Microsoft has become something of an irrelevance - Wiki Commons - picture courtesy of www.sproutesource.org

A spirit of innovation is generally the result of a selfish temper and confined views. People will not look forward to posterity, who never look backward to their ancestors - Edmund Burke

By formally launching Office 365 – we call it Cloud 365, Microsoft has underlined just how irrelevant it is becoming to computing in the 21st century.

Most of its efforts smack of desperation and it looks like it is just reacting to others’ successes.  But then there’s a history of this.

Very few Microsoft ideas were, after all, original ideas.

It’s not just that Microsoft backed the wrong horse by ignoring the rise of the internet for two years in the 1990s.  

The number of ways in which it followed rather than led are legion.  Lotus 1-2-3 and before that Visicalc, pioneered the spreadsheet, perhaps one of the most useful software tools for businesses there were.

Microsoft Word, before it introduced a Windows version, was a klunky thing that was virtually unusable. Most businesses preferred the rather horrendous Wordperfect.  In the database market, dBase led the pack for the PC until Ashton-Tate screwed up totally on dBase III.  Other software, such as Borland’s Paradox were fine pieces of software.

And even Windows was an afterthought for Microsoft. The GUI pioneered by Xerox was the model for basically every GUI – and it wasn’t until 1983 or so that Microsoft launched a GUI.  GEM was way ahead of it.  DOS was a pile of TOSS.  

It cooperated with IBM to create OS/2 Presentation Manager. Then Big Blue performed a big screw up, allowing Microsoft to create a better type of Windows, even though it wasn’t a very good Windows at all until DEC’s Dave Cutler finally transformed it into a real OS with Windows 2000.

Where Microsoft showed great mastery in the 1990s was its ability to outwit its competitors on the office software front; to tie its partners and resellers in knots by forcing deals on them and to leverage the dominance of the PC with Windows.

And now it’s on the run and is looking desperately jaded. Google came from nowhere. Facebook came from nowhere. Twitter came from nowhere. Now people don’t even need its pesky operating system on tablets – the tablets running Windows that we saw at Computex were simply not a patch on Apple’s iPad.  Some of my colleagues caution me that Windows 8 for Mobile that it demoed at Computex really looks very good indeed.  But writing it for ARM processors is also a clear sign of desperation.

The truth is that Microsoft was never very good at the word it uses all the time – innovation.  It’s not good at new things. It’s good, or rather it was good, at stitching up its competitors and tying up markets.  Convergence is finally, or nearly finally here and Microsoft has a mere toehold in the mobile space, despite spending countless of hundreds of millions of dollars on mobile.  Handset makers love Android and ARM because they’re not tied into the same Wintel bandwagon as the PC makers. 

Heck you can't dismiss a company the size and with the profitability of the Vole. But it is legitimate to ask what it's next bright idea will be....