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2011: Is Microsoft Drifting Into Insignificance?

By - Source: Tom's Hardware US | B 81 comments

Microsoft has developed a very special talent to shoot itself in the foot and I am wondering what happened to the company that has commoditized computers with passion and unusual ideas for the future of computing?

I do not want to turn this into a rant and uncontrollable discussion about Microsoft products that are, depending on your view, either great or simply suck. However, since Steve Ballmer's keynote at CES 2011 earlier this month I have been wondering whether Microsoft has turned into a black hole for great ideas. What was the latest great idea of Microsoft that truly departed from what we are used to in the mainstream anyway?

Right, that would be Kinect. However, there is a good chance that Microsoft could kill Kinect before it can even open the doors to a future controller-less world. On a personal level, and from my view as a someone who has a lot of respect for Microsoft's past, it is rather upsetting to read a condescending opinion piece by a Microsoft blogger that ridicules hacking of Kinect, because no one would be interested in such efforts and technologies outside of research.

Instead of recognizing such efforts that play into future user models and, to a certain degree, the expressed vision of Microsoft's CEO, they are dismissed as "annoying" script kiddie-projects. Not being able to advance an admittedly great product is a failure in itself, but insulting those who offer the vision Microsoft so desperately would need this day makes you wonder how relevant a company could be whose employees openly publish such opinions. Jump over to SoCal Sam's post to get the full story. My favorite parts of his "thoughts" on Kinect hacks:

"'How many people are using Kinect with open source?', with a smirk or a gleeful smile on their face.  All I can say to them is: “No one”.  Really why would anyone?  The games are structured and well written for Kinect on the Xbox, can you say the same for Linux or Windows?  Would a normal person (which includes App Devs) go out to buy a Kinect to use with Linux or Windows?  Seriously, I just don’t think so."

"Frankly, I think these hacks are a waste of time outside of academics or research.  If you do an interesting hack these days, are you going to be able to monetize it?  Are you going to save the world?  Not likely, most people (and this includes app devs) are no longer using stuff that lone hackers create."

"In the old days hackers did interesting things and gave corporations heads up that they had a security breach.  Currently?  Hackers are mostly script kiddies that like to think that they are performing a service.  The reality, is that they are simply annoying the people who want to use their purchased software for business or pleasure."

"If the hacker you know isn’t making legal money or no money, then you might want to talk to them about their purpose in life, point out that life is getting more expensive and that the world of software has changed."

"On the other hand, using Kinect hacks outside of academics?  Waste of time.  Focus on Windows Presentation Foundation, learn XAML, learn HTML5, better use of your time."

To be fair, even if this opinion is published on Microsoft's MSDN site and even if it is an official comment, this is an individual opinion and I have no idea whether the official corporate delegation of Microsoft would agree. However, let's have a closer look at Microsoft's current products and strategies.    

Windows 7 is doing well, but it is far from being a visionary operating system that does more than what was expected anyway. Windows 8 is still a couple years out, but we already know that Microsoft is modeling the OS after Apple ideas and there is not much we can say would be especially revolutionary. Microsoft should be able to deliver much more and should be shaping trends, not following them. The mainstream cloud computing strategy is largely limited to Office 365, but there is not much innovation that does not simply follow the competition.

Microsoft is trying to catch up with Bing, which is a solid search engine, but cannot differentiate itself enough from Google. Windows Phone 7 is, as much as Microsoft claims, not a different smartphone platform - at least not different enough to enable consumers to easily see the difference. In consumer's views, it is a me-too product no one needs. Quite frankly, Windows 7 has been the kind of waste of time the blogger of above has described. The true innovation is delivered today by the Surface group and Kinect. However, Kinect is a very rough product today - the kind of detailed motion recognition we expected from the very beginning will cost money and only be available via Avatar Kinect in Xbox Live Gold. A rather dumb move in my opinion.

