The Microsoft Empire

A follow-up to my Microsoft Meltdown II post wherein I quoted a visitor to Redmond:

“[Microsoft] has degenerated into a series of disconnected fiefdoms that aren’t all moving in the same direction.”

Regarding user interface inconsistency in Windows:

The reason must be that no one in Microsoft actually gives a damn. Each group develops their own UI widgets in their own style and they simply don’t care that it’s a total mess. They don’t care that I have to learn new ways of doing the same task just because they couldn’t be bothered to do things the same way as other applications. I’m not saying, for example, that they shouldn’t have introduced the ribbon concept in Office 2007, because it seems to work pretty well, and I can believe that it really is a better UI model. But they should have taken stock of what they were doing and made it a system-wide UI device. New widgets and UI models do crop up from time to time, but they should be rare, and when they do appear, Microsoft should make them general so that everyone can use them.

Microsoft’s continuous and repetitive reinvention of the wheel again just makes the task for third-party developers that much more unpleasant. Because even when a developer does want to make something that “fits in,” and even when that developer has picked a specific application to fit in with, MS still offers inconsistent choices. Take the Office 2007 ribbon as an example. The ribbon is pretty cool, and it’s obvious that third parties will want to use the ribbon themselves (even if it might not be the best fit for their application, but sadly there’s not much that can be done about that). Unfortunately, the Office 2007 ribbon is part of Office 2007. It’s not a part of Windows, it’s instead built in to Office, and not usable for other software.

Recognizing the gap in functionality here, a third-party developer produced its own ribbon-like object that developers could embed into their programs to gain a ribbon user interface. Microsoft in turn bought the third-party object and is now distributing it to developers using the current version of Visual C++. Oh, yeah—it’s only for C++ developers. No ribbon for .NET developers. So now MS has two ribbons; the Office code and new one it bought in. That’s frustrating enough—it would be better to do the work to put the Office 2007 ribbon into a nice little library so the behavior would be identical—but it’s tolerable.

Here’s the bit that blows the mind: Microsoft is going to develop another ribbon, this time as part of Windows Seven. It won’t be the Office one, and it won’t be the Visual C++ one. It will be a new one. And, oh, this one won’t be .NET either. The confusion of UIs in Windows mirrors the confusion of development within Microsoft.

(bolded emphasis added)

Right now, MS stands on two main monopoly legs: Windows and Office; Server is profitable, but actually faces real competition and so doesn’t show the same extremely high profit margins.  An illustration from the excellent RoughlyDrafted Magazine:

If MS ever faced real desktop and office suite competition, especially in the form of free-cost (e.g. Google and/or software libre), the Microsoft’s Empire, already showing its late-Spanish Empire-like-cracks, would begin to rapidly crumble.

Update: An excerpt Wall Street Journal article (mirrored in full here) found via Groklaw’s News Picks:

there is a fear among shareholders that the Yahoo bid exposed weaknesses in Microsoft’s business model. Its operating margins on desktop software hover around 70%. Companies led by Google are now offering competing, ad-supported applications such as spreadsheets and word-processing — free. The worry is that Microsoft may need to combat these efforts. That’s where Yahoo, which excels in selling online advertising and subscription services, came in. Microsoft’s bid for Yahoo was seen by many as a signal the company recognized its grip on the desktop may be slipping.

(emphasis and link added)


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