I was catching up on my Daring Fireball
feed today and saw that John
Gruber had put together a
longer post on Microsoft’s earnings
It’s a worthwhile read, and I think that Gruber is correct in suggesting
that Microsoft has begun a very difficult time and is going to be there
for a while.
Today that is simply no longer the case. Microsoft has lost all but a
sliver of this entire market. People who love computers overwhelmingly
prefer to use a Mac today. Microsoft’s core problem is that they
have lost the hearts of computer enthusiasts. (Emphasis mine)
Regular people don’t think about their choice of computer platform in
detail and with passion like nerds do because, duh, they are not
nerds. But nerds are leading indicators.
Now, let me be particularly cautious here. This is combustible territory
I realize. A couple of months ago I was asked by a couple of people for
my opinion of what Microsoft should do to change direction. After
considering it for a while I came up with a simple two step plan that
would make me think that something big had happened at Microsoft.
Neither of these two steps I’m going to suggest are things that average
consumers would notice, or even really care about. My point, agreeing
with Gruber, is to do something that will get the nerds to take notice.
However, before proceeding, let me come clean that I have been a huge
Microsoft advocate. MarketWatch.com is
one of the largest financial websites on the Internet, and is entirely
built on Windows technology. I’ve advocated with people the benefits of
Windows development environments. I’ve even been quoted in Microsoft
With all that said, I can’t imagine using Windows in a new company, and
I haven’t seen an early stage company using Windows for years now.
Unix Has Won
My first suggestion for Microsoft is to wave the white flag on the NT
it. Dump it and replace it with a Linux,
Mach or other Unix-type
kernel. I’m not going to get into arguments about the benefits of the NT
kernel and its VMS lineage. This
isn’t a point of
models or memory
management. My point is
both a technical and cultural one. It seems unnecessary to continue to
shoulder the burden of the NT kernel. Move to an
open-source Linux kernel and
stop carrying all the water yourself.
What happens with Windows? Not much for the user. Microsoft should do
what Apple did when it made Mac OS X. Wholesale change the kernel but
keep the user experience pretty much the same. The engine is new and
different, but users don’t need to know that. Meanwhile, the nerds of
the world can enjoy a native shell with the thousands of Unix
executables available native on the platform.
If you’re saying to yourself “Jamie, the kernel is not Microsoft’s
problem!” you are likely right. I’m not suggesting that blue screens of
death are regular
and that the kernel is broken. I’m suggesting that Microsoft needs to
adopt a new culture, a new perspective on software. They need to force
themselves onto a new path that acknowledges what has happened in the
open-source world for the last 20 years. Adopting an open-source Unix
style kernel would send a very clear, and very loud message that things
have changed. That the future is going to be different. A new path is
Stop Fighting the Web Browsers
My second suggestion rings similar to the first, but is in a different
area. I’m not going to suggest that Microsoft should abandon Internet
Explorer. They can and should do what they can to make a great browser
that works amazingly in Windows. Internet Explorer should be that.
However, they should immediately ditch the rendering engine in IE and
move to one of the open-source ones. WebKit,
Gecko, anything other than
The nerds of the world, the ones that build the websites that everyone
uses, know intimately how bad Internet
is. At this point, IE’s lack of compliance and its adoption of web
standards is so poor that I would argue they are impeding the progress
of the web. Ask any web developer and they will tell you how they could
make amazingly better sites if only they could rely on the major
browsers to behave well. By and large
Chrome (WebKit) all do. Even
Internet Explorer? No way. Microsoft has created a problem for everyone
else, and they need to fix it.
Again, changing the rendering engine won’t be noticeable to most people
(although when sites work better and load faster they will notice that).
This is another move that would signal to the leading part of the
technology market, that Microsoft “gets it”. That they have woken from a
long slumber and are going to do it right now.
Two Steps, That’s it…
With those two moves Microsoft could wake me up, and I think a lot of
other people too. They would embrace the open-source movement. They
would stop positioning themselves as them against everyone else in the
entire world. And, on top of it they could save money by owning the
maintenance of less software, and they would have products that worked
Of course, I doubt these things would ever happen. But then again, I
also didn’t think Macs would ever have 2-button
mice or use Intel chips, and that
all came true. Microsoft isn’t a bad company, and they aren’t going
away. But they do need to recapture the hearts of people who are
passionate about this stuff. This is my recommendation for how they can
Apple’s Two Steps
Friends that have known me for a very long time know that I used to be a
Mac guy for many years, and I gave up on Apple completely. I was a Mac
user on System
System 6 and System
7. I really loved my Macs. But,
I bid the platform farewell after experiencing one too many operating
system failures. I never looked back and used Windows NT and it’s
follow-on versions for a many, many years.
A couple of years ago I converted every computer in the house back to
Macs and that is pretty much all I use now. What made me come back? Two
First, Apple bought NeXT computer
and adopted it’s Mach-based kernel and underlying operating system. They
didn’t change the user experience in a major way, but underneath it was
all different. A real operating system, that didn’t crash.
The second change was to abandon the Motorola
PowerPC processor. Intel was
clearly the way to go, but it seemed unlikely that they ever would.
I bought my first Mac again
when Mac OS X 10.3 was out. It was still on the Motorola chip, but I
took a flyer. Shortly thereafter they moved to Intel chip and I’ve not
My point in telling this is to highlight how, for me at least, these two
changes made all the difference in the world. Perhaps the two changes
I’ve outlined above could do the same for Microsoft.