Extending Kinect to Windows to use apps such as Google Earth or telepresence environments seem to be a natural evolution. However, at least SoCal Sam does not believe that anyone would want to use Kinect with Windows or Linux. I am not sure if he was kidding about that.  If he was, I am wondering if a company that quashes and dismisses efforts to explore quite apparent usage models (free of charge to Microsoft) can be setting trends or if it is losing significance? A few weeks ago, I discussed with some analysts whether Microsoft has just become to stale and old to be able to move in ways companies like Google or Facebook do. There is no doubt that Microsoft will be around for a long time, but there is a good chance that, in a few years, Microsoft will be about as important to the general user as IBM is today. It is there and is fairly successful, but it is not setting the main technology trends for the immediate future.

Would you trust Microsoft with interpreting the direction of current user needs? I doubt it. If we relied on Microsoft alone, we would be pretty much stuck with what we have for the next decade. I miss the passion and enthusiasm that has Microsoft successful. I miss the risk-taking and the kind of jaw-dropper product Windows 95 was.

Seriously, Microsoft. It is time for an exciting product and an open view on what is possible.

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Top Comments
  • 13 Hide
    theshonen8899 , January 25, 2011 9:09 PM
    The day Steam goes on Linux is the day I abandon Windows. The world needs to understand that there is a capable OS that doesn't cost them a foot.
Other Comments
  • 13 Hide
    theshonen8899 , January 25, 2011 9:09 PM
    The day Steam goes on Linux is the day I abandon Windows. The world needs to understand that there is a capable OS that doesn't cost them a foot.
  • 0 Hide
    reprotected , January 25, 2011 9:10 PM
    Since when is Kinect a wireless controller? I thought it was a portable motion sensor made for public purchase, since other motion sensors don't sell in public.
  • 6 Hide
    jkflipflop98 , January 25, 2011 9:12 PM
    They're just a bloated company riding on the success of their superiors whom have long since left the organization. They no longer have any vision.
  • 2 Hide
    Anonymous , January 25, 2011 9:13 PM
    I've often wondered if long-term exposure to Steve Ballmer's asshole caused brain damage. Now, thanks to "SoCal Sam", it's confirmed!
  • 4 Hide
    illo , January 25, 2011 9:14 PM
    i think of microsoft like I do the USA. used to be the 'big dog' and they arent anymore, only nobody told them.

    and really innovation now is nothing more than a $$$ million marketing plan.

    but to answer your question Wolfgang, Microsoft lost its innovation when a salesman took control.

  • 3 Hide
    socalboomer , January 25, 2011 9:16 PM
    Honestly, Wolfgang, this rant was brought on by the opinion of ONE guy at Microsoft? Out of how many, thousands?

    You ask what kind of game changer that Microsoft has brought out? Besides Kinect?

    I consider Win7, perhaps not a game changer, but a very solid evolution - every bit as much an evolution as was Win95, which was, if you'll remember, merely a shell on top of MS-Dos (complete with open kernel, driver issues, crashing, etc.)

    XBox360 is top of the line, driving innovation - would we have the PS3 or the Wii if we didn't have the XBox360? Heck, it's a triangle competition (fanboi rants aside).

    Office has made great strides, and their unheralded OneNote is amazing. I can't live without it and haven't found anything else that does what OneNote does (and if anyone has something, I'm still waiting, especially for a Mac or Linux program so I can put it on a cheap, old, laptop. :D  )

    Their hardware is still excellent - remember, they drove the optical mouse revolution as theirs was the first affordable one to get rid of the ball - Logitech's was a couple of years later. Their keyboards are solid and quite good - I go back and forth between Logitech and Microsoft - love them both.

    Drifting into Insignificance? Hmmmm - let us know what it's like there as that's your location NOW.
  • -2 Hide
    cronik93 , January 25, 2011 9:17 PM
    theshonen8899The day Steam goes on Linux is the day I abandon Windows. The world needs to understand that there is a capable OS that doesn't cost them a foot.

    This^ 1,000%. I'm tired of dealing with Windows. Linux is faster, lighter, and more reliable and also there a are tons of distro's to choose. Ubuntu being my favorite of course.

