Is Microsoft dead?

Yesterday I got around to reading Paul Graham’s Microsoft is Dead, and it definitely was an interesting read.

I don’t necessarily agree with all that he writes, and you do need to take the perspective he’s coming from with a grain of salt, but he does make some good points. Looking back on the latest year, the best, most talented people I’ve worked with (with some possible exception) have not used Microsoft software, or used any Microsoft programming language or environment.

Basically, it feels just as Microsoft were late to understand the power of Internet and coming fairly late into the web browser game with Internet Explorer, this time around they’ve totally missed the train with applications on the web, failing to make the transition from a software giant to what they need to be to make a noticeable difference.

Microsoft indeed has some talented people aboard, and skilled people do work with Microsoft technologies, but is it the future? The path to go?

I doubt it.

17 Comments

  • I think Microsoft is pretty well on track on reinventing themselves under the leadership of Ray Ozzie. To me it seems as if Microsoft is anything but dead when you look at areas outside of the OS with products such as Office 2007, Xbox 360, Silverlight, Photosynth, Popfly etc.

    Your observation regarding talented people says more about the people than about Microsoft's tools, I think. People have realized that they are just that, tools, not a key to success.

    They are doing very interesting things. Especially their R&D department is incredible. I think Microsoft's problem is translating those innovations to useful products that people want to use. So, no, I don't think they're dead at all. They're just late to the party, which is not surprising for such a large company.

  • I believe that Microsoft ist still alive and doing a great job in deifferent areas!

    If we take Windows aside (I more and more loose belief in that piece of S…oftware) they have some great products. Their development tools are great and they more and more improve the community-part of it. With free products and a lot of useful information for beginners and experts alike. And the XBOX 360 is by far the most succesful try to start a console market as a software company.

    I am not a hater or a lover. I just believe that the dark side is still very weak in them πŸ™‚

  • Johan says:

    I agree that the dev tools are great. I work with ASP.NET/C# in Visual Studio 2005 all day, and I wouldn't want to go back to java or something like that.

    Sure, ASP.NET has some weak points when it comes to following web standards, and the drag-and-drop-features are rarely, if ever, used, but I don't think there's any web framework that can match the power and ease of use of .NET.

    And this comes from a guy who really doesn't like Microsoft! πŸ™‚

  • <blockquote cite="Johan">Sure, ASP.NET has some weak points when it comes to following web standards, and the drag-and-drop-features are rarely, if ever, used

    ASP.NET is a UI, Accessibility and Standards disaster. Everything simple in web development, has been warped by Microsofts need to be brain-compatible with thousands of VB-Desktop developers, that for most of us, it makes very little sense. It's mindblowing that they would complicate something so simple, to become so difficult.

    If all these VB developers would just get curious about what they were doing, MS might actually have a chance of coming out with a decent web framework. But, ASP.NET is clearly not it.

    <blockquote cite="Johan">I don’t think there’s any web framework that can match the power and ease of use of .NET.

    Oh, I think that once you open your eyes to it, you will find that a there are several frameworks out there, that are both more powerful and easier to use than .NET.

    And several of them are even free as in free beer, and able to run on more than one platform πŸ˜‰

    So, to get back on track … yes, a lot of think that Microsoft is basically dead … there's very little real innovation at Redmond, most of the stuff is driven by marketing needs and not user needs. Take Silverlight as an example … how many can honestly say they're excited about yet another proprietary technology from Microsoft, that has the possiblity to be just as buggy and insecure as ActiveX? The only reason for Silverlight, is Adobe's Apollo, and MS wanting to tie developers into using their platform. Not because anyone needed it … but who needs Apollo, might be the next question?

    </rant>

  • Solon says:

    I guess if only Google used ASP.NET/C#, it'd already be a good sign of these tools value. But pretty much every corporate environment I know currently uses the MS framework.

    Also, so far I've only read praise for Silverlight. And considering how awful Flash is, it shouldn't be too difficult for them to gain a lot of ground in that area, as well.

    As others mentioned, the XBox 360 is currently the standard to which other gaming platforms are compared to when it comes to online playing and content distribution.

    In the end, Microsoft has very deep pockets and is chock-full with talented people, starting with Ray Ozzie. They may have to reinvent themselves, just as IBM did, but it'd be kind of foolish to think they have nothing else to contribute.

    What they don't have, though, is fanboys, defending every single sneeze from Bill Gates or burying stories on Digg.

  • Andy says:

    I'm not a microsoft fan, however they do have some good software (obviously I'm not talking about IE). I feel that they've taken a step in the right direction with products such as Office 2007 and Visual Studio 2005. It feels like they actually put some thinking on these products. Office got a new interface and frankly – I like it. And the error reporting for Visual Studio is so much better now. And the fact that microsoft has begun to show interest in web quality only shows that things are finally turning for the better. Or so I hope.

  • Matt Round says:

    Microsoft is far from dead, but the reason why so many people are steering clear of their products is simple: MS demands too much commitment. If you buy into their whole ecosystem of OSs, tools and methods then there's some good stuff, but the rival options are far more open and flexible.

    So they'll continue to do well in corporate IT (which is all about spending someone else's money to make your life easier, going for the 'safe' option, etc.), but there's no way I would even contemplate committing indefinitely to Windows on my dev machine, Windows hosting, MS development tools, MS ways of working, etc. Why lock yourself in when the web is such an open platform?

