video games, where XBox is competitive with Sony and Nintendo. Microsoft has been all about being second or third best for the last decade. That may be enough to keep the massive company afloat, but it isn't what the company used to be.

Balmer can sell, but he can't invent worlds the way Gates did. Fortunately, Gates is using his crazy skills to kill poverty and disease. Maybe it took him a while, maybe he needed to build up a foundation. But the guy definitely has his priorities straight.
posted by b1tr0t at 7:56 PM on July 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


One Apple product, something that didn’t exist five years ago, has higher sales than everything Microsoft has to offer.

Uh, there could be downsides to that massive dependence.

More importantly, Microsoft is still a profitable company. Everyone declaring them dead might want to harken back to when Apple was declared dead.

Microsoft is in a far better position now than Apple was then.

Articles like these are why journalism sucks.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:57 PM on July 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


I think Office might be vulnerable now. Unshackled from Sun/Oracle, LibreOffice seems to be turning into something nice, and of course there's Google Docs slowly making the entire notion of a monolitic office suite you pay hundreds of dollars for obsolete.

LibreOffice is a pile of junk. I don't know anyone who uses it more than a couple times before they pitch it for Google Docs or even Office 365.

it is worth noting that Apple's great genius there was in finding a way to make cell phones not suck quite so bad

Yes, this is key. They managed to make a smartphone that didn't just not suck but that people wanted to use, even those beyond the reality distortion bubble. I remember getting my hands on an iPhone 1 and thinking, within minutes, "Holy crap, this really is going to change the game."

And yet, it wasn't just Microsoft couldn't do that, they couldn't even make a decent phone or phone OS, at least not until this iteration. They missed the mobile train in a bad, bad way.

MS lost its cool when it ripped off MS-DOS - it stole something rather than created it

Well, MS didn't rip off MS-DOS, or at least it hasn't been well-proven. But the crucial piece to understand is who MSFT's customer was -- IBM. MSFT lost their cool when they went corporate -- the QDOS deal -- and ever since then they've been an enterprise software company. This is one reason they struggle so with consumer: The leadership, all the way down to the product managers, are enterprise people.

If you have the choice (and in this economy, you might not, but if you ever do), do not work for a company that does this.

People often ask me why, after almost 15 years as a web dev-turn-user-experience-designer in Seattle, I've never worked at Microsoft. And I always give three reasons:
1. Stack ranking
2. Political BS
3. Redmond is a long commute from Seattle

1 and 2, honestly, are pretty tightly linked. But I worked in academia for 10 years, and I've learned from talking to Microsofties that the sort of crap I saw in the university is just as bad at MSFT, if not worse.

And Windows 8 is fine, if not terribly innovative.

Very wrong. Windows 8, I can tell you, is so innovative I'm hearing hardcore Apple fanboi designers actually singing the praises of Win 8. It will change the game for tablet-based computing and in the hands of enterprise is going to lead to some remarkable business innovations with tablets.

Unfortunately, they're also selling it as a desktop OS. Bad idea.
posted by dw at 7:58 PM on July 26, 2012 [7 favorites]


You don't want to be an MBA in a technology-driven industry.

Thou shalt not educate thyself further
posted by fusinski at 8:00 PM on July 26, 2012


The margins on software are incredible; and would put the healthy margins of the iphone to shame.

The first part of your statement is true. Software margins are incredible. But the second part of your statement isn't. The profit margins on the iPhone are over 50% and Apple's overall margins are now higher than Microsoft's. It's unheard of for a hardware company to have such high margins.
posted by euphorb at 8:00 PM on July 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


RonButNotStupid: "Does that mean Internet Explorer for Macintosh is Ceti Alpha V and iTunes for Windows is the Ceti Eel?"

No, IE for Mac was David Marcus.

iTunes for Windows is more like Uhura's fan dance from Star Trek V.
posted by Pinback at 8:01 PM on July 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


My guess would be that if you consider the whole life of the Xbox/360, they have yet to break even on it, and not by a small margin, either.

Huh. I had just assumed that selling a huge amount of games (through retail and XBLA) and all those Xbox live subscriptions would be enough. But apparently the whole red ring of death debacle set them back more than $1B, so I guess they could still be in the hole.

I tried to find some hard data on whether the Xbox+Xbox 360 has been a net gain for Microsoft, and couldn't. If anybody has a definite answer to this question, I'd love to hear it.
posted by jcreigh at 8:27 PM on July 26, 2012


The future is more fragmented and benign than you realize.

The will be bright lines of brilliant technology, but most of it will be a fragmented unix-variant of FarmVille.
posted by roboton666 at 8:33 PM on July 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


My first computer was an Apple ][e and I kept loving and using Apple for the next decade or so, buying its powerbooks in the early 90s, using them at work, etc... In 1995 I changed companies and was given an IBM laptop. Fine I learned to use DOS and stayed with Microsoft for more than a decade, upgrading from whatever was the operating system on that first laptop to W95 to W98 etc etc to XP at home and at work.

Meanwhile my PalmV died and I was looking for a replacement device. The store I walked into was all out of whatever I had set my sights on, so I went next door and bought an iPhone3 (just like that, no wait lines - I was lucky). This was in 2008.

Honestly, it was like using a gateway drug. Once I got used to the layout, the keyboard, the autocorrect, I enjoyed the easy integration. My computer at home died a few months later. I was faced with a quandary - I could get a Vista machine, but the news was bad about the issues with that operating system. I was loathe to stay with XP on the new machine, as that OS was getting long in the tooth. So I bought a MacPro to replace it.

