Saturday, June 17, 2006

MicrosoftWatch: Gates' Top 10 Flops

The esteemed Mary Jo Foley, writing at Microsoft Watch, discusses Bill Gates' legacy. It's not all sweetness and light, as she provides a list of Microsoft's Top 10 Flops. Yes, you could probably guess most of these:

1. Microsoft Bob (and Clippy)
2. Windows ME
3. Table PC/Pen Computing/eBooks
4. SPOT watches
5. Microsoft Money
6. DOS 4.0
7. Microsoft TV
9. LiveMeeting web conferencing
10. No Microsoft Linux!

The most intriguing from my perspective is #10. Gates, of course, had watched and learned from IBM's inability to adapt to the dynamic world of PC software. He had, in numerous articles and interviews, vowed that Microsoft would never ignore a similar threat. MSFT has therefore aggressively pursued smaller form-factors, telephony, cable television, IPTV delivery platforms, and gaming consoles.

But Gates has ignored the biggest threat to the cash cows of Microsoft Office, SQL Server, and Windows Server: open-source software. This year, MSFT has begun grudgingly acknowledging the impact of open-source:

  • Just days ago, it lobbied the open-source community against the use of the GPL and for more "compatible" licenses like BSD

  • in April, it announced that its high-powered virtualization engine -- Virtual Server 2005 -- would support Linux

  • in February, it announced its collaboration with the LAMP-based sales-force tool SugarCRM
But that pales in comparison with, say, offering Visual Studio for Linux, SQL Server for Linux, or a host of other products that could certainly help dampen the cannabilization of its profit-centers.

I also have my own top three list of MSFT gaffes:

#3) Browser Helper Objects - the invisible IE extensions that have likely been the launching-point for more adware, spyware, and zombie PCs than any other single cause. If your Mom has ever expressed concern about popup windows that AdAware can't cleanse or a dreadfully slow machine, odds are a BHO is behind it.

#2) The registry: an easily co-opted hive of nefarious startup settings, COM objects, GUID's, forgotten clutter, and other tripe. The lowly configuration file -- a Linux stalwart -- has proven infinitely superior from the standpoints of maintainability, transparency, and security.

#1) The winner: the Microsoft Press book entitled "Writing Solid Code", possibly the single most egregious culprit for the litany of horrific security vulnerabilities, blue-screens, and other reliability-destroying characteristics of MSFT code. Ostensibly a best-practices guide, it instead laid the blueprint for vast KLOC's of unreliable and insecure code. Click here for an obscenity-laced rant regarding this outrageous effort. Actually, there are no obscenities -- I was kidding about that -- but watch for plenty of harsh invective.

Stuff MSFT has done right? Plenty. They know how to keep after something until they get it right. Xbox 360. SQL Server. Visual Studio (er, not VS 2005, though). Exchange.

But I think Foley has nailed it: the era of Linux and open-source is beginning to leave MSFT behind. Think: IE7 playing catch-up with Firefox... IIS falling behind Apache... ASP/.NET getting body-slammed by LAMP's popularity... the rise of MySQL and Postgres... SugarCRM and Drupal... the list keeps getting larger and larger.

Will MSFT survive? Sure. Will it thrive? Absolutely. But, in my opinion, it will have to stop ignoring OSS and start selling into its market. Plenty of closed-source packages -- Visual SlickEdit and many Novell offerings come to mind -- get sold on Linux today. Adding MSFT products to the mix would only help. I won't hold my breath, though. Maybe after Gates leaves in '08.

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