    If I owned a lappy just for average usage I'd install Linux on it right away.
  • -2 Hide
    milktea , January 25, 2011 9:19 PM
    That drive to lead is gone from MS :p 
  • 0 Hide
    DSpider , January 25, 2011 9:23 PM
    Have you noticed how the Windows 7 interface looks surprisingly like what KDE looks like on Linux ?

    Part about Kinect was pure FUD. "Waste of time", "script kiddies", "monetize"... FUD, FUD and more FUD. They have developed quite a skill in this department. I bet they hold bimonthly FUD seminars teaching how to discourage independent developers and direct people away from FOSS (free open-source software).
  • -2 Hide
    rwpritchett , January 25, 2011 9:26 PM
    Steam for Linux would be epic.
  • -2 Hide
    dgingeri , January 25, 2011 9:31 PM
    I think MS peaked with Windows XP. Windows Vista was considered a huge step back, and Windows 7, while good to use and pretty stable, still isn't as flexible at Windows XP. The fact that the majority of users still use Windows XP even more than a year after Windows 7 came out shows this.

    Microsoft has lost it. They aren't going to continue to be a dominant force in future computing.

    What I want to see is an OS that does nothing but host virtual machines. Every app is self contained with its own OS. The apps could not interfere with each other. A virus infecting one could not touch others or the OS. It would be perfect for support purposes. Written properly, with full virtual access to the video and sound hardware, it could be even better for games, as they could have their own OS with no interference from any OS bloat.

    I hope Cloud computing dies quietly in the near future, though. I will never trust my documents, settings, and internet history to be stored on someone else's servers, especially MS. Microsoft is going very wrong with Windows 8.
  • 6 Hide
    vittau , January 25, 2011 9:31 PM
    theshonen8899The day Steam goes on Linux is the day I abandon Windows. The world needs to understand that there is a capable OS that doesn't cost them a foot.
    Unfortunately that's not enough.
    Steam is already available for Mac OS, but most of the games are not compatible.

    Of course having Steam on Linux would be a good incentive to develop for it, but I'm afraid that's simply not enough...
  • 1 Hide
    DSpider , January 25, 2011 9:32 PM
    Oh, and Steam can run on Linux. There's a project called "PlayOnLinux".

    I'm using VirtualBox for my Windows-based software (mostly for school) but games can run too. Granted not at full speed - for that you will need a dual booting setup, one for internet, media, office, etc and one strictly for gaming, with a gaming theme, gaming icon set, etc.
  • -2 Hide
    MeanSquare , January 25, 2011 9:36 PM
    I'd have to agree with all you've said. I'm not sure exactly when Microsoft lost any intent to lead, but clearly with Windows Phone 7, they've put themselves solidly into a "me-too" category. On the desktop, it will probably take decades before Windows market share erodes to a point where iOS and Linux are real competitors, but in the game-station and smart-phone market, I suspect it won't be nearly that long before Microsoft becomes a "whatever happened to..."
  • 3 Hide
    campb292 , January 25, 2011 9:38 PM
    Microsoft OS's control 85%+ of the Notebook and Desktop PC's out there (check usage data). What they need to do is ride along just like they are without moving +/-5% in either direction... get bigger get sued more, get smaller lose a little money get sued less, stay the same and ride a perfect market model.
  • -4 Hide
    malphas , January 25, 2011 9:43 PM
    They're completely lacking in any kind of vision or coordination, they have departments that compete against each other when they could be working together to beat the real competition (Xbox and Games for Windows), everything new they release is derivative and at least 18 months later than the rest of the market, they trot our Ballmer to embarrass the entire organisation by slating something by Apple which later goes on to be a huge success, they overprice their products or put obnoxious advertising in them (WLM, Windows Phone 7) as if this were still the 90's and they were still on top. I could go on. It's just a mess.
  • 7 Hide
    damianrobertjones , January 25, 2011 9:45 PM
    XP and Windows 7 are as flexible as each other. The reason why people are still on XP is that they probably don't want to spend the money, aren't bothered or are standard people that don't know about such things.

    As for Microsoft, maybe they should run a marketing spin that calls the competition, sorry, the CONSUMER, stupid, sad, with little to no friends.. Apple adverts. Or, they could be google and stretch out into every damn sector, releasing beta after beta of buggy code etc.... Google.