Some time later, I needed a laptop, and so I replaced the gateway with a MacBook Pro. By then choosing from Apple products was an easy decision.

I never looked back. Switching to Apple was easy, and sure I run some MS programs (like Visio and MS Project) in Bootcamp or VMWare. There's an Office suite for the mac, and it's good enough - but only like other apps written for the mac by other companies (than Apple) are good enough.

Microsoft lost me at a key juncture, and it was not because I was looking for a new computer at the time. It lost me for the want of a new phone. And with that phone I rediscovered a company, with a new suite of products, that I had long forgotten.
posted by seawallrunner at 8:36 PM on July 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


Well, MS didn't rip off MS-DOS, or at least it hasn't been well-proven.

Gates bought the software outright from Killdal for $85k, because he lied about no-one being interested in it except for experimental reasons. Sharp dealing, perfectly legal, completely unethical.

I would give it a pass, but it was a pattern of behavior that grew from that, becoming more audacious in every iteration - Stacker, Spyglass, Mac, Quicktime, VMS, etc, etc, etc.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:36 PM on July 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


dw: I mean, as a Desktop OS, if you ignore the apps, as they're kind of useless if you have a large screen. Tablets, I don't know; I don't really see what I'd do with one. And I maintain that the full screen start menu is great: if you're going to start a new application, even if it's a classic desktop app (say, InDesign), you're context-switching. It makes perfect sense for the "select the app you want to start" widget to take up the whole screen.

It also makes sense, on the desktop, to maintain the desktop metaphor, since you have more physical space than is practical to fill with one app. Hence the taskbar's still here, and you can still keep your irc window in the corner.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 8:47 PM on July 26, 2012


That's not exactly fair. What about the Xbox and Xbox 360?

I don't think the company is in the black on that one. Looks like they lost about $13 billion between Q4 '05 and Q3 '08, were in the black for a few years, but lost another quarter billion earlier this year.

So while I do like me my Xbox 360, it hasn't actually made the company any money.
posted by valkyryn at 8:51 PM on July 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Apple's overall margins are now higher than Microsoft's

For better or worse, Apple spends a lot less on R&D than Microsoft. As just one example, Apple has no equivalent to Microsoft Research.

MS lost its cool when it ripped off MS-DOS

There's no question that DOS contained a compatible implementation of CP/M APIs. Gary Kildall felt that this was a violation of his IP. To the best of my knowledge, the only team this theory has been tested in an American court was in the Google vs Oracle trial, in which the judge found that the Java APIs were not copyrightable. The CP/M APIs were significantly less complex than those.

Gates bought the software outright from Killdal for $85k

You're thinking of Seattle Computer Products and/or Tim Paterson, not Gary Kildall or Digial Research.

"stack ranking"

As a Microsoft employee, I think the evils of stack ranking have been overemphasized. It's just a system for figuring out people's end-of-year bonues. The old system had a bit more leeway for managers to exercise their judgment, so most managers I know preferred the old system. I've never heard of anyone who got fired because they were good but surrounded by people who were better.

Windows 8 on the desktop

Other than the Metrofied start menu, you can mostly just pretend that Windows 8 on the desktop is a better Windows 7. Built-in Hyper-V is a pretty good reason to upgrade, as far as I'm concerned, but then I pay a lot less for Windows than most consumers...
posted by Slothrup at 8:51 PM on July 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


I just want to say, as kind of an aside, that if some company (and Microsoft would be perfectly capable of this) wanted to reinvent all the scientific research software that currently exists in the form of expensive seat-licensed garbage that was never properly written and hasn't been updated for seven years (Arlequin I'm looking at you) or free but half-broken scripts that were basically written in spare time by some scientist who needed a tool and happened to know how to code, and who then altruistically put it online just in case someone wanted it (but which has become industry standard because everybody needs the tool and nobody has done it properly) and sell it in the form of slick, focused, single-purpose apps that are functional, reliable, user-friendly, Windows-and-OSX-compatible, and moderately priced (say, $100 per lab) then there would be a small but very loyal niche market there that would absolutely eat that shit up and would keep coming back for more.

I know it's not a billions-a-year idea, but I bet it's a millions-a-year idea. And it would be pretty low-hanging fruit for a company as capable as Microsoft.
posted by Scientist at 8:51 PM on July 26, 2012 [5 favorites]


Wow those were a lot of typos. "only team" should have been "only time", and "Digial Research" should have been "Digital Research".
posted by Slothrup at 8:52 PM on July 26, 2012


b1tr0t: Balmer can sell, but he can't invent worlds the way Gates did. Fortunately, Gates is using his crazy skills to kill poverty and disease.

If by "crazy skills" you mean "having a huge pile of money."

dw: (dissing LibreOffice)

Hm, I've found it perfectly useable. Would you care to elaborate? (Do it in MeMail if you don't want to derail, I'm just curious.)
posted by JHarris at 8:54 PM on July 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


You know, I was mocked for saying that Apple was making money and MS wasn't.

I wasn't the company that just did a $6B write-off.

There's no question that DOS contained a compatible implementation of CP/M APIs

Did you ever look at an NT 3.5 error message?

They're VAX VMX error messages. You can still see the syntax in W2K8 kernel error messages. It's almost as if they hired several senior developers from DEC, and they brought a tape or three with them....

Oh, wait. They did hire several senior VMS developers at just about the time they started working on Windows NT.

Uh, there could be downsides to that massive dependence.

That's why they build the iPad. They reported $16.2 billion in revenue on the iPhone -- up $2.9B YoY, but $9.1B on the iPad, up $3.1B.

Not to defend Microsoft, per se, but this is not the whole picture. Comparing hardware to software - especially in regards to revenue - is a fool's errand.

