This being the year 2009, I feel that an update should be made about Microsoft. When the original entries were written here, Microsoft was the largest company in computing, and in fact was perceived to be reaching out for near-complete dominance of computing at all levels. Since that date, Microsoft's business has changed, and people's perception of it has changed perhaps even more.
Microsoft's changes have been both in the realms of business practices and technology. I am not a large expert on either, but I will present the basic run down.
As far as business practices go, Microsoft is no longer facing any large court cases over monopoly practices. There is no fear of Microsoft getting larger, and further abusing its position. This is because there was really no further ways that Microsoft could grow in the desktop operating system market, since it had close to total market share by the late 1990s. Also, Bill Gates' retirement from active duty and dedication to philanthropy seems to have softened resentment, in the public mind. There is also just the fact that other events, both inside the business world and out, have overwhelmed public concern over whether Microsoft was bundling their browser. Enron's 2001 implosion and the subsequent revelation that they were playing a total shell game made Microsoft's behavior seem somewhat less extreme.
Microsoft's technical efforts have seemed to changed people's perspectives of them, mostly for two opposite reasons: they have managed to do some things well, and have been rather unsuccessful at other things. The main success Microsoft has had is putting together an operating system, Windows XP, that is generally considered to be workably stable and secure. One of the things that caused the most annoyance with Microsoft's monopoly is that it was a monopoly of bad products that people had to buy because there were no other options. People are less annoyed at being forced to buy good products. The fact that Windows XP is not
prone to Blue Screen constantly makes people less angry at the company. I am not as familiar with Microsoft's other products, such as Word and Office, but they seem to also have an increase in usability.
However, I almost think that it is Microsoft's failures that make them more acceptable to people. During the late 1990s and early parts of this decade, Microsoft looked like they were going to extend their hold on everything computing related, meaning that people would have to deal with a monopoly of bad products. And Microsoft has certainly tried to extend beyond the desktop, but in a decade of trying, they have failed.
Microsoft has tried to expand into the server market, but has not had the success they have had with the desktop market.
- Apple introduced the iPod. Microsoft introduced the Zune.
- Apple also has released many iterations of OS X since Microsoft's heyday. Although OS X has never had the type of mass market success of Windows, it has been successful, and Apple computers have become somewhat of a status symbol.
- Microsoft's forays into the world wide web have also been less than successful, especially since google became the web's source not just for search, but for many other things. gmail has replaced hotmail as the standard webmail system. I am going to predict that Microsoft's new Bing search engine will not displace google.
- Just as Microsoft won the browser wars, and Netscape faded from use, Firefox was released. Although Internet Explorer still has around 67% of web client usage, this is probably mostly due to its installation in institutions, and that people who don't know or care about their web browser use it by default. Amongst the young and technically savvy, Firefox is easily the default browser.
- While XP was good, and successful, Microsoft's delayed release of Vista made them look less than streamlined in their product development.
So while Microsoft has earned some goodwill by putting out competent products, part of the changing perception of them is due to the fact that they are an underdog. Of course, they are still one of the largest companies in the world, and still have a near-monopoly on the desktop market. But the fears that Microsoft would become a monolithic force in computing appear to be unfounded. Although business conditions constantly change, it looks like Microsoft is following the trajectory of IBM: a company that resisted outside pressure to break up its monopoly, but fell naturally due to changing and diversifying market forces.