Should Microsoft reinvent itself and develop new businesses outside of software?

“Bob Frankston is one of the smartest people I speak to. If you don’t recognize his name, Bob is best known as the programmer who wrote VisiCalc, the first spreadsheet, realizing the design of his partner, Dan Bricklin,” Robert X. Cringely writes for PBS.

“In a sense Microsoft is a lot like the Roman Empire. The Roman Empire’s growth and economy was driven by conquering and plundering neighboring regions. Within the Empire they created a sort of safe economic zone where commerce could work and technology could be developed. However, that came at a price, as they tended to destroy everything outside the empire as it grew,” Cringely writes.

“Same for Microsoft, whose leaders were greedy and made a number of good, shrewd business decisions. They were also ruthless. Over time they managed to destroy the surrounding software industry. Within Microsoft’s world was a sort of safe economic zone. If you were not a threat to Microsoft or if you did something Microsoft didn’t want to do (like make PCs) you were able to grow under the shadow of Redmond. When the emperor spoke, you listened,” Cringely writes.

“It is too early to predict the fall of the Microsoft Empire. Does Microsoft have the leaders and generals who can lead the company into the future? Who knows? In the software world there is nothing else to conquer or plunder. In other markets it will be hard, if not impossible, for Microsoft to dominate whole industries as it has in the past. Microsoft now needs to act like a responsible company, work well with others, and grow through cooperation and teamwork. This will be hard for Microsoft,” Cringely writes. “The Romans couldn’t do it. The Romans neglected one of their ‘partners’ and eventually that partner did them in.”

Cringely writes, “Today’s Microsoft is a great generator of cash. With some good product refreshes, this cash generation can continue for years to come. The BIG decision is what to do with the cash. Microsoft needs to develop new businesses. Microsoft could have a great future doing things that have nothing to do with computers. They could be making a great electric car, or great new medications, or any number of other things. Microsoft could create new industries that could have a huge benefit to the economy. Microsoft could change the world, again. Ten years from now Microsoft could be a huge holding company of which PC software is but one part. They don’t have to gut the software unit, which is viable enough to be a great moneymaker for another 25 years if Microsoft manages it well.”

Cringely writes, “Right now Microsoft is like a deer in the headlights. They are stuck on software and computer stuff. They can’t move. There are much more interesting growth opportunities out there.”

Full article, including much about Net Neutrality and the idea that “making almost any regulation specifically to hinder OR HELP the Internet can only make things worse,” here.

MacDailyNews Take: Microsoft has never been a maker of great, inspired, elegant, innovative, original software. The best Microsoft products have been bought or copied/stolen. Ideas generated inside of the Redmond behemoth are… well, two words: Microsoft Bob. Maybe Microsoft should take their billions and do something else with it; something more useful, at which they might prove to be more adept?

For example — forget Cringely’s electric cars: electric, schlmetric — GM has so far invested “hundreds of millions of dollars” in hydrogen fuel cell research. Imagine what Microsoft could do in that field with their many billions? Gather the best scientists and engineers in the field, pay them extremely well, and let them get to work. Certainly, leading the world into a hydrogen economy and a truly sustainable future is a better use of their big sweaty piles of cash than slipping and then finally shipping another bloated, ugly, counterintuitive, inelegant Windows operating system along with an equally affected office suite and other software products?

Although, it would take a good bit of PR to reconcile “Microsoft+Hydrogen” (see: Hindenburg), such an endeavor might even be more profitable than floundering around in software trying desperately to cling to “backwards compatibility” to maintain their market position. One thng: just focus on the fuel cell technology, Microsoft, and let Apple handle the vehicle control software and the user interface, okay?

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Related MacDailyNews articles:
What Microsoft has chopped from Windows Vista, and when – June 27, 2006
Windows Vista rips-off Mac OS X at great hardware cost (and Apple gains in the end) – June 13, 2006
Computerworld: Microsoft Windows Vista a distant second-best to Apple Mac OS X – June 02, 2006
How to delete a shortcut in Windows Vista in just 7 steps – June 01, 2006
Microsoft botches another copy job: Windows Vista Flip3D vs. Apple Mac OS X Exposé – June 26, 2006
Thurrott: Microsoft collapsing under its own weight, Gates has driven Windows Vista into the ground – April 20, 2006
Windows Vista to be Microsoft’s last operating system? – April 21, 2006
What’s the difference between Mac OS X and Vista? Microsoft employees are excited about Mac OS X – March 22, 2006
Thurrott: Microsoft going to get eaten alive over Windows Vista’s resemblance to Apple’s Mac OS X – March 09, 2006


  1. Bull, electricity is also generated in clean hydro electric powerplants, and by windmill farms and solar arrays. (in some places, nuclear)

    Electric cars have been around for 100 years and the technology has not been allowed to thrive because it is not in BIG OIL’s best interest to let it.

    GM wants to pretend that the EV1 never existed and is systematically destroying every last one of them.

    Electric sports cars are capable of 0 to 60 in 4 seconds, but only in the elite billionaire boys club, with vehicles that will cost over $500,000 to purchase.