Comparing one product to an entire companies' revenue? When that company is commonly cited as the biggest competitor?

It's Apples to apples, and AAPL is winning. Apple has become a company that a 23% growth in revenue, YoY, is considered by the markets to be "Disappointing."

In the last quarter, Apple moved 4.9 million Macs (up 2%YoY), 26 million iPhones (up 28%) and 17 million iPads (up 84%.)

And this was a bad quarter.

Meanwhile, MSFT is writing off several billion dollars. They have a mobile and tablet OS strategy that has basically died in the bud. Indeed, the biggest thing to happen to MSFT is that GOOG became AAPL's competitor.

FAIL.
posted by eriko at 9:12 PM on July 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


Um, hello? How is can anyone talk about Microsoft losing it's monopoly without talking about the mandatory government monitoring that was put in place to break up their monopoly?

Microsoft losing it's "iron grip" was the deliberate policy of the US government, and it worked.
posted by delmoi at 9:20 PM on July 26, 2012 [6 favorites]


As mentioned above by Ad hominem and delmoi, I think the settlement with the DOJ had a huge effect on MS' ability to compete. To write an article about why MS stumbled and not take into account the 2001 settlement program is rather disingenuous.

Meanwhile, the shackles are gone; Skype's purchased, Kinect's a huge hit (including beyond the console) and Windows Phone is projected by the IDC to beat iOS by 2016 while the Surface tablets are getting quite a lot of press.
posted by linux at 9:23 PM on July 26, 2012


It's almost as if they hired several senior developers from DEC, and they brought a tape or three with them

Are you seriously insinuating that Dave Cutler stole VMS source code, or that there's something wrong with people finding jobs working on stuff they already know? (Because that's never happened under any other circumstances in the field...)

It's Apples to apples, and AAPL is winning

Unless you are actually AAPL, I think you need to relax.

Windows Phone is projected by the IDC to beat iOS by 2016

Do you know anyone who actually believes this? :)
posted by Slothrup at 9:28 PM on July 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm a Mac user. As I remarked to a colleague a couple of days ago, while looking for a simple function in Excel, I have been using various MS Office products intensively since the mid 90s, and I still have no intuitive grasp of their functionality beyond the basic stuff (and that is also dodgy for me at times).

In other words, I have been using their products for the best part of two decades, and I still do not know how they work, or how to use them to achieve what I want to achieve in an easy fashion.

MS Word 5.1a was the peak, I think.
posted by carter at 9:30 PM on July 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


Steve Ballmer is Carly Fiorina in a skirt.
posted by peeedro at 9:32 PM on July 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


M$ suxxor because of monopoly!1111onespittle

typed on my macbook with mac os while using itunes to transfer proprietary-format music files to my iphone and ipod
posted by drjimmy11 at 9:42 PM on July 26, 2012 [5 favorites]


Sure, just think about how Microsoft could have leveraged their monopoly if they'd had free rein to do whatever they wanted.

The most obvious example: In the early 2000s Apple had the only player people used with iTunes. Microsoft could have purchased Nullsoft and taken control of all audio playing on windows, and then made the only player that worked with it. Instead, they "partnered" with a bunch of companies that mostly made pretty lame players, and no one got into Microsoft's lame audio DRM.

But here's the other thing. Remember when Microsoft invested a ton of money into Apple in order to "save" them? Their main motivation for doing that was to preserve some competition. Apple's existence meant that Microsoft didn't have a complete monopoly in home computers.

Had they not done that Apple might have gone under.

Or, think about it: After the iPod came out and Apple started doing better, if it wasn't for the consent decree Microsoft could simply have purchased all of Apple.

Who knows if that would have happened, but it certainly could have happened if it wasn't for the antitrust scrutiny being placed on Microsoft.
posted by delmoi at 9:43 PM on July 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


But seriously, the fact that anyone still identifies as "Mac" or "PC" as some core component of their personality is so strange. The OSs are pretty much interchangeable at this point.
posted by drjimmy11 at 9:43 PM on July 26, 2012 [12 favorites]


The future is more fragmented and benign than you realize.

This. Look, I'm a huge Apple fan, my apartment is basically Apple-run from TV to computer to tablet to phone, but the more awesome choices people have the better it is for everybody. Especially for Apple users, because Apple is a total dick when it thinks it doesn't have to worry about competition.

What's funny is how as competing choices manage to match each other in awesomeness, the fans get more and more vicious about insisting on their own chosen tech-path. I think Android still has a lot of UI suckage, but lots of people love how it runs versus the iPhone and even the worst Android phone is vastly better than any phone pre-2007. And Windows Phone 7 is legitimately gorgeous.
posted by Rory Marinich at 9:50 PM on July 26, 2012 [6 favorites]


Or, think about it: After the iPod came out and Apple started doing better, if it wasn't for the consent decree Microsoft could simply have purchased all of Apple.

Or, think about it, if Microsoft with all their money and brains could have beat Apple to market with a portable MP3 player, or even an MP3 player that made phone calls.
posted by peeedro at 9:52 PM on July 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Windows Phone is projected by the IDC to beat iOS by 2016

Do you know anyone who actually believes this? :)


Considering the projections have Android dominating, yes. 19% versus 19.2% isn't exactly a dominant lead, but I do see it as feasible, particularly if RT is part of the projection. If RT and WP8 pan out, you have devices that fit snugly into enterprise systems and I think can oust the iOS devices, which ousted RIM just a few years ago, rather quickly.