    They can't as they would be slammed. Tech sites are against MS (Sites like engadget at least) and whatever they do, it's not enough. Heck, look at tablets, "Microsofts Tablet"... They don't make tablets, oems do.

    Lets get one thing straight right now: If Toshiba, Asus, Sony, Acer, Fujitsu or IBM actually had a back bone, any of those players could be up there taking customers from Apple. Heck, I at least give Google credit for doing just something like that.

    We 'need' Microsoft for stability. Someone above stated that they'd move from Windows if Steam was released on Linux, but, which one, which version, which release, would there be drivers (probably), should all the oems quickly change over and bam, we'd be back to square one with millions of pcs being infected. Who would support you, would there be thousands of paged dedicated to help (eventually)?

    At times we can be so short sighted that it baffles me no end. But then again, on the other hand, let's get rid of MS and see what happens. It could, after all, be to our benefit.

    P.s. I see MS as a software house that makes an operating system FOR other peoples kit. Blame the oems for being lazy, not ms. (Once again I cannot 'submit my comment' using Opera)
  • 0 Hide
    Cache , January 25, 2011 9:46 PM
    Microsoft really has found itself lost, in part because it is not designed to be a corporation dedicated to innovation. It was designed to be an operating system. Given that most of the computing world uses Windows in some flavor or another is testament to the fact that it has succeeded with its' primary and original goal. MS Office only serves to enhance the business-side of the OS, so that's okay. But that's where the fairy tale ends.

    What Microsoft ultimately lacks is a human understanding of computers. Oh, I can usually trust that any printer, scanner, peripheral, or damn near anything will run with Windows. I can trust that the OS will do a generally respectable job (not shining, mind you, but for the average user it will do just fine) of loading drivers and doing what it needs to do. But that's where Microsoft stops.

    They never think to ask how to integrate everything in my life in a workable manner. They don't consider how to make the PC the center place of my home in a way that enables me to interact with my utilities, banking, or any of my major appliances. There is no suitable market for people to build on Windows outside of things like widgets and fonts--and those are almost all variations of the same few themes with no real innovation or public interaction. They have no long-term idea of what they want to do aside from doing a Windows version of what everyone else is already doing--usually poorly.

    Microsoft needs to develop a reason for us to need it. There is no shortage of ways that MS could encourage people in its' own brand, but I sincerely doubt they would be nimble enough to grab the opportunity or have resolve enough to invest in the entirety of a product.
  • -2 Hide
    randomizer , January 25, 2011 9:52 PM
    vittauUnfortunately that's not enough.Steam is already available for Mac OS, but most of the games are not compatible.Of course having Steam on Linux would be a good incentive to develop for it, but I'm afraid that's simply not enough...

    The primary reason why I would want Steam on Linux is for the chat functionality, not for games. Once an adequate distribution platform is available, game development on other OSs will start to increase. Slowly, of course.

    MeanSquarebut in the game-station and smart-phone market, I suspect it won't be nearly that long before Microsoft becomes a "whatever happened to..."

    Microsoft has been a "whatever happened to..." in the smartphone market for the last decade.
  • 4 Hide
    bearracuda , January 25, 2011 9:53 PM
    If microsoft is wilting away and dying ten years from now, then it's replacement will be a throwdown between nvidia and linux. Honestly, until someone can industrialize and truly mainstream linux, I don't see it succeeded. The average consumer (meaning the 90% of microsoft's customers who just waltz into best buy and buy the first computer they see in their price range) needs to be hand-fed. And there's not a whole lot of hand-feeding you can do with linux, even if there were enough people to do it. It's the most difficult platform to learn, and grandma barely knows how to check her email. Then there's that problem of linux being free, which means best buy won't sell it cuz they can't exact their pound of flesh by upping its price, unless they make a version themselves and start charging for it.

    Nvidia, on the other hand, has good business smarts, knows how to turn a dime, is very innovative, and is diving head first into new frontiers (or at least new to them). I wouldn't be surprised in 10 years to see them making everything from motherboards to flash games.
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