    So cut the knee jerk, liberal-bashing rehashed rhetoric. It’s not about Lib or Con it’s about money, and who’s making it and trying to keep it. (obscene oil profits)

  2. ” the morons conveniently ignore that the electric power with which they are “saving the environment” was produced at the electric plant that burns tons of dirty coal and emits the remains into the atmosphere.”

    Ok, since you are accusing other people of knee jerk, im calling you out. You don’t get it. You immediately ‘knee-jerk’ into thinking that all electric plants are going to be run by coal always and forever. That isn’t always going to be the case going forward.

    Secondly, the idea of removing the exhaust from the car and transferring it over to the power stations is that the pollution becomes centralized and thus able to control it better. It’s not going to be a perfect solution until the electric is generated from much cleaner means, but scrubbing technologies at least offer a better alternative than having millions of cars spewing exhaust that has no chance of being reduced and controlled.

    People like you just hate anyone who tried to move people in a more positive direction, which is what electric cars would do, by at least getting the pollution out of the city centers and into a more manageable situation. You’d rather sit back, and be lazy and cast aspersions on other people instead of actually thinking about doing something to move people forward. That’s much easier to do than to actually try to do something about problems.

    (off soapbox)

    As for MS making an electric car. No thanks. I want to get where I’m going on time.

  3. Electric Schmeletric

    You can shove your sadly typical, knee-jerk Rethuglican conservatard bull. Lots of electricity is produced via hydroelectric power — the Hoover Dam is one of many exaamples. But don’t let your ignorance stop you from attacking people who want to conserve energy and use alternative resources for their needs.

    You just keep sitting there and spouting the same unhelpful garbage that your traitorous pals have been doing for the last six years. Because attitudes like yours will really convince voters to put those scumbags back into office. America, we hardly knew ye…

  4. In fact I would hazard to say that there is probably less pollution from the Coal powerplant with all its sulphur scrubbers and filters powering electric vehicles than from the equivalent number of carbon monoxide belching ICE vehicles.

    One of the smartest moves would be to replace ALL inefficient 2-stroke engines on lawn mowers with electric, cutting your lawn for an hour creates the equivalent pollution to weeks of driving! Plus there is the danger of storing fuel in your garage, and polluting the environment with accidental spillage.

    Then again, if people bought appropriate vehicles for the intended use, does one person really need to drive around in an Escalade or a H3? If you are a single person who mostly does city commuting get a Smart car, or a Suzuki Swift or some other fuel efficient subcompact.

  5. macromancer,

    Don’t try to tell me what I want. What I want is the hydrogen fuel cell. Microsoft could accomplish it with their cash horde. Microsoft is free to do this. They are completely unencumbered by big oil ties, unlike GM and government.

    Imagine that Microsoft does it. The car companies will then have to choose to license the tech or die. Ditto for the service station industry. And Microsoft wins. The Earth wins. Everyone wins, except the sheiks.

    Electric power can’t be adequately generated with pie-in-the-sky tree-hugger tech. Windmills blight the landscape. Solar doesn’t fscking work, so give it a rest. Dams ruin the environment and cause all kinds of unintended results. Nuclear creates poison that will outlast us all. So, get real. I work in the alternative energy industry.

    We need hydrogen fuel cell technology. Microsoft has the means to do it. Governments won’t. Car companies will eventually, but only multiple decades from now after the oil runs out or gets too expensive and the environment is really fouled beyond recognition.

  6. I see Redmont has great expertise with in all these years. Can’t see anyone having done that year after year consistently bringing the practice to levels never achieved before.

    All they have done show it, the main characteristic of all their *innovations* and *new standard* or *bespoke approach* just scream the truth in the face of everyone. Hardly anyone can deny that.

    Collectively, Redmont unsurpassed experience in this unrivaled skill they have, their products, their practices just ask for it:

    Microsoft has to get into VACUUM CLEANERS.

    They SUCKS. Their products SUCKS, their attitude SUCKS, their arrogance in forcing customers into update scams subscriptions SUCKS, the way they squashed with monopolistic behavior companies having better products but less cash SUCKS, the way they keep their API obscure making better third party products suffer the comparison to crappy Microsoft bad copies with less functionality SUCKS.

    They could make great vacuum cleaners with great suction power.

    Too bad they’ll try to make it Microsoft way: they’ll suck too, but will be bad for vacuum cleaners.

  7. Read the full article, it is wonderful.

    This blog is just another attempt of MDN to take a few paragraphs out of context and use them to bash Microsoft. MDM is all too frequently just pathetic. They could have done so much more by pointing out the good in Cringely’s article.

    I have little use for Microsoft as we have 6 Macs for 3 people in my household and I love them and Mac OSx. I just find MDM’s continuous harang of Microsoft, too over the top.

    I did find Harry’s “Forget hydrogen – Ballmer’s hot air could fuel a million cars!”, hilarious.

  8. artpease,

    If you really did read the full article, you’d know that MDN most certainly did not “take a few paragraphs out of context and use them to bash Microsoft.”

    Cringely covered two totally unique and separate ideas in the one article. I believe that MDN chose the one most interesting to the majority of their readers.

    MDN also pointed out that “Net Neutrality” was also discussed as they linked to the full article.

    Microsoft sucks at creating unique software that works for people. If you don’t believe that, you’ve never used a Mac.

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