Apple may continue dominance in the consumer space as a luxury brand (whereas in the 80s and 90s it was that plus an artistic/individualistic brand -- something I hold onto along with my MacPlus) and MS will chase that space while Google dominates the spectrum, which of course, MS may not mind all that much since they get licensing fees for each Android handset; so as a software business you could, in a sense, say they already dominate the market as Android plus WP7 devices outnumber iOS even today.

Meanwhile, I'm seeing a lot of 2000s Apple DNA in recent MS strategy while Apple is going down the road of being a litigation crackpot.
posted by linux at 9:54 PM on July 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


scientific research software that currently exists in the form of expensive seat-licensed garbage that was never properly written and hasn't been updated for seven years (Arlequin I'm looking at you)

That's funny. I would actually pay someone to prevent Microcal from updating Origin anytime soon (it only gets more bloated and buggy with each new version). Or maybe de-update to 7.something? 8.5 is a beast. Constantly Crashes. Fuck you origin. Too bad you're the only reasonable general purpose graphing tool out there that makes pretty graphs with no stupid gray backgrounds, and doesn't involve 10 menu click throughs to make a fucking X-Y plot.
posted by Chekhovian at 9:59 PM on July 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Anybody checking out the second link in the post should first read Verity Stob's article about the glamor of SQL.
posted by fredludd at 11:30 PM on July 26, 2012


People shouldn't point at Ballmer. Microsoft has been the laughingstock of informed techies for a very, very long time. The ending paragraph is correct; Microsoft stopped being abuot innovation when Bill Gates stopped personally writing the code that was DOS. The rest of the story is about market share, and their "embrace, extend and extinguish" mentality.

Microsoft got extremely lucky because of IBM's decision to go with open architecture. The hardware components rapidly got split up and found the cheapest builders, but nobody was going to be able to create an OS from the ground up to run on 8086 architecture. So *everybody* bought DOS, and later Windows. Their market share still dominates.

It's telling however, that they can have so much of the PC market, charge so ridiculously much for their OS, and still have such a tepid financial performance compared to Google or Apple.

Microsoft has a lot of smart people working for it, but the bureaucracy was legendary ten or even fifteen years ago. Their products have always reeked of design by committee. It's 2012 and they finally came up with a way to customize the colors on a folder - but not on my PC, which still runs XP. (I use a little third party app called Folder Marker - oh, and to know how much data is in a folder, I use FolderSize)

The last line in that paragraph should make the people at Microsoft want to cry, or go vomit. Basic functions that are fundamental to the GUI for the OS **should not have be provided by hobbyist programmers**. 2012 is too late to be realizing that.

As I mentioned before, the MS bureaucracy has been the stuff of legend for a long time. The article's description of the bell curve normalization for employee performance reviews sounds exactly like something I would expect from them. An autistic engineer jamming an arbitrary quality assurance algorithm onto human beings. Make no mistake - the culture at Microsoft has Bill Gates written all over it.
posted by Xoebe at 1:23 AM on July 27, 2012 [6 favorites]


That article is astonishingly badly-written and has many factual errors.
The writer's overall view of Microsoft is, however, very much on the money.


I must point out though, that if you talk to random silicon valley employees of successful companies, they will tell you how life at company X sucks because the review system is stupid and their manager is an idiot.
posted by w0mbat at 1:25 AM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


In other words, I have been using their products for the best part of two decades, and I still do not know how they work, or how to use them to achieve what I want to achieve in an easy fashion.

Sure that's not a PEBKAC problem?

As a software tester, my most used tools are Word, Excel and Outlook. None of these are perfect programmes, but once you get used to their quirks, they're perfectly useable and you can do some neat stuff with them.

Until MickeySof fucks up again with new upgrades, as they did for me when they switched to the "ribbon" model interface.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:51 AM on July 27, 2012


Sure that's not a PEBKAC problem?

...

Until MickeySof fucks up again with new upgrades, as they did for me when they switched to the "ribbon" model interface.


QED, I think. Unless that's your PEBKAC.
posted by carter at 3:29 AM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


One-time icon of cool? When was this?

I can't even remember them having it

Come back on my lawn, children and I shall tell you about the heady days of late 1994/early 1995, in a little known backwater of computing called India. Steve Ballmer came down to talk about Windows 95 for its launch and the room was overflowing in then Bombay (now Mumbai) so much so that there was pushing and shoving to hear the great man speak. My agency was responsible for the launch in India and in some dusty withered corner is a photograph of the local team with Ballmer.

I remember dimly he also talked about OS/2 (if any of you children remember that) and shortly thereafter, the Gates himself visited M$ India for the first time. By then I was in HP on the floor above but we knew the man was in the building. Intel was on the floor below.

They were cool. They were hot stuff. And quite rightly, they (and others like them) were going to take all those gawping young men straight into the 21st century of computing technology. Witness Bangalore today.
posted by infini at 3:36 AM on July 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


I wouldn't write off Microsoft just quite yet. They still made $17 billion in profit last year which isn't as good as AAPL but pretty darn good in the general corporate scheme of things. They still have somewhere around 90% of the desktop OS market and even though people keep bleating that "the desktop is dead" they still sell a crap ton of Windows and Office licenses every year. Just because they're not Apple doesn't mean they're not a viable company; lots of other companies would kill to be as bad off as Microsoft is now.
posted by octothorpe at 4:19 AM on July 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


Windows 95... OS/2 ...

They were cool. They were hot stuff.


My memory is that they were merely catch-up products to Apple, not cool at all. By the mid-90s cool had long passed by MS. I am not sure they ever had it, but if they did it was gone by then.

