Enterprise Software

Should Microsoft make a break with the past and drop legacy support?

Deb Shinder wonders if dropping legacy support and backward compatibility is the way Microsoft could regain momentum in a competitive market. Sound crazy?

Unlike some of my readers, I'm old enough to remember when Bill Gates was the new kid on the block, the young upstart who first partnered with and later challenged stodgy, old IBM's position at the top of the technology heap. Recently I've heard quite a bit of chatter regarding how Microsoft has grown old and cranky itself and is now thought of much as IBM was back in those days: as a lumbering giant whose glory days are behind it.

Microsoft is, as discussed in last week's column, still a highly profitable entity, despite pronouncements by many that the company is failing. It's still making money -- lots of it -- but on Forbes magazine's recently released list of the world's most innovative companies, Microsoft comes in at a not-very-impressive 86, with main competitors Apple and Google making it into the top ten.

Too big to not fail?

Some say the problem with Microsoft is that it's just too big. Once an organism exceeds its maximum optimal size, it inevitably starts to break down. With close to 90,000 employees (compared to almost 50,000 at Apple and fewer than 40,000 at Google), no one can argue that Microsoft isn't a size XL when it comes to head count. On the other hand, stodgy, old IBM would qualify as a XXXL, employing well over 400,000 workers. But what do these figures really mean?

Is slimming down the answer to making Microsoft more successful? Does the company need to get leaner and meaner? In the chart titled "Employees in 2011 vs. 2008" in the linked article it's interesting to note that Microsoft is actually the only company in the list that showed a lower employee head count in 2011 than in 2008 (89,000 vs. 91,000). Indeed, there have been a number of well-publicized layoffs in the last few years, with 5,000 employees getting the axe in 2009 (but at the same time, new positions opened bringing the net change to 2,000-3,000). Even well-known Microsoft "rock stars" such as Steve Riley weren't safe. A smaller number of job cuts were made in July 2010.

Those cuts probably had some positive effect on Microsoft's bottom line, but did they make the company more streamlined or better in any way? And was size really the problem to begin with?

Too old to rock and roll?

I've heard others say that the problem isn't size, but age. According to Microsoft's own web site, more than 43 percent of employees are over 40, with another 41 percent in the 30-39 age bracket. Median age, according to PayScale.com's "Top IT Employers Compared," is 35, only a couple of years older than the median of 33 at Apple (Google's median age is 31 and at Facebook it's only 26). The leaders at Microsoft (CEO Steve Ballmer and Chairman Bill Gates) are in their early to mid-50s. Google's CEO, Larry Page, is a bit younger (38), although Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt was born in 1955 -- the same year as Bill Gates and Steve Jobs.

But maybe it's not about chronological age. Hedge fund manager David Einhorn accused Steve Ballmer of being "stuck in the past" and blamed that for Microsoft's stagnant stock performance. He's not the only one who's questioned whether Microsoft is too old to be innovative. As 2009 came to an end and we entered the new decade, Mary Jo Foley was already wondering whether the 40- and 50-year-old leadership was "too old to keep Microsoft at the cutting edge in our Tweet-happy, Foursquare-obsessed world."

Is a clean break called for?

If the problem is that Microsoft is stuck in the past, the obvious solution would be to make a clean break with that past. But how do you do that? Einhorn and others think the housecleaning should start at the top. Numerous bloggers have called for the resignation or firing of Steve Ballmer. About a year ago, a TechRepublic Windows Blog poll asked whether Microsoft should dump Ballmer, and comments were all over the map. There is obviously a lot of dissatisfaction with (and even vehemence toward) Ballmer out there.

Some have likened Ballmer to John Scully at Apple and have suggested that just as Apple brought back Steve Jobs -- and then skyrocketed from "down and out" to wild success -- Microsoft should bring Bill Gates back to the helm. The idea has merit; it also worked for Dell, when CEO Michael Dell came out of retirement to breathe new life into the company he founded. Whether Bill would even be interested in the job is another question. Others have suggested replacing Ballmer with Mark Zuckerberg or other "young blood."

