Microsoft Strikes Back

Posted in Business, Software Development, Technology on July 10, 2009

Despite the allusion to the evil galactic empire, I am actually a big fan of Microsoft.Planet Telex does much of its work using ASP.NET, and recently invested in a new Surface computer.That said, IE6 is an albatross around the neck of the Internet, and I loathe both Exchange Server and Outlook.But those are old Microsoft technologies anyway, let’s look at what Microsoft is doing right now, and why Google should be worried.

This week Google announced that it is developing Chrome OS, a lightweight Linux based operating system aimed primarily at the netbook market.Predictably, stories emerge about how Google is taking aim at Microsoft.Hearing the description of Chrome OS, it seems more in direct competition with Ubuntu than Windows, not to mention the fact that it is years away from any sort of market adoption.We have seen how slowly Android has taken to enter the marketplace, and even Eric Schmidt is still using a BlackBerry.So Chrome OS represents a minor threat that is years away.

Microsoft on the other hand,is a huge threat to Google’s search dominance right now.While I still use Google (mostly because Chrome is my browser of choice),I have examined Bing, Microsoft’s new search engine, and have followed the reviews closely.The verdict is that Microsoft has a serious search offering that can compete with Google.While Bing is still not quite as accurate as Google is in overall search, it offers an enhanced user interface that many users are starting to appreciate.Combine that with the fact that many are simply interested to try something new after years of using Google.Even Kevin Rose, who has always been a Microsoft detractor, changed his default search to Bing on Diggnation at the urging of his co-host Alex Albrecht just to “give it a chance.”Clearly there is some appetite for a Google alternative.

When it comes to Bing adoption, let’s not forget the fact that Internet Explorer accounts for about 40% of browser marketshare (Firefox overtook them as the most used browser in January of this year).Internet Explorer will default to MSN, which will default to using Bing.Consequently, Bing will take a significant chunk of Google’s search traffic.

Turning back to operating systems, it should be mentioned that Windows 7 has been getting glowing reviews, even from some Apple fans.Priced at $50, I expect this to be the next “Windows XP” in terms of staying power in the marketplace.It should be mentioned that Apple’s Snow Leopard OS will be priced as an upgrade at only $29, and has also been well received.With these polished, robust operating systems selling so cheap, it seems that there is less opportunity for Ubuntu and Chrome OS to gain a market foothold.It is my sense that Windows will continue to be the dominant OS for years to come.

One reason that Windows will continue to thrive is Microsoft’s .Net framework.In the last few years Microsoft has really delivered to the development community.Their language, C#, is among the most popular programming languages in the world, and in the last 2 versions, Microsoft has packed in tons of geeky stuff that developers love.Things like lambda expressions, LINQ, generics and duck typing.They have created Windows Communication Foundation, a truly excellent framework for building services of all kinds.Windows Presentation Foundation is a revolutionary step in Windows application development.Then there is ASP.NET MVC, a new flavor of ASP.NET with a development paradigm similar to Ruby on Rails.Every web developer I know who has used it absolutely loves ASP.NET MVC.Given time, I suspect it will overtake ASP.NET web forms development. With every year that passes, it becomes more and more enjoyable and rewarding to develop on the platforms that Microsoft provides.This means people will continue to write a lot of software for Microsoft platforms, which increases the overall values of the platforms.

It is certainly true that Microsoft is often a “Johnny come lately” when it comes to their offerings.Windows itself was ripped off from Xerox and Apple.Internet Explorer ripped off Netscape.Zune ripped off iPod.Bing ripped off Google.And soon, project Azure will rip off Amazon’s EC2.Someone at Microsoft must have read The Innovator’s Dilemma.Microsoft have long since realized that they don’t need to be the first to do something, they need to sit back, see what works, copy it, and do it really, really well.It is hit or miss process.Even with IE8, I consider Internet Explorer the most inferior internet browser out there.As I’ve stated, I loathe Outlook (in fact, my Mom just called me telling me she has a virus- I suspect that it exploited Outlook to get on her system).

In recent months however, I’ve loved what Microsoft has been doing.Some of it, like Bing and Azure, is reactionary, but not all.Microsoft has been the first to offer a large multi-touch device to the marketplace: the Microsoft Surface computer.Planet Telex has bought one and we love playing with it, as does just about everyone I show it too.My mom has called it “really cool” and I believe my dad called it “magic”- neither one cares much for computers in general.

Cool as they are, they aren’t ready for the home consumer market yet.But there is a Microsoft made piece of hardware that is already in millions of households throughout the world: the Xbox 360.An article on the successes at Microsoft just wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the most popular console on the market today.If you don’t have a modern console, like a PS3 or an Xbox 360, you might be surprised to hear that they are for far more than simply playing video games.They offer video-on-demand and can integrate with a number of web technologies, like Netflix, Hulu, Facebook and Twitter. Quite honestly, an Xbox 360 with an internet connection can provide all the entertainment options one could want.Comcast, Dish Network, and DirecTV should be concerned.

As we approach the end of a decade, we can look back and see the big winners have been Apple, Google, and Amazon.But the 1990’s went to Microsoft, and they have coasted on their immense success then for most of the last 10 years.But the thing is, the people at Microsoft aren’t dumb- far from it. And they have thought a lot about where the world is going in the years to come.They have studied their enemies, listened to their consumers, and taken action.In short, Microsoft has found its second wind. The big winner of the next decade is up for grabs, and Microsoft might still have what it takes to come out on top.However I suspect that it won’t be too long before I find myself writing a follow up post: “Return of the Google.”

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