MS did this amazing thing in taking the reins from IBM, but then they became IBM - big, stodgy, about profit. They produced reliable technology for business. Business doesn't necessarily want sexy. That left Jobs and others more free reign to pursue sexy. MS made an easy turnkey type office environment for business. Just like buying the IBM computer was the safe choice for a business, buying the MS system became the safe choice. It still is and they make billions from it, but they stopped being the technology company somewhere back in the late 80s.
posted by caddis at 4:38 AM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yes, but it wasn't Apple that put the Indian ICT on the world map.
posted by infini at 4:47 AM on July 27, 2012


The profit margins on the iPhone are over 50%

Interestingly, on the iPad, it looks to be 23% to 32%.
posted by Egg Shen at 6:59 AM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is funny to me, because MS stopped mattering when Blackbird failed (their first crack at a competitor to the Internet), sure, they were still 99% desktop dominant, but it finished then.
They belatedly tried to get MSN going (remember, it was originally a Compuserve/AOL clone with access to the interwebs only through a 'gateway') then Gates had the come to Damasacus speech about two years too late about embracing the web.
Yet even then they could have nailed it. People as smart as Joel Spolsky were trashing firefox for the core browser code rewrite, IE was there to be dominant (pesky europeans). So even then they could have nailed it.
Read Anno NTK if you want to feel the vibe of how it was - MS bank balances lorded it over many web start ups, and those of us on board for life with the web felt threatened that MS might point its lobbyists hard enough to kill us.
And now I feel I could crush MS with my fingers! Yet they have still such resources/smarts. It reminds me super strongly of Apple in 1998.
Maybe I should go buy some MS stock (no - I would never)
posted by bystander at 7:01 AM on July 27, 2012


My memory is that they were merely catch-up products to Apple, not cool at all. By the mid-90s cool had long passed by MS.

Ironic, given that by the mid-90s Apple was a shell of what it once was and Microsoft was the single most important software company in the world.
posted by dw at 7:03 AM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


important does not equal cool
posted by caddis at 7:10 AM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


My memory is that they were merely catch-up products to Apple, not cool at all.
hahahhahahahahahahahahahaha
Oh yeah, apple in the early 90s. sorry.
hahahahahahahahahha
Windows owned the desktop. OS2 made a valiant attempt to try to retake that ground from the corporate space but pretty much lost when it couldn't play games.
1992 there was DOS if you wanted to play a game on your $2000 PC and there was windows 3.1 if you wanted to type a letter.
And there was 3% of the market running OS7 on a color classic small form Mac who counted for nothing.
Apple might have been cool, but they barely had a business. They were boxed in with hyper expensive hardware and largely incompatible software.
You can argue it (and I'm an apple fan) but if Adobe had dropped Mac (and they nearly did) there would have been no Apple for Steve to come back to.
I can't explain how finished Apple was. Think Blackberry today, but diluted by 100, so just curmugeons and cranks used it.
posted by bystander at 7:12 AM on July 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Fuck you origin. Too bad you're the only reasonable general purpose graphing tool out there that makes pretty graphs with no stupid gray backgrounds, and doesn't involve 10 menu click throughs to make a fucking X-Y plot.

You can generate fucking x-y plots in gnuplot or R with *zero* menu clicks.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:16 AM on July 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


And those two bitter comments probably back Octothorpe.
Apple had enough cash flow in the 1990s to reinvent, MS could too. At my most cynical that is exactly Balmers' plan. Run it down then triumphantly raise it again.
MS has enough money any quarter to invent/do/create anything they want - ipods/xboxes/whatever.
It would be dumb to permanently write them off.
posted by bystander at 7:17 AM on July 27, 2012


It would be dumb to permanently write them off.

When they are steadily destroying what is left of Nokia. Ozymandias something something ....
posted by infini at 7:23 AM on July 27, 2012


Yes, it would be a bit early to write off Microsoft. Apple, if anything, is in an even more interesting position of being triumphant and yet, Fortuna's wheel is cruel. Apple's story of rising from the ashes has been completed down to apotheosis of the founder. As it goes through its triumph someone is whispering, "all glory is fleeting."
posted by jadepearl at 7:30 AM on July 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


It would be dumb to write them off, but I don't see them coming out with groundbreaking technology given their current management style. They don't seem to take risks anymore, and haven't in a long time, at least not big ones. They are slaves to the profit margin and their base business of corporate desktops. Apple now has gotten to a place where they could let similar pressures limit their technology going forward. I personally hope they both find it in themselves to compete strongly against each other with creative technology, and Google too. That would be the best thing for me.
posted by caddis at 7:32 AM on July 27, 2012


but if Adobe had dropped Mac (and they nearly did) there would have been no Apple for Steve to come back to.

Indeed - Current Apple makes it easy to forget how sad and crippled Apple once was - We designers trudged on through with our PowerMac 6XXX and 7XXXs and our ADB mice and gazillion dollar RAM because of Adobe and changing our Quark workflow with printing houses would've made steering ocean liners seem simple. But I certainly AM thankful Adobe hung in there, given how awful designing on a PC was (and continued to be for an astoundingly long time) with shit color control, shit fonts, no easy way to run multiple monitors, etc etc.
posted by jalexei at 7:33 AM on July 27, 2012


caddis: They don't seem to take risks anymore, and haven't in a long time, at least not big ones. They are slaves to the profit margin and their base business of corporate desktops.

Anyone who doesn't see the radical vision of a unified-across-devices, highly controversial, praised and derided equally new version of Windows, and the accompanying break up with their hardware OEMs in favor of releasing first-party devices as "taking a risk" is blind to reality.
posted by gilrain at 7:38 AM on July 27, 2012 [6 favorites]


Apparently Twitter and the Facebook status update own something to AOL Instant Messenger:
In 1997, AOL introduced its instant-messenger program, called AIM, a precursor to the texting functions on cell phones. Two years later, Microsoft followed with a similar program, called MSN Messenger.