While a change in top personnel would undoubtedly change the culture and business focus of the company, at least in subtle ways, a real analysis requires looking at what specific actions might need to be taken -- whether by Ballmer or a replacement -- to turn things around and spur Microsoft to grow in the way Apple and Google have been.

I've heard some pretty drastic measures suggested. One was to drop the Windows branding and give the next generation of Microsoft operating systems a new name and a completely rewritten kernel. There was even a rumor floating around last month that this was under consideration. Lance Ulanoff responded in PC Magazine with all the reasons this is highly unlikely.

OK, let's keep the name then, but make some really big changes to the OS. To do that, to get truly innovative, Microsoft just might have to do something that would surely earn them the ire of many of their customers and would definitely constitute "risky business." I'm talking about dropping legacy support and backward compatibility. That's right -- a whole new code base with a whole new file system that won't run your old applications.

Sound crazy? It's essentially what Apple did. They switched from the classic Mac OS that they had been using since the 1980s to the UNIX-based OS X. Early versions included a compatibility layer called the Classic Environment, but they dropped that with OS X v10.5 (Leopard). Intel-based OS X Macs don't support the Classic Environment, and the old apps don't work on them. This freed Apple to create a much more robust and innovative operating system.

My take

Microsoft may have gotten a little long in the tooth after all these years, but companies -- unlike biological organisms -- don't have predetermined life spans. It's possible to make changes that are more than cosmetic and reinvigorate a business entity that seems to be going downhill.

Leadership and vision are important elements, but I'm not sure Steve Ballmer can really be held responsible for Microsoft's loss of its former position at the top of the tech industry charts. I think that's more a matter of Apple's and Google's success than Microsoft's "failure."

There's someone I would fire, though, and that's the company's marketing team. Apple beat Microsoft into submission in large part through a clever advertising campaign. The Mac guy/PC guy commercials, although they eventually deteriorated into mean-spirited manifestos that were, I think, alienating potential customers before they were bagged, started out brilliantly.

Microsoft has had a series of ad campaigns that were just blah at best and downright embarrassing at worst. The Seinfeld commercials were just silly and confusing. The laptop hunter series was mildly interesting but ultimately forgettable. The recent "to the cloud" ads are less than compelling to the average person and highly annoying to techies who know that the features being shown (picture editing with Windows Photo Gallery, copying a recorded TV file from a remote computer to watch locally on Windows Media Center) aren't really about cloud apps at all.

Whether to sacrifice backward compatibility in order to move forward is a tougher question. There would be much weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth if that happened, and Microsoft would likely lose a substantial part of its customer base, as many people would say if their programs won't run on the new version of Windows, they might as well switch to Mac or Linux. However, with virtualization becoming more transparent and easier for "regular folks" to use, that might provide a potential solution (as it has done, to an extent, with XP Mode in Windows 7).

As for dropping the Windows name, that depends. If Microsoft develops a truly different UI that breaks out of the traditional "windows" way of doing things, it might make sense to change the name.

One area in which they could definitely use some improvement is in naming the OS incarnations. Apple has a naming scheme that evokes power, speed and elegance, with the big cats theme. Microsoft has numbers (3.1, 95, 2000, 7), letters with vague or undefined meanings (NT, XP, ME), and one actual name that, although not bad in itself, didn't generate any exciting images in one's mind and is now associated with an OS that's probably considered one of the company's biggest failures (Vista).

How about adopting a new naming theme that's as compelling as Tiger, Leopard, and Lion and can be carried through all the new versions? Maybe look to the periodic table (Titanium, Cobalt, Selenium, and Argon) or to the stars (Andromeda, Centaurus, Gemini, and Mensa). Maybe the latter could be billed as the OS used by really smart people, in response to the recent bogus report that IE users have low IQs.

About

Debra Littlejohn Shinder, MCSE, MVP is a technology consultant, trainer, and writer who has authored a number of books on computer operating systems, networking, and security. Deb is a tech editor, developmental editor, and contributor to over 20 add...

