In the browser wars that began in the 1990s, it took more than a decade for regulators to stop Microsoft exploiting its dominance with users of Windows software. In today’s mobile battles, customers have done so themselves in six months. Microsoft’s rapid retreat over Windows 8 – the latest, mobile-inspired, version of its operating software – shows wise flexibility rather than its traditional obstinacy. But it also demonstrates that Steve Ballmer, the company’s chief executive, has lost the power to “embrace and extend” the Windows hegemony into new fields.
No doubt, if Microsoft reverses course over Windows 8 – for instance, by restoring the familiar “Start” button to the opening screen – it will provide abundant fodder for the writers of business school case studies.
But is the comparison with Coca-Cola’s famous 1985 marketing U-turn, when it brought back “Coke Classic” following a consumer backlash against its “New Coke” recipe, correct? Read more
Microsoft has been fined by the European Commission. Getty Images
Jaron Lanier is a “partner architect” at Microsoft but he doesn’t speak for the software company. As the scientist, composer and author explained to an audience at The Economist’s Technology Frontiers conference on Tuesday, what he says “probably horrifies any number of individuals within the company”.
Even so, in retrospect, it his hard not to read some of his remarks differently, in the light of the European Commission’s €561m fine for Microsoft, confirmed on Wednesday, for breaching a high-profile competition agreement with the European Union. Read more
Microsoft's Steven Sinofsky introduces a new tablet computer. Image by Getty
The unexpected departure of Steven Sinofsky as head of Microsoft’s giant Windows division has some inescapable similarities to that of Scott Forstall, who ran Apple’s mobile software. Read more
Here’s a quiz: which large US corporation calls itself a “devices and services” company?
b) General Electric
d) Microsoft Read more
Microsoft’s launch of the Surface, its belated rival to Apple’s iPad, brought an interesting declaration from Steve Ballmer, its chief executive, as reported by the FT:
“We believe that any intersection between human and machine can be made better when all aspects of the experience – hardware and software – are working together,” said Mr Ballmer. Read more
Sarah Gordon points out that Nokia and Sony have a set of problems that undermined their capacity for innovation. But they are far from alone in being victims of Apple’s success.
In fact, the list of Apple victims is long and stretches across the media and technology. Since Steve Jobs unveiled iTunes and the iPod in 2001, starting Apple’s decade long rise to dominance in consumer technology and electronics, his company has left many of its competitors wounded. Read more
Google’s stance against the European Commission on the subject of privacy – rolling out its new policy for sharing personal data among its sites despite warnings that it may breach European law – strikes me as foolhardy.
US companies that get into a tangle with the EU, often egged on by US supporters who believe that European regulators are over-reaching their powers, tend to come off worse from the struggle. The prime example was Microsoft in its anti-trust battle during the mid-2000s.
The pattern is in danger of being repeated, with supporters of internet freedoms such as Jeff Jarvis of City University of New York criticising the EU action and arguing that it is part of a pattern of government attempts at misguided regulation. Read more