In 2003, a young developer noticed that friends in college signed up for AIM exclusively and left it running most of the time. The reason? They wanted to use the program’s status message, which allowed them to type a short note telling their online buddies what they were doing, even when they weren’t at the computer. Messages like “gone shopping” and “studying for my exams” became commonplace.

“That was the beginning of the trend toward Facebook, people having somewhere to put their thoughts, a continuous stream of consciousness,” said the developer, who worked in the MSN Messenger unit. “The main purpose of AIM wasn’t to chat, but to give you the chance to log in at any time and check out what your friends were doing.”

The developer concluded that no young person would switch from AIM to MSN Messenger, which did not have the short-message feature. He spoke about the problem to his boss, a middle-aged man. The supervisor dismissed the developer’s concerns as silly. Why would young people care about putting up a few words? Anyone who wanted to tell friends what they were doing could write it on their profile page, he said. Meaning users would have to open the profile pages, one friend at a time, and search for a status message, if it was there at all.

“He didn’t get it,” the developer said. “And because he didn’t know or didn’t believe how young people were using messenger programs, we didn’t do anything.”
posted by AceRock at 7:51 AM on July 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


... the devolution of one of the industry’s innovators into a “me too” purveyor of other companies’ consumer products.

Wait, when was this? Have they ever done anything original?
posted by atbash at 8:08 AM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


My memory is that they were merely catch-up products to Apple, not cool at all. By the mid-90s cool had long passed by MS.

Yea but Apple was far from cool at that point. They were desperately flailing about, wasting years trying to figure out how to replace MacOS with something/anything. Most people figured that they only had a few years before they'd get sold off either whole or in pieces.
posted by octothorpe at 8:09 AM on July 27, 2012


In 1997, AOL introduced its instant-messenger program, called AIM, a precursor to the texting functions on cell phones.

Um, what the fuck?
posted by Artw at 8:12 AM on July 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


Matti Makkonen, a giant of Finnish telecoms, has been awarded the Economist Innovation Award for Computing and Telecommunications for 2008. You may not have heard of Matti Makkonen, but you do use his service every day. In fact, no other computing or telecommunications system has ever been used by more people than the one he helped invent and create. It is SMS text messaging. Via.

And, he didn't patent it either, thus permitting its adoption and proliferation around the world. The first one was sent in 1993 (or maybe even earlier within the University system)
posted by infini at 8:40 AM on July 27, 2012


As a Microsoft employee, I think the evils of stack ranking have been overemphasized. It's just a system for figuring out people's end-of-year bonues. The old system had a bit more leeway for managers to exercise their judgment, so most managers I know preferred the old system. I've never heard of anyone who got fired because they were good but surrounded by people who were better.

No, it's not just a system for figuring out end of year bonuses. If it were, they wouldn't stack-rank the admins, who are ineligible for yearly bonuses. And the admins do get fired for being good but not the best. And every year when MS Poll time comes around and everyone gets to voice their happiness or displeasure, do you know how many people use that opportunity to whine and complain because they didn't get a window office that year or they wanted their org to buy them very expensive hardware that wasn't "mission critical" and therefore not approved for purchase? SO MANY. And then the admin who supports those complainers usually gets a low rating on their yearly review, which means minimal raise, and no increase in level, which means minimal opportunity to transfer into another position as you can't be in a level 55 job and apply for a level 58 job or even a level 57 job, that's not allowed.

So no, the stack ranking fucks a lot of people over, and not just the oh-so-important devs and testers and PMs. The people who arrange your moves and handle your team's morale budget and order your supplies for you? They're all subject to this, and they're often barely recognized as human beings by the people they bust their asses to help every day.

I'm so glad I don't work there anymore. Most hellish admin job ever.
posted by palomar at 8:41 AM on July 27, 2012 [6 favorites]


But seriously, the fact that anyone still identifies as "Mac" or "PC" as some core component of their personality is so strange. The OSs are pretty much interchangeable at this point.

Not quite. OSX's core is UNIX, and you inherit the UNIX command-line and POSIX APIs out of the box; if you're a developer or a sysadmin or similar, having a UNIX shell and the standard set of tools one can weave into command lines is very useful. On top of that, there is a layer of fairly neatly object-oriented APIs (Cocoa). (There is some legacy crud, but Apple have been ruthless about bulldozing it out of the way; Carbon's gone, the Component Manager bit the dust in Lion, and the world's looking more Objective C-like.)

Windows, in comparison, looks like a mess, as befits the output of an organisation riven by infighting. It's full of legacy crud that too many big companies depend on to get rid of, the conceptual models behind it are inconsistent, and the preferred New Way Of Doing Things changes every time a faction gains or loses the upper hand. (Witness WebForms, .NET, C#, Silverlight, and so on.) To Microsoft's credit, though, they have recognised that the product has to look superficially good and bought the pig some very nice lipstick.
posted by acb at 8:53 AM on July 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


Yea but Apple was far from cool at that point. They were desperately flailing about, wasting years trying to figure out how to replace MacOS with something/anything. Most people figured that they only had a few years before they'd get sold off either whole or in pieces.

IIRC, the Mac had a niche following, as being a sort of appliance used exclusively by artists, graphic designers and DTP people, and thus a similar air of cool to what vintage cassette players and crappy film cameras have today. If you had a Mac, it was an expensive peacock tail demonstrating that you're a sexily creative person; you certainly didn't use one because it was practical.
posted by acb at 9:07 AM on July 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


This article does not include the term "Windows 7".