152 comments
Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

Unless you have a very different definition of legacy support to me, Microsoft do not provide it with any of their current software or operating systems. They do supply a very limited support for their previous level of software, but that's it. Hardware, if you have a system that's capable of running Vista or Win 7 and have some older hardware that was released as Windows compatible when first made you wish to run on it, the chances are you'll not find a MS supplied driver for it and it's rare to have a supplier's driver for the latest MS OS available. This is due to MS changing command sets and not making them legacy compatible. Software wise also suffers from the Command set changes and removes most backwards compatibility. Try running Office 97 or Office 2000 on Win 7. I've seen people try it, it doesn't work right. Try opening a Word 6 or Word 2a file in Office 2007 or Office 2010, it get mangled due to the lack of legacy support.

Gisabun
Gisabun

People [plus wankers and others] are moaning and groaning about everything Microsoft does. They moan about no IE9 and other software. They moaned about no direct upograde path from XP to Win7 [I bdidn't care - I do fresh installs anyway]. They will be moaning loudky in 2.5 years when XP support died Microsoft is probably the only company that gives 10 years of support. Apple? I doubt if they give much more than 4. Mozilla [for Firefox]? They already ditched Firefox 4! [Oh reminder: Apple let PowerPC users in the dust and recently you can't install 10.7 on anything less than a dual core.] Unlike Apple users, not everyone can afford to shell out probably $1200 for a Mac [taking a low/mid price range]. So Microsoft allows lengthier support.

pgit
pgit

I deal with a lot of apps that don't work well in win7 XP mode. I have a number of clients that still obtain XP on new systems. If a future version of windows totally eliminates backward compatibility Microsoft won't be selling too many OSs to the small businesses in this neck of the woods. I'm sure a lot of home users will get their shiny new incompatible systems for Christmas then call me the next day asking why all the apps (eg quickbooks) games and printer drivers they paid for won't install...

paradisewebdesigntx
paradisewebdesigntx

Deal with it, I am a long term fan of MS (except for the nightmare of ME). So many of the attacks are biased, what I see as "I have to be cool and dislike MS because they are big and old". For those supporting Open Office, are you kidding me? That program drives me insane with its insanely slow speed and truly bloated code. MS has been slowly (unfortunately) cleaning their code, but it is taking too much time because whomever was talking about the marketing team killing their tech people is correct. They put it out before cleaning. I agree that possible slow killing of legacies could work, but I am just not sure (we still have one Windows 2000 machine here).

TuneUp Utilities
TuneUp Utilities

Interesting discussion. Moving forward while keeping old customers is certainly something Microsoft is thinking about. Sacrificing backward compatibility would be difficult, so setting up something like ???XP Mode??? designed to make the transition from XP to Windows 7 would be a good option. Do you think users should have the ability to install and run all applications that are not compatible with Microsoft???s latest OS?

jerry
jerry

I'm still using a Win 95 program "American Heritage Dictionary" because I like the way it is quick to find words especially for crossword puzzle users. The newer versions left out some of the features. I don't "install" it just run the exe file and it works fine (without audio and video) for my purposes. And I still use the old Jasc Paint Shop Pro 7 (circa 1999-2000) because it does what I need to do and I don't want to learn a new system for simple photo editing. Those are probably the oldest programs I use but I have many from 2000 to present that may or may not run if there is no legacy support. Like others have said if Windows doesn't keep legacy support then we won't support Microsoft.

