Microsoft 2.0 (or is that 22.0)

Continuing my foray into the world of Web_2.0, I saw a recent Techcrunch posting that talks about how fast Microsoft is moving to challenge Google's apparent superiority in this arena.

10 years ago I saw first hand how fast Microsoft can move, when they purchased Vermeer Technologies, makers of FrontPage, at which I was VP Operations. At that time, Microsoft was fighting what seemed to be a losing battle with Netscape (browser wars), Lotus Notes (groupware wars) and AOL (online wars). Bill Gates was also busily predicting the future in his not very good book, "The Road Ahead".

At that time I contended that Microsoft (and Bill Gates) was lousy (LOUSY) at predicting the future, but absolutely phenomenal at mastering the present:
  • DOS: missed predicting (or acting on) the need for good graphical user interface
  • Windows / Office: missed predicting (or acting on) the need for email/groupware
  • MSN: missed predicting (or acting on) the need for open/internet based system
  • Internet: missed predicting (or acting on) the need for good browser
In all of these areas, Microsoft caught up. There are some examples of more forward thinking (Hotmail?), but not many. However, I contend that Microsoft never had to see the future to win, and still doesn't. Microsoft has certainly missed predicting (or acting on) the need for web 2.0, but it seems to be very capable of playing catchup here as well.

We used to hear about "embrace and extend", Microsoft's approach to succeeding in established markets. This was seen as a form of judo strategy where you turn your competitor's strength to your own advantage (see the book blurb).

I contend that Microsoft remains strong at this game. Necessity, we are told, is the mother of invention. Microsoft has for years been able to see the necessity of adopting and embracing new trends, and has turned the market to its advantage by extending (or more) those trends to create a winning strategy. The only difference now is to understand how much of this was dependent on the brilliance of Bill Gates which will be lost going forward, now he is no longer active in the firm.


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