From Microsoft Monolith to Monopoly to Monocellular - as in Brand

Douglas Just two weeks ago when Microsoft's brand had at least some value, the company launched its renewed efforts into mobile computing, namely Windows Mobile 7. No - wait, I think it's just Windows Phone 7. Microsoft dropped "Mobile" in more ways than one, though I'm sure the irony is lost on them. I don't know, I could Google it and find out that it's called plain old Windows Phone, but it just doesn't matter that much. It doesn't matter at all. Even if Microsoft did everything it said it could do and more, it might have been big if it were launched in 2003.

Back then I was a Windows Mobile user or whatever it was called. I'm pretty sure it was a PocketPC. A year or so later I paid $800 for a gigantic Samsung i730 because measurement of your phone's power was its  size. I think Microsoft even made special pants in which to carry the phone.

It was a great phone, but it had an issue. It rebooted during every third call. It was the smartest of the smart phones though and I at the time made what appears to be the dumbest of decisions to stick with it.

The reasons for my apparent stupidity were pretty clear. I wanted a smart phone and I was willing to risk it. Microsoft had a great brand. The phone had Outlook installed and our company used Outlook. I thought for sure that the tie in with Outlook and the smart phone would be pretty tight. I was wrong. I also thought that the tie in between Office applications and the Windows device were going to be tight.

We still see these attempted ties of what Microsoft envisions as the future to its past glory. But that's just what it is - past glory.

As I was proving to myself that the company was failing in its mobile strategy. I realized it even before then intuitively. When I was at PC Week (or maybe it was eWEEK then), our team along with our Corporate Partner advisory board met with Microsoft and got a full day of its mobile strategy. The executives there turned deaf ears on us. They refused to listen. They actually got mad at our suggestions. We weren't just journalists - these were CIOs and IT decision makers - the ones who would be buying the devices. But Microsoft kept prancing around its Powerpoint and said it knew what it was doing.

It had good reason then. It had the dominant marketshare and more importantly a dominant brand.

But that's history. Really distant history, because now that Microsoft is going mobile it is making the same mistakes. It cleaned up its interface, it rewrote its operating system, and still somehow left out copy and paste, which has been in DOS since 1990 I believe.

Microsoft has lost because its brand has been destroyed - not with a cataclysmic event, although the launch of the iPhone certainly was seismic. It has been destroyed because of a dependency on its revenue base, aka Windows. So when Microsoft launches the Windows Phone 7, it probably will get a bunch of things right. The phone probably won't reboot in the middle of calls. The Office integration probably will work better.

Still - when I dapple with two different products from the same company I still see an adherence to an interface that was more or less designed in the age of the WIMP.

But it is over. When you see Ray Ozzie and the genius he had leave the company and the CEO Steve Ballmer barely mention it during a keynote at the Gartner Symposium; when you read between the lines of Ray Ozzie's "internal" departure memo; when I see the lack of developer excitement over mobile; when I see Microsoft boasting of having 18,000 Windows mobile applications and telling Apple to "beat that"; when I see that the new Windows Mobile 7 has a mere 1/18th that number which is 1/1000th of the number of Android applications and 1/3000th the number of iPhone applications;  when I see CNN's report from a staff writer (and therefore with no special agenda) who says that the Microsoft brand is "dying"; when I see a launch of Office and no one seems to care; when I see that in Ozzie's notes from the original Windows design goals was to run as half as fast as Apple's Macintosh. Half as fast!

That means nothing is changing. Microsoft is running half as fast as Apple. Can they ever catch up?

The world has changed at least as much as it did in 1994 when the NSA opened the Internet to the public, I am sure that Microsoft realizes it too. Its relevance is slipping, and it must feel like Burroughs did in the 1960s or like DEC or Cullinet did in the 1980s.

That world is cloud, mobile, and platform. Microsoft has a little bit in each area. But a little bit is merely enough to get you eaten alive. There is an imperative out there. There is a vision for how people will consume data and applications and Microsoft's cash cows while popular are not necessary, especially when you're running half as fast.

They are certainly not as necessary as Microsoft makes them out to be in its Windows Phone ad, which happens to feature a man dropping his device into a urinal only to fetch it out next to a scowling man who says "really?"

That's what I say too: Really? Half as fast.