Microsoft lived through one of the most innovative times and was positioned better than many other companies to capture market opportunities. However, it still missed on markets such as: tablets, e-readers, smartphones, consumer stores, cloud computing, social networking and mobile music.
Microsoft tried unsuccessfully to capture some of the markets listed above. For example: They went into search with Bing, but they lost to Google. Another example, they released Windows Vista, five years after XP which is longest time between releases. And yet, it was one of the worst product releases. This hurt their credibility because Windows and Office are the core of Microsoft’s products.
What innovative products did Microsoft release since Bill Gates stepped aside as the CEO? Microsoft basically is the same company since 2000, its core products are Windows and Office dedicated for PC. Today PCs are losing to tablets and smartphones, which decreases Microsoft’s power in the market. Also, we have a trend where businesses are switching to easy to operate and cheap (or free) software, which also makes Microsoft less relevant in the market.
Leaving aside the product side, if we measure a company by its equity returns then Microsoft does not look good either. In its peak, in 2000, Microsoft was worth $642 billion, today its worth is $290 billion. Microsoft still has a lot of cash, around $90 billion. If you ask yourself “How did they manage to make that much cash in the last decade?”. The answer is it was by monopoly in the PC business, their cash generator.
Microsoft’s latest efforts to move to mobile and cloud might be too late. In 2014, new CEO, Satya Nadella introduced a new vision. Nadella said that he is looking to pivot Microsoft from “devices and services focus” to a “productivity and platform strategy”. Following this new strategy, Microsoft introduced initiatives that positioned them better in the mobile and cloud-centric reality. They accepted the fact that they were late in the mobile space and decided to capture the market by providing excellent services on any platform (including competing ones). They should have moved from PC-centric business to mobile three years ago. But they did not, and today it might be too late, because Google and Apple already captured many of the customers.
Some might argue that the launch of Windows 10 gives a positive note, because Microsoft listened to its users and went the extra mile to innovate and present new features, and they also offer it for free. However I think Microsoft won’t be able to capture the market because it will take time until businesses switch to Windows 10. Only after a large number of installations would developers be motivated to develop applications for Windows devices. And in the absence of anything very different compared to Google and Apple, Windows’ devices will be sold in single digits in the next several years.
Nadella is pointing Microsoft in the right direction by focusing on cloud computing and mobile devices. His vision is to replace smartphones with Windows 10 and unify the user experience and he is promising a lot of upgrades and features in the future. However, the questions are: Will users wait? And would it be worthwhile?