And with good reason: the idea that Windows 7 was a failure in terms of either profitability or popular sentiment is just ridiculous. Microsoft has blown plenty of things, but that is not one of them.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 10:23 AM on July 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


But seriously, the fact that anyone still identifies as "Mac" or "PC" as some core component of their personality is so strange. The OSs are pretty much interchangeable at this point.

Please take a list of words and sort them alphabetically in OSX and Windows, without installing extra software. Show your work.
posted by odinsdream at 10:42 AM on July 27, 2012


Please take a list of words and sort them alphabetically in OSX and Windows, without installing extra software. Show your work.

1) Open native browser.
2) Go to Google Docs.
3) Spreadsheet ahoy!
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 10:50 AM on July 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Google began its transition to Microsoft bureaucracy about 3 - 4 years ago. As an employee, it was heartbreaking to witness this change from the inside. I'm sure that's true for anyone who worked at MS in the mid to late 90s.

This story plays out, with minor variation, at almost every tech company that reaches sufficient size. The only thing that really changes is the cycle time. IBM was dominant for several decades. Microsoft was dominant for about 20 years. Google has been dominant for about 10 years and is, in my opinion, starting its inevitable decline. Companies, just like civilizations, have a lifecycle. Those that are fortunate enough to build a monopoly are able to delay the inevitable consequences of hypergrowth and cancerous politics/structural problems, but no company is immune in the long run.
posted by drklahn at 10:58 AM on July 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


And every year when MS Poll time comes around and everyone gets to voice their happiness or displeasure, do you know how many people use that opportunity to whine and complain because they didn't get a window office that year or they wanted their org to buy them very expensive hardware that wasn't "mission critical" and therefore not approved for purchase? SO MANY.

Oh, yes, there are some *amazingly* self-entitled people at Microsoft. In my experience, the tech field in general has a lot of primadonnas, and I'm skeptical that Microsoft has more than most companies. (I suspect that a lot of groping about the review system comes from these kinds of people, who simply can't understand why their genius isn't better recognized... .)

But your basic point is well-taken: the processes at the company are by-and-large designed for the engineering organizations and then everybody else gets shoehorned into them. :(
posted by Slothrup at 11:02 AM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


IIRC, the Mac had a niche following, as being a sort of appliance used exclusively by artists, graphic designers and DTP people, and thus a similar air of cool to what vintage cassette players and crappy film cameras have today. If you had a Mac, it was an expensive peacock tail demonstrating that you're a sexily creative person; you certainly didn't use one because it was practical.

To a certain extent, but for a while there were real practical advantages to the Mac for DTP and the like. Those disappeared over time.
posted by Artw at 11:06 AM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


How did this jaw-dropping role reversal happen?

For one thing, once company profits move into the billions, staying "cool" is nearly impossible. Because to do that, usually they have to serve the status quo more than be creative. Just like most artists that do exceedingly well.

Microsoft never really managed to move past old-school geekdom's idea of what technology is about. They aggressively sold themselves to business rather than the people. Even in their early days they never had anything like a rainbow apple icon, or like the friendly Apple II user manual. (With reason; early Apples were derided as 'toys'.) Like Fords and teletypes MS was about utility. Precision clunk is still clunk. And business is never, ever, charming.
posted by Twang at 11:30 AM on July 27, 2012


IIRC, the Mac had a niche following, as being a sort of appliance used exclusively by artists, graphic designers and DTP people, and thus a similar air of cool to what vintage cassette players and crappy film cameras have today. If you had a Mac, it was an expensive peacock tail demonstrating that you're a sexily creative person; you certainly didn't use one because it was practical.

Nailed it! Sure, those people depended on their computers for their living, but being complete idiots they just used what was cool instead of what worked for them. Clearly using something akin to jewellery is more important to such silly people then a properly working tool.
posted by Bovine Love at 11:36 AM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Please take a list of words and sort them alphabetically in OSX and Windows, without installing extra software. Show your work.

Okay, I'll bite. Windows:


D:\>copy con data
foo
bar
baz
quux
^Z
1 file(s) copied.

D:\>sort < data
bar
baz
foo
quux

D:\>


I have never used OS/X, but would guess that standard UNIXisms work (and that I can actually remember them):


$ cat > data
foo
bar
baz
quux
^D

$ sort < data
bar
baz
foo
quux

$

posted by Slothrup at 11:39 AM on July 27, 2012 [7 favorites]


odinsdream: Please take a list of words and sort them alphabetically in OSX and Windows, without installing extra software. Show your work.

Ah, you're probably looking forward to making fun of cmd.exe or batch scripting. However, all modern version of Windows (since Vista and Server 2008, I believe) include and are largely built around (in terms of management tools) PowerShell. And PowerShell is very nice, and very powerful, indeed. Even *nix fans generally admit it's well-designed and useful. It's not trying to be bash, though... it's a shrell for Windows, which has different requirements.

However, as shown, your example is easy in any shell, even cmd.exe.
posted by gilrain at 11:49 AM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Please take a list of words and sort them alphabetically in OSX and Windows, without installing extra software. Show your work.

On a Mac:

1) Open Safari.

2) Type into the address bar, http://sortmylist.com/

3) Type in your list.

4) Chose how you want it sorted from the "sort menu"

5) Complain about the Comic Sans.

On a PC: Same, only use IE.

Have I mentioned how much I love living in the future? Sun may be gone, but their motto lives on - "The network is the computer."
posted by Slap*Happy at 11:50 AM on July 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


On a PC: Same, only use IE.

