Microsoft: Through the years

This is a company that has failed as much times it has succeeded. Over the decade, it made some good choices and many bad choices. It had always played the role of a follower than an innovator. But it is in the DNA of this company that once it has followed others with so much passion and an unbelievable drive, it eventually becomes a leader.

Let me start with saying that I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with Microsoft and it’s Windows OS. From time immemorial, I have used both the Macintosh and Windows platforms alternatively. I remember starting my computing voyages with Macintosh, but it was during the beginning of 90s and as Mac was slowly becoming irrelevant with crass programs and hardware, I began using Microsoft Windows. I started with Windows 3.1. I loved everything about it then and was hooked from the word go. It dint have a start button and it had minimum programs. It was this minimalism that made this system really memorable.

Personal computing changed with Windows 95. It was an awesome computing leap. Even today I still get goosebumps of fond ‘nerd’ nostalgia when I speak about Win95. Everything about it was outstanding. It brought the now famous Start button and all the programs loaded smoothly. With Microsoft Office, it was a productivity nirvana. Microsoft followed it up with Windows 98, another blockbuster of a software OS. To me it was also the beginning of the internet age with the freaking awesome but ill fated Netscape browser. Slowly but steadily, Microsoft attained the ultimate monopoly with almost all the computers in the modern world at that time with its services.
Then Microsoft just became greedy. Innovation was sacrificed in the altar of economics. Multiple versions of Windows started creeping in with Windows NT, 2000, ME etc., all of which were just mere cosmetic updates. One lousy product after another, the monopoly behemoth began to be hated by one and all.
Microsoft dint just give up. They came out with Microsoft XP which became the gold standard but by that time people were beginning to show signs of fatigue. An old foe, Apple just reemerged in the horizon. They started challenging the status quo with some of the most dauntingly beautiful marriage of both hardware and software. Things were just beginning to get interesting.
Then something happened. Microsoft began a series of massive mishaps. The much publicized Windows Vista became a huge resounding flop. By that time the customers were beginning to get tired of Microsoft’s ‘old wine in a new bottle’ strategy. Apple became aggressive with some excellent hardware, software and also commencing the transition to a post PC era with iPods. Google that started off as a mere search engine began a quest to harness all the available knowledge and information in the world and repackage them as services for many of their web offerings. Even though Microsoft ruled the web with the gateway of choice-Internet Explorer, the email of choice- Hotmail, the web service of choice-MSN and the chat client of choice-MSN Messenger, Google began successfully challenging and making it irrelevant in almost all sectors where it had a monopoly.
With the post PC era fully on, Apple started an unassailable onslaught of hits with iPods, iPhones and iPads. Google began its successful onslaught with Chrome browser (later a cloud OS) and Android. Microsoft started burning itself with Zunes (it’s extremely unlucky iPod challenger) and Kin (it’s delayed and much hated iPhone challenger that it shutdown within a week). It’s buggy Windows Phone OS 3.5 was virtually decimated by the iPhone despite the fact that it had a head-start much earlier in the smartphone category
Due to its successful placement in almost all of the computers in the world, Microsoft still made tons and tons of money. It owned such a good deal of patents in mobile technology, that it even, to this day, makes money from Android phones! But the warning signs were beginning to show as Apple surged ahead to become the most valuable computing company in the world.
Microsoft then began a much delayed but a calculated response to this onslaught with Windows 8 platform and a radical new interface. With Windows Phone 8 and deft partnership with Nokia it began challenging iPhones and Android. It started challenging the web hegemony of Google with bing, Skype and Onedrive services. It began manufacturing it’s own hardware with Xbox and the Surface. It underwent a major restructuring, yanked out dominating yet powerful leaders who owned fiefdoms in the company including its CEO. Slowly and steadily it transitioned into a devices & services company.
The future of Microsoft from now on will be very interesting to industry pundits and observers all over the world. It is a mammoth company with a huge stake in the personal computing interests of the world today. It has massive cash reserves unlike any company in the world. It has the talent (remember Microsoft Certified Software Professional and how arduous it was), it has the best productivity suite ever developed by man (Microsoft Office), it has the most advanced cloud service (Azure) etc.
Even though being an Apple fanboy, I have to admit I’ve equally loved Microsoft for all it’s imperfectness. I had a Zune player which I still use till date and I still feel was reasonably good. I once owned a Nokia Lumia, which I felt was an elegant but incomplete piece of software with huge potential. I had to return it quickly as it had poor and meagre number of apps. This year I purchased and returned a Surface which was buggy as hell, but was again an incomplete yet fascinating piece of hardware.
All these experiences prove one thing. This is an incredibly amazing company which has lots of potential. Yet it still struggles to release ‘that perfect product’. When Zune was released, it never had an iTunes-type store. When Windows 8  was released, it never had apps. When Xbox was released, Microsoft made some compromises that would enable it to beat Sony for the holiday season, which it did at the cost of quality.
But still I feel this company has an insane drive to succeed. The new Microsoft Surface Pro 3 hardwares especially the spin off projects like Remix etc., look really promising, the Xbox One really exciting and the beautiful integration of Bing, Office 2013 , OneDrive and Skype integration on Microsoft Windows 8.1 absolutely exhilarating. There is no single software UI out there currently that can pull this off in desktop, tablet and phones simultaneously.
This is a company that has failed as much times it has succeeded. Over the decade, it made some good choices and many bad choices. It had always played the role of a follower than an innovator. But it is in the DNA of this company that once it has followed others with so much passion and an unbelievable drive, it eventually becomes a leader.
Image Courtesy: http://www.xgn.nl/images/articles/original/2012/40270-microsoft-legt-patent-op-draagbare-controllers.jpg

