In a sudden, surprising retreat, Microsoft announced the closing of all 83 retail stores, on June 26, 2020. Yes, it’s reasonable to wonder if SARS-CoV-2 (severe acute respiratory syndrome Coronavirus 2)/COVID-19 lockdowns played part in the decision. During normal times, the location at Fashion Valley Mall was never as busy as Apple Store, but the shop served vital brand, sales, and services roles. I am disappointed to see Microsoft Store gone.
While rummaging around for one of our daughter’s old drawings, my wife pulled out my press pass issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit 20 years ago. At the time, Microsoft sought to overturn, or at least diminish, its adverse antitrust ruling and recommended remedy that would break the company into separate applications and operating systems companies. The U.S. Justice Department and 20 states attorneys general filed the initial case in May 1998. One state dropped out almost immediately. If I rightly recall, only 18 states remained by mid-2001.
I was a staff writer for CNET News.com and remember the court case well. My reporting got lots of attention, particularly analyses of the case and where it would lead—such as prediction that the appeals court would remove the trial judge; it did and upheld eight antitrust offenses. I am unable to find the news piece online because CNET removed the byline from all my stories—presumably purged in a content management system upgrade five years (or so) ago. Even more disturbing: The stories I have found universally have the wrong datelines. For example, my report “New judge assigned in Microsoft trial” has a publication date of July 20, 2002 but should be Aug. 24, 2001. Ugh.
For the first time in a half-decade, I watched a Microsoft Build keynote this morning. Time gives fresh perspective, looking at where the company was compared to where it is today. Listening to CEO Satya Nadella and other Softies, I repeatedly found myself reminded of Isaac Asimov’s three laws or Robotics and how they might realistically be applied in the 21st Century. The rules, whether wise or not, set to ensure that humans could safely interact with complex, thinking machines. In Asimov’s science fiction stories, the laws were core components of the automaton’s brain—baked in, so to speak, and thus inviolable. They were there by design; foundationally.
Behind all product design, there are principles. During the Steve Jobs era, simplicity was among Apple’s main design ethics. As today’s developer conference keynote reminds, Microsoft embraces something broader—design ethics that harken back to the company’s founding objectives and others that share similar purpose as the robotic laws. On the latter point, Nadella repeatedly spoke about “trust” and “collective responsibility”. These are fundamental principles of design, particularly as Artificial Intelligence usage expands and more corporate developers depend on cloud computing platforms like Azure.
In May 2010, I wrote about Apple’s market cap passing top-valued Microsoft; it’s only fitting to follow up with an analysis about the unbelievable turnabout that, like the first, marks a changing of technological vanguards. Briefly today, the software and services giant nudged past the stock market’s fruit-logo darling. A few minutes after 1 p.m. EST, the pair’s respective market caps hovered in the $812 billion range, with Microsoft cresting Apple by about $300 million. By the stock market close, a rally for Apple put distance from its rival: $828.64 billion to $817.29 billion, respectively (Bloomberg says $822.9 billion, BTW). Consider this: As recently as October, Apple’s valuation touched $1.1 trillion. But since the company announced arguably record fiscal fourth-quarter earnings on November 1st, investors have punished shares, which currently are down about 21 percent.
Apple has long been a perception stock, even when under the tutelage of CEO Tim Cook company fundamentals deserved recognition. But perhaps Wall Street finally realizes the problem of iPhone accounting for too much of total revenues at a time when smartphone saturation saps sales and Apple pushes up selling prices to retain margins. More significantly: Apple has adopted a policy of fiscal corporate secrecy by stepping away from a longstanding accounting metric. I started writing news stories about the fruit-logo company in late 1999. Every earnings report, Apple disclosed number of units shipped for products contributing significantly to the bottom line. No more. Given current market dynamics, everyone should ask: What is Cook and his leadership team trying to hide?
