June 25, 2010

I've long argued that Microsoft are a company built around a profound and fundamental belief : that it was possible to be a pure software company and allow someone else to produce commodity hardware.

Microsoft's DNA is to be a maker and seller of software qua product but not of hardware and not a provider of services.

This was an idea that served them well during the 80s and the explosion of the microcomputer, but served them badly in the 90s during the rise of the internet and its twin correlates : free software and software as a service.

Apple, by contrast, have always been a hardware / software company; which put them at a disadvantage in the 80s and 90s, but proved to be surprisingly fit when they adapted their "full stack" philosophy to become a hardware / software / service company in the last decade (starting with the ipod / itunes / itunes store ecology and moving on to the iphone / ipad etc.)

Anyway, I always thought that, due to free software, and software-as-a-service, the vision of a pure software company was on the wrong side of history.

Today I just had an intriguing thought. What if I was wrong? What if Microsoft's big vision wasn't out-of-date as I supposed? What if it were possible to thrive as a pure software company?

What if the only problem was Microsoft's bad execution? Or if, from their dominant position, Microsoft had come to believe that their role was to capture and dominate platforms, and to extract rent from them? That it was their birthright to own platforms?

That belief has proven to be spectacularly wrong. What if M$ did try to live according to their DNA? And did try to be a pure software company in 2010?

What would they look like?

Well, they would support all important platforms. They wouldn't worry about *owning* platforms, just selling software to take advantage of them. The important platforms today are the web, Apple's iOS, Google's Android, Linux, Facebook, Twitter etc. So if M$ were true to their DNA they'd start producing apps. for these platforms.

When did you last see M$ producing a popular iPhone or iPad app? Or a killer game on Facebook? Or a great Twitter client? Or making sure that Office and Sharepoint and IE and IIS ran on Linux?

If you do start seeing this, then you might start to have some hope for them. That maybe they have started to rediscover their true nature.