Microsoft and Competition

Microsoft is a tough competitor, but they’re not the unstoppable behemoth some people think they are.  Every now and then, they enter a market and simply fail.

Microsoft’s strengths are recognizing upcoming products in markets where there isn’t already a strong competitor, and occasionally creating a new product where there isn’t already an established player. 

The recent example that brought this to mind is Microsoft pulling the plug on the Digital Image line of products.  The official line is that their functionality was merged into Vista, but in fact only a small portion of what the Digital Image products could do is found in Vista.  Microsoft simply wasn’t able to gain market share competing with Adobe.

OneNote, Visual Studio and Windows Home Server are examples of products introduced or being introduced with no significant competition.  The first two have done very well, and I expect the same of the third.

PowerPoint, Visio, and a number of other products were purchased before they became powerhouses, and became so under Microsoft.

When Microsoft has jumped into an existing market where the competition was asleep at the wheel, as in the case of Word vs WordPerfect, they can win.

But in cases where the competition is strong and has an established market, Microsoft doesn’t do so well. 

They lost the Microsoft Money vs Quicken battle.  They haven’t admitted defeat yet in that one, but I think it’s coming.  They’ve been trying for 16 years to tackle Intuit and still have a small fraction of the market.

They lost the Adobe vs Digital Image battle.  Adobe has competition on multiple fronts, with Photoshop Elements on the low end, Photoshop on the high end, and now Lightroom right in the middle.

Microsoft has tried to get into the telephone market (both mobile and home), the set top box market, the toy market, the watch market, the news market, and either failed or faltered in each of them.  They all contained good technology, but were introduced into a skeptical and hostile marketplace, and simply failed to compete.

This is significant now, because Microsoft is about to engage in a number of head-on battles with some serious competition. 

Flash is pretty well established (wow, that’s an understatement) and yet Microsoft is jumping into that market with Silverlight.  I just don’t see the need for Silverlight.  Flash does most of the same stuff, and is readily available on multiple platforms today.  Given Microsoft’s history, this doesn’t seem like a fight they can win.

Same with the Expression suite of design tools.  It’s not like Adobe is sitting back riding on the success of Flash, Flex, DreamWeaver, Photoshop and Illustrator; Adobe is actively developing the entire creative suite, making products that folks who design web sites love, and now Microsoft wants them to switch to an entirely new technology stack?

And for what reason?  I really don’t see any compelling advantage to developing a site using Expression, Silverlight and Visual Studio vs DreamWeaver, Flash and Flex.

I’ve seen comparisons of developing for Flash to developing for Silverlight, but the apples-to-apples comparison would be Flex and Silverlight, and Flex comes off pretty well.  But in the end, these sorts of battles are rarely decided by technical details.

I think there was a time when Microsoft entering a market was regarded as serious trouble for anyone else in that market, but in my opinion, those days are over, and they’ve got their work cut out for them.