  • Will says:

    I write standards-based web apps with Visual Studio 2005 all the time. Conforming to xhtml spec is as easy as adding 1 line to an xml config file (which changes how all server-templates are rendered). C# has lots of excellent new features coming and debugging apps with VS is far easier than anything else I've used or read about.

    Not to mention, MS just posted record profits. How are they dead? I am by no means a MS fan, but to be realistic, this digg & slashdot promoted idea that MS is some relic is just crap…

  • Alex Leonard says:

    Basically, it feels just as Microsoft were late to understand the power of Internet and coming fairly late into the web browser game with Internet Explorer

    I can only agree that Microsoft feel a little behind the game on the web app front, however I'm not sure what you mean by coming late into the web browser game?

    To me it feels like IE is a long way behind the competition, but the browser usage stats would definitely disagree.. they still have an incredible grip on the browser market. Their products and development tools are used by millions, and it would be hard for them not to be considered a major player in most markets on the web (barring search).

    MS Office has a major foothold everywhere, and if they play their cards right they should be able to combat the online office apps without too much difficulty. They just need to integrate seamlessly into an Office Live situation.

    That being said, I looked at Windows Live Hotmail (awful name) and I was not impressed by it at all. However, having an application that is behind the competition has never stopped them from dominating. The average computer user doesn't know any better, and unlike the tech heads (which comparitively make up a small market share), they will keep using hotmail, office and windows because that's what they know.

    This could slowly start to change, but I think it's kind of difficult to state that they're a dead duck. Too many people develop and use their tools.

    I use Windows, but stay away from everything else MS based. I'd use Linux if I had more time to learn it and adjust to all the other applications I'm used to in Windows. The Adobe Suite and various music production tools are tying me to windows more than anything else. However I've no intention of going near ASP. Give me PHP and MySQL any day. Windows Server? No thanks.

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Thanks for your comments. I do feel encouraged that the majority of you

    Jeroen,

    <blockquote cite="http://www.robertnyman.com/2007/05/23/is-microsoft-dead/#comment-62922"&gt;

    Your observation regarding talented people says more about the people than about Microsoft’s tools, I think. People have realized that they are just that, tools, not a key to success.

    To some extent, absolutely. Talented people will do good stuff no matter what tool they work with. It 's just that some tool make it harder to do the right thing.

    Morgan,

    Good to see you ranting again, it's been a while. πŸ™‚

    Solon,

    <blockquote cite="http://www.robertnyman.com/2007/05/23/is-microsoft-dead/#comment-62980"&gt;

    What they don’t have, though, is fanboys, defending every single sneeze from Bill Gates or burying stories on Digg.

    Well, I've met my fair share of Microsoft fanboys. It's just that they maybe don't hang out at Digg. πŸ™‚

    Actually, the company that I haven't seen a lot of fanboys for are Google. but maybe I've just missed them.

    Matt Round,

    <blockquote cite="http://www.robertnyman.com/2007/05/23/is-microsoft-dead/#comment-63035"&gt;

    MS demands too much commitment.

    <blockquote cite="http://www.robertnyman.com/2007/05/23/is-microsoft-dead/#comment-63035"&gt;

    Why lock yourself in when the web is such an open platform?

    Good points!

    Will,

    Absolutely, if you want to, you can do things correctly with .NET.

    Alex,

    <blockquote cite="http://www.robertnyman.com/2007/05/23/is-microsoft-dead/#comment-63216"&gt;

    …however I’m not sure what you mean by coming late into the web browser game?

    What I was referring to is the mid-1990s when Netscape was everything and IE 3 sucked hard. About that time, Microsoft then made a huge commitment to its web browser (for a couple of years).

    <blockquote cite="">

    The average computer user doesn’t know any better, and unlike the tech heads (which comparitively make up a small market share), they will keep using hotmail, office and windows because that’s what they know.

    Absolutely right.

  • Will and Robert:

    Since I find myself, reluctantly, working on ASP.NET sites a lot of my primary work time, I'd very much like to know about the secret XML config directive, that magically makes ASP.NET output valid, well structured and semantic code.

    Care to share it?

    With regards to Google Fanboi's, I think I might have caught that virues … I think a lot of the stuff that Big G does is brilliant … usually because of the simplicity over complexity mantra.

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Morgan,

    What you want to alter is the xhtmlConformance Element.

  • Will says:

    xhtmlConformance="strict" will render valid markup, but for semantics, I should have mentioned this as well:

    http://www.asp.net/cssadapters/

    That will further alter the rendering of all standard server templates for better semantic structure…

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Will,

    Great, thanks!

  • Will & Robert

    Thanks guys, that will be implemented soon(ish), so we can get somewhat better output.

  • Greg says:

    It's not what I want to say, but I think the truth is that Microsoft has never changed the fact that their products are kind of buggy. It seems that it has gotten MUCH worse in the past year too. It's obvious where their focus is now.

    Market the CRAP out of anything/everything.

    Buy other products, rename them, halfway make them "Windows Integrated", and then sell it before its even finished

    Throw buzzwords/supposed capabilities around, but then don't document how to actually do them

    Fix SOME of the issues within a year with a Service Pack

    It's getting kind of annoying. Can't a leading company just actually make good products? Every release in 2007 has been majorly disappointing…

    Exchange 2007 (they even state they had to rush to market and couldn't finish on time)

    SharePoint 2007 (has any product had more bugs in release?)

    Vista (for real, even now some very weird things tend to happen)

    Office 2007

    Project Server 2007 (supposedly is SharePoint integrated – riiiiight)

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Greg,

    Yes, I agree. The bugs just seem to pile up, as of lately.

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