So this is it. Microsoft has started its long demise... Maybe not yet, but the company has clearly started a new strategy of betting on the wrong horses and doing it in a very visible manner.
For example, remember the recent introduction of an open XML office document specification while the world already had one or, two days, the asinine take on open-source community supposed patent infringements.
For this last fumble, several industry notables replied, including Linus Torvalds, but to my sense the most sensible analysis of the situation came from software maven Alan Zeichick who clearly balanced Microsoft's lack of innovation with its preference for litigation.
It is really time for Microsoft to realize that time has changed: we have entered a new era where the operating system and the office productivity suite are not fully in their hands anymore. With on-line solutions and open source alternatives, these two components of a personal computer are not so critical as they used to be. In fact, it is obvious that Microsoft is aware of this trend change as Windows and Office are their two traditional cash cows.
What should they do? Instead of trying to push a new office standard, why not build the best office suite for the existing open format? Users are now educated enough to recognize and appreciate a highly usable piece of software: they would certainly be willing to pay a reasonable amount of money for a productivity suite that would not lock their data in the playground of a vendor.
They could also start to innovate. Really. I can not quote any innovation from Microsoft: they have drastically improved existing things but what have they really invented? Well, many things I am sure, by the look at the really cool stuff they are doing in their labs. So where is all the cool stuff going?
Well, I guess the crux of the problem is that it goes through the "bully filter" that still exists at the top level of the company. This filter is in fact a transformation that turns innovation into products that lock users in and forces them to buy the full stack of Microsoft delicacies. And this, for ever.
Even after the stepping back of the master of bully, Bill Gates himself, the company is still run by thugs who do not realize that they can not continue walking this bloody path. Even Redmond products enthusiasts are starting to look elsewhere.
Can Microsoft change and enter into redemption? Considering that IBM succeeded in its conversion from an insipid consulting firm and dinosaurish hardware maker into a vibrant community daring to stuff Cell/B.E.s into mainframes, I think there is hope that they will leverage their army of bright engineers and their deep pockets to build a new version of themselves!
Edited 31-MAY-07: Old habits die hard: Microsoft is still a bully who do not care about slapping people who create value on their technology if these people do not play according to their rules.