It wasn’t long ago that Microsoft was a monolithic organization that was content to stay the course, maintain market share, and count all the cash it brought in. For a while, it worked for the company. Its Windows division was booming. The enterprise was firmly planted in Microsoft’s corner. It was a glorious time for the company.
But then it all fell apart. It all started when Google captured dominating market share online and put Microsoft back on its heels. With the release of Windows Vista, Microsoft experienced some of the worst performance in years. Companies opted to stick with Windows XP or, in some cases, switch to Mac OS X. Even consumers were unwilling to move to Microsoft’s latest operating system. Apple capitalized and captured some market share away from the company. In one fell swoop, Microsoft was reeling.
Determining what Microsoft would do to combat those very real, very dangerous issues was unclear at the time. Would it attempt to use its power and size to muscle its way back to the top? Would it cower and lose its position in the marketplace? Or would it innovate to reclaim its position through high-quality services users hadn’t come to expect from the software giant?
At this point, I think the answer is clear: innovation was Microsoft’s path to reclaimed dominance.
Undoubtedly, that discussion must start with Windows. Windows Vista was a nightmare for Microsoft. It was everything it wasn’t supposed to be. With its release, Microsoft promised big things for the operating system. It said that it would be the most capable version of Windows to-date. But when it all was said and done, a much different story was told. In Microsoft terms, Vista was a failure.
But rather than attempt to improve Vista or push it on end users, Microsoft did something rather special with Windows: it improved it beyond what we had come to expect from the company. Windows 7, which is scheduled to hit store shelves on October 22, sports some of the most innovative and compelling features we have seen from Microsoft in years.
Bing Presents Real Challenge to Google
Nowhere is that more evident than in Windows 7’s XP virtualization mode. Rather than worrying about compatibility problems, Windows 7 users will have the ability to use virtually all their software and peripherals. Practically anything that worked with Windows XP will work with Windows 7 through that virtualization platform. With a few clicks, users will have access to a Windows XP installation. It could transform the experience of using Windows 7.
Another important addition is the operating system’s taskbar. It might seem like a small change, but it drastically improves navigation in the Windows 7 ecosystem. Being able to quickly sift through Windows to find what you need is a feature that was desperately needed in Windows. Plus, it’s arguably better than any multitasking feature built into Mac OS X.
Microsoft’s Bing search engine has totally transformed the online search market. For too long, Google was dominating without any real competitor to worry about. Now that Bing has been released with several great features, it’s possible that Google might need to take some creative action to limit the amount of search share Microsoft acquires.
Although it’s important to note that the chances of Bing beating Google are slim, it’s also important to note that through the help of several innovative features, Bing has been able to capture some market share away from the search giant. In fact, it now has about 10 percent market share. A few years ago, the thought of Microsoft achieving that kind of success online was unheard of.
Much of that success is due to Microsoft’s willingness to innovate search beyond simple results. The company’s Bing and Ping feature is a great way to share search results. Just last week the company announced that it would be offering visual search to make it easier for users to find products they want. Even the dynamic image behind Bing’s homepage has proven successful for the company. And that all comes before a discussion on the relevance of its results, which in my experience, has been quite high.
Microsoft hasn’t become innovative over night. The company has been coming up with ideas for quite a while. But 2009 has been a great year for Microsoft. It has shown that the software giant can do more than release software and wait for someone to buy it. Nowadays, Microsoft is actually leading the innovation curve rather than following it. And that should be commended.