Tuesday, November 03, 2009

More Microsoft Me Too

Microsoft dominates the personal computer market with its Windows operating system. Why? Because almost 30 years ago IBM talked with Bill Gates and he convinced them to bake MS BASIC into the ROM for their Personal Computer. Then, IBM decided to have MS provide them with a disk operating system, which MS actually acquired from another source. Because the "PC" was so open and everyone and their dog eventually started making PC-Compatible computers, MS DOS exploded onto the scene.

Then came the Macintosh from Apple. It used a graphical user interface acquired from Xerox. It was nothing like anyone had seen before and used a pointing device (mouse) to intuitively "point and click" your selections right on the screen.

Microsoft has been behind the innovation curve ever since and has primarily been chasing Apple.

Windows is an obvious re-envisioning of the Apple OS. The lawsuit has long since been settled but Microsoft continues to be close but not quite as sleek and efficient as Apple. There are a variety of reasons for this, mostly hardware support, but the statement remains true.

When Apple came out with the iPod, just eight short years ago, it exploded onto the entertainment scene with a fervor not seen since 1979 when the original Sony Walkman was introduced. Microsoft respond by introducing the Zune, which will forever be compared with the iPod, and solidified Microsoft's "me too" stance. The problem was that they took five years to make that response and they seem to be constantly tripping over themselves just to keep up.

Apple rode the iPod wave for quite a while before taking pot-shots at Microsoft with their "I'm a Mac" media campaign. Apple's simple, straightforward Apples to... well... non-Apples approach garnered an increased market share for the Mac. How did Microsoft respond? They didn't. Not at first. Eventually they started their "I'm a PC" and "PC Hunter" campaigns but, again, it was late in coming.

Right after the iPod came the Apple Store. Every year, they open 25-30 new stores with a current total of 276 worldwide. This past week, Microsoft just opened their first two stores. Again, a little late in the game. Somehow, I don't think the Microsoft Store will be as popular as the Apple Store.

I saw a video of one of the openings and the first thing I thought was "Apple Store wanna-be." There's no sign that says "Microsoft," just a square logo sporting the 4 colors of the Microsoft flag. The store appeared to be open and airy, just like an Apple store.

But, really, what does Microsoft have to sell? The only hardware that they make is the X-Box and the Zune and those are readily available at thousands of retail locations. They're supposedly selling computers but that sounds like it will work as well as the Gateway stores. The only advantage I see to an Apple store is the Genius Bar and defective unit diagnosis. I don't even know if MS has anything similar.

My point is that Microsoft needs to come up with a real innovation. Whether they create it or acquire it, the innovation needs to be big and it needs to appear before Apple comes up with it. Otherwise, I see MS continuing to lose market share and finally eventually (maybe not in my lifetime) losing to the true innovators, whoever they may be.

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