Can Microsoft Get Its Mojo Back? - InformationWeek

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4/17/2007
02:39 PM
Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner
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Can Microsoft Get Its Mojo Back?

The Internet moves quickly, but perhaps you remember this essay from that long-ago time of last week (gosh, we were so much younger then, weren't we?). In it, developer Paul Graham argues that Microsoft is dead, killed by Web applications and buried by the Apple comeback. I do think there is some truth to Graham's essay -- but it's only part of the story. InformationWeek's J. Nicholas Hoover

The Internet moves quickly, but perhaps you remember this essay from that long-ago time of last week (gosh, we were so much younger then, weren't we?). In it, developer Paul Graham argues that Microsoft is dead, killed by Web applications and buried by the Apple comeback. I do think there is some truth to Graham's essay -- but it's only part of the story. InformationWeek's J. Nicholas Hoover tells the rest, describing Microsoft's plans for embracing Web applications, coming back from the dead like the zombies in Michael Jackson's Thriller video.

Graham, who set off a spam-fighting revolution five years ago, starts out by describing how a young startup founder is baffled by the notion that startups were, not too long ago, frightened of Microsoft. "Microsoft cast a shadow over the software world for almost 20 years starting in the late 80s. I can remember when it was IBM before them.... But it's gone now. I can sense that. No one is even afraid of Microsoft anymore. They still make a lot of money-so does IBM, for that matter. But they're not dangerous."

But just because Microsoft is dead, the industry shouldn't write it off. For its first two decades or so, Microsoft was a company that reinvented itself every few years: going from Internet-denial to embracing the Internet in 1995, and spending the rest of the decade gaining Internet dominance; entering the applications business with its Office suite; entering the server business with Windows NT, Exchange, and SQL Server; and transitioning from the command-line DOS operating system to Windows. Through it all, it's been a top creator of development tools.

But in recent years, Microsoft has lost its mojo. Microsoft today is essentially the same company it was in 2001, when Windows XP came out -- but less. The company has the same product lineup, with a few updates.

Windows Vista is the perfect symbol of Microsoft's current place in the computer industry: It's Microsoft's strongest-selling operating system to date, and yet only 12% of users plan to upgrade this year. That's Microsoft today: a financial juggernaut but unable to generate user excitement.

But don't count Microsoft dead until you've seen the body. As Hoover describes, Microsoft is on an ambitious drive to marry rich desktop and server applications with Internet-based services. As part of that effort, Microsoft is working on a hush-hush project called Windows Live Core, designed to operate as a foundation for integrated Web and desktop services. The company also plans a hosted CRM app; financial services community; services to help host Exchange, SharePoint Server, and Live Communication Server for big companies; and more.

What do you think? Has Microsoft lost its mojo? And if so, can it get it back?

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