At this week’s NZ Tech Podcast host Paul Spain threw me a hospital pass: Is it time to stop hating Microsoft?
Younger readers may not remember, but at one time Microsoft was unpopular in many circles. Yes, there were even people who hated the company.
There were reasons for this. Pedants might argue Microsoft Windows was not a monopoly. Yet its 95 percent plus share of desktop operating systems sure felt like one.
In effect Microsoft called all the shots. At times it abused its monopoly. It wasn’t always ethical1.
There are too many examples to mention. People have written books and doctrinal theses on the subject.
Microsoft attempted to parlay its desktop OS monopoly into other areas.
At one point it set out to win the desktop applications software market. Microsoft Word and Excel were up and coming challengers at the time.
The Lotus position
There are reports an internal message went to developers: “Dos ain’t done until Lotus won’t run”. In other words, bosses told them to build the operating system so a rival spreadsheet was useless.
That story may be a myth. Yet it explains why there was so much ill-will towards Microsoft. The accusations didn’t have to be true. They only had to feel true.
There are actual examples of bad behaviour. Some ended up in court.
The Internet Explorer antitrust action was a low point.
In those days critics suspected Microsoft’s motives even when it did good things.
In 1997 Apple was struggling and needed cash in a hurry. Microsoft came to the rescue. It agreed it would support a Mac version of Office for five years. It is still going today. Apple agreed to drop a law suit over Microsoft copying Apple’s OS look and feel.
Microsoft’s key personalities did not help. Bill Gates’ rubbed people up the wrong way. Steve Ballmer took that to new levels.
Ballmer left Microsoft in 2014. While he was boss the company’s share price stagnated. So did its technology. And the company’s hardball attitude. Often Ballmer would sink innovative projects to protect the Windows and Office monopoly.
Some of that was baffling. Like the excellent iOS versions of Office apps which was held back from the market.
Nadella takes over
Early in 2014 Satya Nadella took over the reins. He moved the company into cloud computing. More to the point, Nadella stopped the aggressive defence posturing.
Today’s Microsoft is a different beast. It is still big, some of the time it is the world’s largest company by market capitalisation. It can still upset people. Every large corporation has its critics.
No doubt there will be those who continue to hate Microsoft. You don’t get to be number one without creating a few waves. Yet there is less to hate, less to object to.
Even, gasp, Open Source
Today Microsoft has embraced open source. It is possibly the world’s largest provider of open source products. By some measures the company’s Azure cloud services uses more open source than proprietary software.
Windows is no longer a monopoly. It still runs on more computers than any other OS. But it now has to compete with ChromeOS, MacOS, iOS and Android. It doesn’t dominate.
Likewise while Office remains popular, it is not the only game in town.
You don’t have to love Microsoft. Actually that would be weird. There are still plenty of things to criticise. But if you carry a grudge from 20 years or so ago against a company that is now different in many ways, that seems like a waste of energy. Go and do something creative with it instead.
- What’s the point of building a monopoly if you don’t abuse it? ↩︎