Microsoft’s history of copying the success of others, or at least trying to

Mon, Jul 27, 2009


Maybe the apocalypse is upon us, but I actually agree with something written by John Dvorak.  Focusing on Microsoft’s planned entry into retail to challenge Apple, or at least mimic it’s success, Dvorak’s latest article lays out an exhaustive list of examples which illustrate Microsoft’s habit of latching onto and copying profitable ventures in an attempt to hop on the bandwagon and make a quick buck.  Not surprisingly, every time Microsoft strays from its core competency, software, it ends up running back to Redmond with its tail between its legs.

  • Years ago in the pre-Internet era, AOL was the talk of the town, so Microsoft had to copy it with MSN. No money was made; no strategic advantage was gained.
  • Netscape was the rage for a while, so Microsoft threw together a browser and got in that business. The browser was given away for free. No money was made; the strategy got the company in trouble with government trustbusters.
  • During the early days of the Internet, new online publications appeared. Microsoft decided to become a publisher too, rolling out a slew of online properties including a computer magazine and a women’s magazine. They were all folded.
  • Computer books became popular; Microsoft began Microsoft Press. After an early splash and success, the company soon lost interest and the division now languishes.
  • Teddy Ruxpin became a hot toy. Microsoft rolled out a couple of robotic plush toys, including the creepy Barney the Dinosaur who sang “I love you and you love me.” The company soon lost interest and dropped the whole thing.
  • AOL-TV appeared, along with other device-centric TV-delivery mechanisms in the 1990s. Microsoft created a Microsoft-TV division as well as a device. It soon lost interest.
  • Adobe Photoshop became a huge success, so Microsoft hired Alvy Ray Smith to develop photo-editing software. Smith quit when the company lost interest in the idea.
  • Yahoo and Google showed that a search engine could be a money maker, so Microsoft copied that idea; it now has Bing.
  • Cloud applications are currently trendy, along with notions about software as a service. Microsoft decides to go into that business.
  • The Apple rolled out a MP3 player, the iPod. Microsoft came up with its own MP3 player, the Zune. The company also says it wants to stream music.

This is a company that began making development tools for programmers, beginning with a programming language. Does anyone see a pattern here?

I could go on with home-automation initiatives, phone operating systems, pen computers (two shots at that market), page-layout programs, Web-design tools and on and on — all shiny objects for a company that doesn’t want to actually fill a need, but jump from one idea to the next.


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