Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Is this the end of Microsoft?

Microsoft is noticeably absent from the biggest IT revolution in recent years, with not one, but three converging products simultaneously jostling for media attention during this pre-holiday season. I am talking about the smartphone, the tablet PC (including iPad), and the e-reader. This may signal the end of Microsoft's stranglehold on our computers. For 25-years, Microsoft has used its monopoly on the operating system to fend off competitors while milking the public for as much and as long as it could. That was only possible because people needed a common set of software to enable file sharing and work collaboration. IT users had to face constant compatibility issues if they used anything other than Microsoft products.

Mobile computing has changed all that. You just cannot have a phone that cannot communicate with another phone. As phones get smarter, they have to share pictures, video, and eventually documents, across different phone manufacturers. The phones evolved into tablets. E-readers just found itself dragged into the scene, although it started as a distinct product in one corner of the digital library world. Suddenly, these gadgets appear sophisticated enough to threaten the laptop and the desktop PC. One will soon be able to share files across different phone platforms, and make extensive use of the internet and cloud computing to free oneself from the shackles of the desktop PC and its inherent limitations. Apps make all the difference; people can now install and launch an app without knowing anything about the operating system layer. The OS layer, like bios commands, and like command line codes, will someday be reserved for troubleshooting purposes only. Without monopoly of the OS, Microsoft cannot command the $100+ price it charges.

Google made the Android platform and gave it away for free. Smartphone and tablet manufacturers trust Google enough to install Android as the OS in their devices. That's what is killing Microsoft. Even if Microsoft can successfully sell its Phone 7, it has already lost the chance to save itself. Soon, I predict the free OpenOffice will become a standard office suite, thanks to tablet PC's that are just about to become ubiquitous. At this rate, I wonder how long Microsoft can continue its hegemony.

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