Microsoft, Apple and the future

I have seen a bunch of uninformed blogs on LinkedIn about the state of large corporations with conclusions based only on hardware preferences of the author, loose speculation and nothing else. I thought why don’t I blog uninformedly on the same subject? I am going to take some of my opinions and state them as fact because let’s face it, I’m right.

Apple vs Microsoft. In a recent study of cool companies people want to work for, Apple scored on top and MS dropped out of the top 20. That seems perfectly reasonable. Microsoft got labelled boring and the wrong kind of evil in the nineties and gradually being proven a lot less evil than both Google and Apple doesn’t help them become cool. Their products are good, not cool. Granted not the best, but better than a lot of them out there, but definitely not cool.

Apple meanwhile deliver decently specified hardware with good margins, iffy software with while showing sub par security conscience. Their iWork Office killer is far from MS Office in terms of features, but sadly for Microsoft, that doesn’t quite matter as much as they would hope. People will take iffy build quality of a laptop (yes), a few missing features of an office suite and a not-very-successful cloud solution if they get a cool laptop that has good battery life. I am not being bitter or sarcastic her. I for instance want the dustbin (the Mac Pro) with very little supporting technical data that would make it win over a traditional tower.

Microsoft just let Nokia fork Android. I’ve said this before, but this would have been the ideal thing to do in the first place. Making several operating systems from scratch just because you think you can is maybe not the most profitable solution. Especially since throughout the early life of Windows Phone, the patents around Android were Microsoft’s top revenue source in the mobile space. Instead having went with an Android fork, focussed on providing excellent gateways towards Microsoft services, driving revenue in Bing/Azure/Office365 could have been far more efficient in my not so humble or well grounded opinion.

Microsoft have always done well in providing API:s and documenting them thoroughly, knowing that engaging developers to extend and combine your products really helps you in the long run. Eventually Apple realised the same thing and overcame Jobs’ doubts and created the AppStore for iOS and that was a roaring success obviously.

Yes, Microsoft made API:s and an awesome development environment Visual Studio and they brought forth evangelists to tell people what to make with their products, but Apple and Google were on a roll. Quickly scores of .NET developers, that still felt that they could never go Apple because they detested the brand and all it stands for, instead found that switching to Java was a survivable pain to get to develop for a mobile platform that essentially is Windows XP for mobile, a platform where you can do whatever you want with the phone and put it in the store.

The problem is that Microsoft desperately wanted to provide the entire foundation of the ecosystem. While Steve Jobs even back in 1985 was overseeing work on the Big Mac that was UNIX based – what later became NeXTStep and OSX, Microsoft soldiered on making everything themselves from drivers to OS to apps, and they were big enough for a while to get away with it, but it is easier if you take things that exist and work and build on them.

This is where Satya Nadella comes in. His division of Microsoft were forerunners in Microsoft working with open source, as in opening their own projects as well as adhering to external open source standards (OWIN, for instance). Apple, Google and others have a far bigger legacy in Open Source, of course, but Microsoft has been turning around, slowly but surely, and Nadella’s org as been the driving force behind this development. Perhaps this can be an opening for Microsoft getting a little leaner. focussing on a few key revenue sources allowing other areas of significant spend to be dropped, adopting open standards and simply contributing to existing community projects.

The only reason the security problems Apple have faced have been so limited despite the complete non-action from Apple over the decades is that they based their OS:es on a core that other people kept going for them. They made it easy for developers to harness the power of what I like to call the dark side, the *nix open source community, which is as vast as the universe itself, In a way that Windows doesn’t.

As an example of the MS of old: When MS started dogfooding Windows Server in large scale clusters they realised that they need a secure file transfer mechanism and a scripting environment that had a bit more muscle than CMD.exe. They could have implemented an SSH server and gotten both – in a standard way no less, but instead they made Powershell and MS Deploy. Purists would have argued in favour of a proper Bash shell and a unified file system with mount points instead of the unfashionable disk drive system, but that even today can be implemented or at least simulated for the desperate among us.

Maybe the course that Nadella set out is one that will lead to a turnaround for Microsoft. The shrinking OS license revenue will be a problem for a while, but I think there is a way out on the other side, and I am suspecting Nadella might know it.

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