How Microsoft became the enemy, but is no loser

If you read a lot of the US press, you might be excused for thinking that the software Imperium of Microsoft is about to collapse under the weight of Barbarian migrations into its core business.

If you do a search of the sites you will find that when once Microsoft was generating the most news it has long lost its crown to the King of Hype, Steve Jobs.

Over the weekend Ray Ozzie wrote a very long email to his soon to be former work mates saying that the sun was setting on the Imperium thanks to a change in the PC model that created it.

The press  has responded to that with the usual pictures of the shy and retiring Steve Ballmer looking very tired and not at all emotional and claimed that Microsoft is toast. 

Reports imply that everything that Microsoft has tried from Windows 7, to Bing has been drowned in a Vat of mediocrity and is being ignored. The Empire of Microsoft is burning and Steve Ballmer does not even appear to be bothered fiddling.

But the perception is strange. The Imperium is growing. In a cash-strapped economy it notched record sales of $62.5 billion last fiscal year, up seven percent from the year before, and its highest ever net profit of $18.8 billion.

For every $10 spend on Windows, Steve Ballmer banks $7. The Windows 7 operating system has sold 240 million licences and turns out to be a pretty good successor to Windows XP.

Currently, nine out of every 10 PCs are running the Imperium’s code. Despite a small amount of competition, Microsoft’s Office still is likely to be standard in most businesses.

The pressure appears to be for Microsoft to be more like Apple. Looking through the analysis it seems that the media really believes that for a company to be successful it should mirror Jobs’ Mob. It is true that while Jobs was rallying his troops to march into the mobile territory, Microsoft was caught napping. Its Windows Mobile 6 was completely out-of-date. Ballmer failed to see that the comsumer market was moving away from the PC and more into mobile gadgets.

But that does not mean that Windows Mobile 7 should be written off because it came in too late. Most of the reviews think that it is cool and with the shed loads of cash Redmond is prepared to throw at marketing it should be a stable presence. On the mobile field Microsoft, like Rim, has the fact its gear nicely integrated with business networks on its side.

The Imperium will continue to be the mainstay of business networks too, even if it has lost a lot of ground on the cheap and cheerful server boxes to Linux.

If the Imperium is dying it is not going to happen for a very long time.

But there is an element of history repeating itself. Microsoft edged its way into the world fighting the suits at IBM. Its ideas were new and less stodgy. Now it is getting a similar kicking from a revived Apple which is doing the same sort of things.

All the power that was IBM did not die because Microsoft got bigger. It just changed and adapted. It also did not try to become Microsoft.

This is where Ballmer is failing. He seems to believe those demands from analysts and the press to become Steve Jobs and pitch stuff at the consumer market. They want him to flog gizmos to become cutting edge. There is an element of the bloke that wants to do that. Ballmer looks at Jobs wishes he could stand up in front of people and get all that adoration, rather than mirth.

But Ballmer and Redmond would be pants at it. Whenever Microsoft tries to create hardware or gizmos they goes tits up. While the press laugh at Ballmer for not producing a tablet he should be a little more self confident about it. He should be saying that they are a fad, like the MP3 player. Microsoft has bigger fish to fry.

Ballmer also should realise Microsoft has become IBM, complete with the corporate in-fighting and an elephant like ability to manoeuvre.

He should give up on the idea that the Imperium can be a consumer company, if it ever was. All it needs to do is keep its universal desktop presence and it should be fine.

Unfortunately the media don’t report that sort of company much. It is not sexy. Who wants to read about middleware, storage, or cloud-based systems. It might be where everything is going to be at and Microsoft is there. But it is not going to get anyone excited.

Hell, no one writes stories about SAP either and it makes shedloads of expensive software. No one has a clue what it does, but it sells a lot of it.

This will be Microsoft. It will not fade away. It will be just as pervasive and important. It will just not get reported by a press looking for the next new shiny thing.   And it will make a serious killing.  The bad part about it not being reported is that it will be able to do evil and no one will notice.