Microsoft and Apple underestimate how quickly Google is consolidating its mobile platform—clearly so do geeks reviewing Nexus One. Google isn’t just going for one piece of mobility but the whole shebang. Google is putting together the pieces to offer a single mobile lifestyle, with no PC required, supported by search and other Google informational services. Like everything else the company does, free is the glue sticking everything together.
Google’s decision to sell Nexus One direct, even the carrier subsidized model, is part of the strategy. Open-source licensing has its limitations and risks fragmenting Android. As I explained in March 2009 post “There’s an App for That,” Apple changed the rules for mobile operating systems by breaking carrier control over updates. Apple distributes iPhone OS updates, preventing the kind of fragmentation typically caused by carrier distribution. By selling a handset direct, Google takes control of Android updates for a flagship phone that also acts like a baseline design model for handset manufacturers licensing the mobile operating system.
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rTbAvVYk9d0] That’s the question Todd Bishop (accompanied by John Cook) asked people on the streets of Seattle about six months ago. No one seemed to know what was Microsoft’s search engine (At that […]
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lkwh4ZaxHIA] Advertising Age asks: “What’s more popular than ‘Roller Babies’. The world’s largest Slip ‘n Slide. Microsoft’s ‘Megawoosh’ campaign has successfully displaced Evian at the top of the Viral Video Chart, with almost […]
Four days ago, the mailman delivered the April Wired, which has a great story on Microsoft’s Channel 9. I have closely watched the Channel 9 blogsite since its launch in April 2004. I blogged back then about what I expected: “Channel 9 is a brilliant marketing concept. Marketing is the key descriptor. The site is run by people paid to evangelize Microsoft products. Their job is to win over developers to Microsoft products”.
I also worried that Microsoft would use Channel 9 to replace journalists: “Company-controlled blogsites could be given first—or only—access to key product managers or executives; the insiders’ view, just like the Channel 9 positioning, but in reality managed dissemination”.
It’s funny how far the protagonists championing either PCs or Macs will go to push their cause. I moseyed into my local CompUSA on Jan. 19, 2003, where I found two ViewSonic representatives showing off Microsoft Windows Powered Smart Displays in the store’s Mac section. As I approached, one of the salesmen lithely snatched two shoppers eyeing an Apple iBook and pitched them on a Smart Display.
I returned later when the salesmen was alone and piped, “Say, you’re going to scare all the Mac customers away.” “That’s the idea,” he shot back. I must have made some kind of brilliant observation, because he gave my daughter a set of promo street style headphones for my troubles. So, now she can wear a Windows logo while plugged into an Apple iPod.
Later in June, lawyers rallying for and against Microsoft will present closing arguments in a proceeding that has the potential to radically change how the technology giant sells software. A federal judge would then deliberate about what sanctions she should impose against Microsoft in an attempt to prevent future anticompetitive business and technological practices that violate U.S. antitrust law.
No matter what she does, nothing will likely undo the stupidity that got Microsoft into trouble in the first place. The company insists it has the right to integrate whatever technology it wants into Windows. That practice led to two trials, one still ongoing after—count `em—four years. But the practice Microsoft fiercely defends—almost as a God granted, religious right—is stupid. Microsoft has been busy integrating technologies into Windows that make no sense being there from a business perspective—and they actually make new PCs harder to sell and use. The right Microsoft defends and the way it has been used is just plan dumb—unless of course the objective is to protect the monopoly and not benefit consumers. That latter point is one reason why this case never seems to end.
I recently nearly canceled my subscription to all my Ziff-Davis publications—and I still may. My disgust with the outrageous favoritism toward Microsoft had been brewing for months. I read news reports and reviews no one short of Microsoft’s flagship PR firm, Waggener Edstrom, could be spinning. Editors, rather than doing their jobs, were printing the gospel according to marketers holed up in a Redmond, Wash. closet.
The final straw was a July PC Computing article titled, “Office 97 vs. The World”. There contributors Leslie Ayers, Peter Deegan, Lee Hudspeth, T.J. Lee, Woody Leonhard, and Eileen Wharmby explained why Microsoft’s newest rendition of its productivity suite replaced virtually all other business programs.