Beginning of the end of Microsoft dominance?

Friday, September 23 2005 @ 10:10 MDT

Contributed by: evilscientist

Microsoft has been a huge influence in the computer world for the past 20 years or so. They have a near monopoly on the home computer market in terms of operating systems as well as in office applications such as word processors. So why the title of this article? Well the state of Massachusetts has just announced that all documents that the state government will use must be in an open standard. So what's the problem for Microsoft? None of their file formats qualify as an open standard.

This is an important step for the state of Massachusetts. This means that unless Microsoft starts supporting an open standard, it won't be selling any more office software to the state of Massachusetts. Now this isn't a huge blow to Microsoft, after all sales to the state of Massachusetts probably don't account for a significant percentage of the software giant's sales. What it does do to Microsoft is show the world that they can get by without Microsoft software.

It comes down to the fact that where Microsoft currently is in it's life as a computer business is exactly where IBM was back in the 60's and 70's. IBM had a near monopoly on computers back then. Then something happened, the microcomputer came around. once that happened IBM's grip on the marketplace slipped and they became just another computer company. IBM is still around because they learned, the hard way, to adapt to the new environment. IBM survived, but not nearly as the monopoly it was.

Microsoft is facing the same problem now, only the technology change is in the way software is being developed. The emergence of open source software as stable enough to run almost anything is a huge threat to Microsoft. It has started small, but it is affecting Microsoft's growth. In the web server market, the open source program Apache running nearly 70% of the web's sites as opposed to only 20% of sites running Microsoft's IIS. When companies started to switch from expensive UNIX systems in the server room, they have began to switch to Linux and not Windows, a further blow to Microsoft. Microsoft is losing the battle for the server room.

This leaves the desktop as only place that Microsoft still dominates. In terms of operating system, it will continue to do so for some time as Linux still has some way to go to be easy for all people to use (for the record, the server this blog is on, my notebook and my desktop all use Linux). This doesn't mean that Microsoft won't face competition though, as open source software is being developed for both the Windows and Linux platforms, not to mention Apple's OS-X. This allows for greater interoperability between all platforms, a goal that the state of Massachusetts is working towards. It is also something Microsoft is desperately trying to stop. Any interoperability between software prevents people from being locked into Microsoft's lucrative Office suite. Once people find they don't have to spend $500 every couple of years to keep being able to read Word documents, because there's no need to use the MS Word .doc format, Microsoft will start to feel the pinch.

Does this mean I think Microsoft is doomed? Much as I'd like to see that, no it doesn't. What it does mean is that Microsoft is destined to become another IBM. A company that once dominated the industry but because they refused to change their business model, a slow decline into becoming just another computer software company. It can't happen fast enough.

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