Microsoft Hits Downslope

Goldberg: Microsoft's days of dominance are numbered.

I dont think of myself as old, but maybe I am. I can remember when Microsofts flagship product, MBASIC, was new to the market. Hell, I can remember when there wasnt even a Microsoft. I have seen cycles come and go in the technology business, and its becoming clear we are likely at the beginning of the end of the cycle of Microsoft dominance.

This is not a rash statement, designed to provoke letters to the editor. Its the result of considering current industry trends and the fact that dominant platforms tend to have 15-to-20-year reigns.

Those of you who are as old as I am will remember when IBMs SNA was the standard networking architecture for our businesses and when IBMs VM and MVS were the standard operating system platforms. But new technology and changes in the customer environment spelled the decline of dominant platforms such as these.

So, what about Microsoft? The reason I feel confident in saying Microsoft is on the downside of the cycle is that Windows, its key platform product—indeed, the engine that drives the vendor—is arriving at the end of its cycle.

Windows is in trouble for three key reasons. First, the issues in computing have gone from expanding offerings with hundreds of features to reducing the cost of operations and simplifying management.

Second, viable competition is gathering itself in the form of Linux and open-source software. While it is easy to denigrate Linux and open source on the desktop today, things will be different in four years. There has already been huge penetration in the server space.

Third, Microsoft has contracted the same disease IBM had in the mid-80s. Its called screw-your-customer-itis. The symptoms go from the ill-timed price hikes last year disguised as license changes to the poorly executed, capricious end-of-life announcements for key products to the carnage theyve left in the "Windows-compatible" software business.

But hold on! As I indicated, this is long-cycle stuff. For IBM, it was about five years from when the fall became visible to when it finally happened. Microsofts end as a dominant vendor will take some time. Linux and open source, as the principal technology rivals, still require three or four years to get their acts together.

However, the best young programming talent is working in Linux and open source, the universities are creating tons of new talent who prefer them, and there remain two years of credibility testing. The glacier is moving, and there is nothing I can see that will stop it.

Microsoft is not going away, but it wont be the kind of dominant player its been. Microsoft is not going bankrupt, either. It will still have popular new products that catch on, the way ActiveDirectory did.

But if youre old and can remember the IBM of the mid-80s, you can get a good idea of what Microsoft will be like in, say, 2007 to 2010.