Software Architectures

Rant: Microsoft's power base still makes it formidable

An interesting shift has taken place over the last five years or so when it comes to Microsoft. Once used by many a ranting journalist as a byword for predatory behaviour, today the company has become de-fanged and even liked as might be the case with a flashing blade who, having been a rake in his youth, has set aside his sabre and become a respected pater familias to the young ones of the village. 

And yet Microsoft remains an extraordinarily powerful company and not just in its hefty market cap ($481m at time of writing). If it doesn’t quite anchor the whole of the PC computing experience today then it still accounts for a chunk of it. Look at your screen now: what programs do you have open? If you’re not on a Mac there’s an outstanding chance you are running a variant of Windows, there’s a strong chance that you will have an application or two from Microsoft Office and there’s a very decent chance that there’s also a Microsoft browser there.

Even if you’re using Chrome, Firefox or some other browser that’s still quite a power base Microsoft owns on your computer. And even if you’re on a Mac there’s a good chance Office is on there or that you’re running Office 365 on a system intended primarily for web browsing such as a Chromebook. Microsoft even has its own Raspberry Pi kit… OK, so Microsoft screwed up horribly on phones but it is bouncing back on tablets and of course it remains one of the biggest software powers on the server and in the cloud.

This is a company that is truly ubiquitous; if it had eyes you would say they follow you around the room. And that ‘everywhere-ness’ gives it a shoo-in position when it comes to selling you more stuff. From the 1990s on, people queued up to criticise Microsoft as a monopoly and, after much paying of fees to lawyers, we reached a point where we no longer talk (as much) about undocumented APIs, secret hooks, strong-arming of OEMs or pre-installed and default software.

But today it’s still hard to run a business without a way to read and edit Word, Excel and PowerPoint files – and even after all these years and generations of reader software, many of us deduce that the simplest path is to use Microsoft programs. It’s a situation that’s changing but only very slowly. I’m a fan of Google Apps but who uses its dire Sheets? Who honestly prefers Hangouts over Skype? Who wants to explain to the kids’ school that you’d rather send the homework in Zoho?

Microsoft is a nicer, softer company than it once was. Where once it called Linux a cancer it now sends out tweets promoting open source software. Its future is multiplatform and under Satya Nadella that message is being announced loud and clear. The Azure cloud no longer bears the Windows prefix but we still live much of our lives in a Microsoft world that makes using adjacent tools provided by Microsoft easier than switching to other vendors. That is even the case when computing platforms make their tectonic shifts. Some thought that the cloud would kill Microsoft; in fact, Office 365 helped cloud to prosper and Microsoft was an early, if wary, cloud adopter.

Spiceworks recently released a report forecasting that the collaborative messaging app market would in the next two years be led by Microsoft. Despite only a few per cent of people today using its Teams product, Spiceworks predicted that it would speed past Hangouts and Slack. “Considering that Microsoft owns the most popular collaborative messaging platform, Skype for Business, the company is set to dominate the market,” Spiceworks wrote in an email to media.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised. Microsoft has a long history in making a sideways shift into next-door markets like a racer snake eyeing its prey. For years that move preceded the near-certain collapse of rivals and, even if Microsoft is no longer the execution machine it once was, the company remains a formidable central power in computing.


Also read:
Microsoft’s big Linux switch shows its new openness
Windows 10: Microsoft’s realistic answer to changing times


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Martin Veitch

Martin Veitch is Editorial Consultant for IDG Connect

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