Chrome OS: The Future

The world of technology is changing very rapidly. Due to the stupendous success in miniaturisation of integrated circuits (IC), the computing devices are getting smaller and smaller in size. Add to that the immense potential of cloud computing, you have modern devices with a physical hardware. software user interface and all the services stored far away in what is called the computing ‘cloud’. The sudden explosion in the use of portable handheld devices of these days is mainly due to these developments. Into a world filled with PCs. Macs, iPhones and iPads, a small but simple innovation is slowly making waves. Enter: Chrome OS.

During the years of my undergrad education, Google was the main goto place for all things information. I still remember with pride the days when rumors of Gmail first surfaced and how it was an invitation-only service. When I first got my Gmail invite, I was overjoyed to setup an account and could see the potential in this different take of email by Google. Without any delay, services were added on top the platform beginning with Google Talk, Orkut then slowly Google Docs & spreadsheets, Google Labs, Google Wave etc. These developments were contrary to the rumors that surfaced in those days regarding the emergence of a Google OS which was spoken of, and yearned for in high regard.

Those were the days of an over bloated Microsoft and its Windows platform which dominated the entire computing world. How much I hated that ecosystem in those days is beyond words. It was so prone to virus and malware attacks that there a system formatting at least once in 6 months. Add to that the ugly Internet Explorer which couldn’t even be deleted from the system and the notorious blue screen of death. Even though Mozilla Firefox came as a redemption, it couldn’t successfully dislodge the notorious Internet Explorer.

Enter Chrome browser, Google’s bastardised version of the Firefox browser. It became so popular quickly due to its many quirky features. It was well received. But the users were still waiting for the OS messiah that would rescue them from the evil clutches of the evil, fat and stubborn Microsoft Windows.

Apple came into the scene with the OSX platform for their iMacs and Macbooks. The success of these devices were limited by their lack of availability elsewhere in the world apart from North America and Europe and add to it the exorbitant costs with owning a Mac. The Mac vs. PC campaigns of those days did dent Microsoft’s reputation and they resorted to copying many of the features in OSX which made its way to the much reviled Windows Vista and later the respected Windows 7. Apple quickly moved to aggravate the demise of the PC era by concentrating on iPods, iPhones and iPads which quickly became mainstream and popular.

Google after accumulating all the information in the world, quickly realised that the future was in cloud computing. They aggressively developed the Chrome browser and its capabilities in addition to providing value added services in productivity, leisure, entertainment etc. by developing webapps for the purpose. Due to the inherent power of cloud computing it was simply easy to accelerate the progression to a hardware-free and software-based solution to today’s computing needs. Partnering with all the industry leaders, they developed Chromebooks which were dirt cheap and a better alternative to the extinct netbooks.

Due to the rapid development in Internet connectivity in schools, these Chromebooks were quickly introduced there. Especially in North America, they became quickly popular. This success was bolstered by the power to communicate through Google Hangouts, productively collaborate through Google Drive, access to the world’s information by Google search, entertainment and knowledge by Youtube etc. The potential of this OS is breathless, especially in the field of education. Add to that these devices are so dirt cheap, the OS is hardware independent and updated constantly; all that one needs is a Google account and he/she can access his/her work/data anywhere on any device with access to an Internet connection. Since the OS is device independent, there is no question of virus or malware attacks of any kind.

This to me is the power of modern computing.  The ability to transcend all the barriers that prevent effective generation of content using modern computing tools is highly necessary. Chrome OS has been highly successful in enabling the users with these abilities. If any of you haven’t these tools today, please do so immediately so that your content is available for consumption by the world.

This article is in no way endorsed by Google and the views are entirely of the author only.