...except that an IE user would never complain about Comic Sans.
posted by Slothrup at 11:53 AM on July 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


important does not equal cool

No Microsoft, no Seattle tech industry. I'd even argue Amazon needed Microsoft to draw the techies to Seattle so they could build Amazon enough to start attracting talent. And I can tell you that at my current tech company about 1/10th of the org has worked at MSFT in some capacity (for good or for ill... interestingly, this is a Java house.)

No Microsoft, no Bangalore tech industry.

No Microsoft, no eastern European tech industry, or at least not in its current state. And that's partially because MSFT sucked up so many coders and partially because it spawned so many eastern European hackers.

I don't think it really matters if you're cool when people want to work for you, when there are books written about getting through your interview process, when companies are spawned on the back of your stock equity.

The question isn't whether MSFT is cool. The question is whether they're still relevant and if they can be relevant in the future. And honestly, we're going to be asking that question of AAPL shortly as well.
posted by dw at 12:01 PM on July 27, 2012


dw: (dissing LibreOffice)

Hm, I've found it perfectly useable. Would you care to elaborate?


Admittedly, it's just from people tweeting and some e-mails I've received. But it all seems to come down to:

1. Things happening that are counterintuitive to what people expect
2. Random crashes

The Powerpoint is where I hear that the most.

The one thing I do use it for is opening corrupted Word and Excel files. But on my Linux box I just default to Google Docs.
posted by dw at 1:21 PM on July 27, 2012


the devolution of one of the industry’s innovators into a “me too” purveyor of other companies’ consumer products.

what bollocks. they never were an innovator, they always have been purveyors of other peoples products. all the way back to DOS.
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 1:30 PM on July 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


I use the word processor, probably the most solid part of it. It's a very good copy of Word 97 and sometimes that's what you need.

That said - I routinely reformat everything in actual Word before sending anything out as it occasionally does goofy stuff. That may be a factor in moving to Windows RT for my quick-booting portable writing machine needs.
posted by Artw at 1:32 PM on July 27, 2012


LibreOffice is likely to start improving quite quickly now. I gather they've been tearing out tons of old cruft, working at a furious rate. Given another year or two, I suspect it may turn into quite a good program.

Such a stupid name, though. Ye gods and little fishes.
posted by Malor at 5:05 PM on July 27, 2012


Man, Gabe Newell does not mince words: "I think Windows 8 is a catastrophe for everyone in the PC space. I think we’ll lose some of the top-tier PC/OEMs, who will exit the market. I think margins will be destroyed for a bunch of people." And it looks like the folks who run Blizzard agree. Maybe Valve really is making its own console.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:15 PM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm a little-guy in the mobile industry so my future is very much tied up in the fates of the big 3 tech companies (aapl, ms, goog), so this kind of discussion is really interesting to me. When it appears on mefi its always exciting for me, because of our (relative) lack of unhinged fanboys, as opposed to the rest of the internet which can't seem to manage an actual discussion on this topic.

When comparing MS (and same goes for Goog) to Apple, its also important to not overlook the contributions that the companies are making.

Apple is entirely consumer-focused, and all their development is invested in the UI and hardware design side of things. There's nothing wrong with pushing the state of the art, but I think that that's much cheaper than pushing the state of the science. Apple doesn't need to spend money on academics and research labs with open-ended missions and projects that may or may not pan out over many many years. MS on the other hand has produced the entire .NET ecosystem, the admirable C# language, stuff like F#, and a lot of heavy-lifting enterprise-y stuff like databases, sharepoint, exchange, and so on. The XAML family is a legitimate advancement in how UIs are built - in fact Android's UI system is a sort of XAML-lite and I don't think the similarity is accidental. Apple is still chugging along with procedural UI generation, objective-c and Cocoa - all capable but conspicuously aging.

Its all well and good to admire Apple for having the imagination and capability to bring some extremely powerful tech into the mainstream, and to set a new standard for design. But computers and the internet as a whole would not be what they are if someone wasn't pushing the science and technology as well. When we finally get the self-driving car, it won't be Apple that makes it happen.
posted by tempythethird at 5:36 PM on July 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


1. Things happening that are counterintuitive to what people expect

If someone finds this to be an intolerable problem with LibreOffice, I don't recommend they seek refuge in the world of Microsoft Word. I spent an embarrassing amount of time yesterday wrestling with a Word table that suddenly decided it was perfectly reasonable for columns to have different widths on different rows. If there's a solution out there that doesn't involve burning the whole thing down and starting over, I never found it. And don't get me started on "in use" styles that you can't find examples of and can't delete.
posted by Lazlo at 7:52 PM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Apple has done a lot of research and development in fundamental technology. LLVM, OpenGL, and HTML, for example.

(And really, you think sharepoint is advancing the science? Come on, now.)
posted by ryanrs at 5:37 AM on July 29, 2012


Apple has done a lot of research and development in fundamental technology. LLVM, OpenGL, and HTML, for example.

The engine that powers most non-IE web browsers comes from Apple. It's so useful, even Apple's significant competition uses it.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:41 PM on July 29, 2012


The engine that powers most non-IE web browsers comes from Apple.

Though it should be noted that WebKit is actually a fork of KHTML, which was created by the KDE team four years before Safari was first released. And Chrome is its own fork of WebKit that's been heavily modified via the Chromium project.

And, of course, the major non-IE browser remains Firefox, which still runs dear ol' Gecko.
posted by dw at 9:29 PM on July 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


You Have To Read This Blistering Response From Microsoft's PR Boss On Its 'Lost Decade'
posted by Artw at 10:31 PM on July 29, 2012


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