dan.wildcat
dan.wildcat

Microsoft could certainly update their image. In general, Microsoft has lagged in the market over the past 10 to 13 years. They are slow to move. But they do have the business market and neither Apple nor Google has made a serious dent there. When Microsoft does move, the tech world is forced to take notice. In the tablet world, for example, I think Microsoft has the opportunity to grab a big market share IF Windows 8 can take advantage of the platform and bring some real compatibility to the field. The real challenge is re-creating Windows so that it will be stream-lined when it has to be and legacy-compatible when it needs to be. I like the idea of software modules in this case. Let it be light on a tablet and heavy on a desktop that is needed to run older applications. The move to the cloud for application support can only go as far as their business customers will accept. A privatized cloud (using my own servers) would go a long ways towards eliminating the need for legacy support as we head into the future. What I've seen of the next version of Windows Server indicates more support that direction. We can all talk about Microsoft's recent failures now because they're moving so darn slow in a field that requires the ability to turn on a dime. Normally I don't mind the slowdown but Microsoft has slipped into mediocrity. They are too big, but when they jump into a fight, they are a force to be reckoned with. They still hold the keys to the tech future. While people talk a good talk about leaving Windows, the reality is quite different. Apple and Google just aren't there and it would take a colossal failure of Microsoft to propel them to that high of a level or even level the playing field. So Microsoft has to be worked with no matter what. Microsoft still owns the business and desktop markets. Microsoft can absorb much of the tablet and mobile market if they truly reinvent Windows. This is entirely possible but they have to separate legacy support from current and future products. They could add in a legacy support module to their systems for those who need it and are willing to pay a little extra for it. In this day and age, legacy application support needs only take into account a few years. Let the rest go. As long as data moves forward into new applications, the average home user certainly won't care. At the same time, most businesses will be fine with purchasing a legacy module if their applications won't support it. As for those larger businesses with a lot of in-house applications, that's what your programmers are for. Update. We all should have learned our lessons with Y2K. Port those old applications to private cloud use and park them on a server devoted to legacy apps. The truth is, Microsoft is as slow as the slowest elements of its target market. Vista got a bad rap because nobody wanted to move past XP. Businesses want to make decisions based on finances and often can't see the value of moving forward. This holds Microsoft back. If they are to break free from these chains, they must be willing to both support the old and move on to the new. But if supporting the old means slowing the new down to a crawl, then leave the old for those who won't move on to the new. Allow the future of Windows to keep moving without being tethered by legacy and Microsoft will find the ability to innovate once again. Support the legacy but don't let the future get dragged down by the past.

cfoellmann
cfoellmann

I must say that I am loving the Windows-"experience" especially in Windows 7. Last week I "worked" on a customer's iMac and I hated it. Its like a non-jailbroken iPhone. Totally screwing the user out of control. Everybody is concerned about "big brother" in life but Mac OS X is the same to a pc. But back to topic: Has anyone heard about Singularity? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Singularity_%28operating_system%29 AND http://research.microsoft.com/en-us/projects/singularity/ As I read the threat I remembered it. It's a complete new approach but I havent had the time to catch up on it. Even Microsoft realizes that open-source and its community is not the great foe but a resource worth "using". Microsoft is continuing to engage in the open-source community and heterogeneous environments will be the future as they are in the present

colinegriffin
colinegriffin

I don't mind Microsoft's backward support. What I object to is when a new piece of software is released (say Microsoft's SQL Server), it is not forward-supported - you have to install older NET Framework or older Visual Studio.

corral
corral

Apple didn't get its well deserved success by improving the Mac; they released new products, iPods, iPhones, iPads. These make now most of Apple revenues. If Microsoft is not seen as an innovative company is because its failure to enter new fields and succeed in them. Not they didn't try. Years ago, Microsoft experimented with tablets, domotic, game consoles and they opened several lines as Internet content providers. Out of many experiments in different areas, only the Xbox succeeded, while MSN struggles to become a major player. In my opinion, that is the path to follow. That is, invest a fortune developing a totally new product, in the hope it will become a cash cow for years. If it fails, Microsoft will have lost its investment. Yes, that will be a lot of money, but at least they will keep intact their legacy (and profitable) businesses. Replacing Windows looks a risky bet to me. Microsoft migth lose a large portion of its client base. While Windows makes such a large share of the OS market, I don't see the benefit of a risky replacement for Windows. If any, there is an opportunity in the server OS sector, where Unix is still dominant. But I don't think there is room there for a totally new OS. Old leaders as Solaris and AIX are solid, mainly because their OS and the hardware they run on have a good reputation of reliability and customer support. A newcomer must spend zillions to challenge them. Other part of this market is eager to sacrifice some reliability on exchange for price. This is what makes the client base for cloud providers. For Microsoft, the challenge here is to convince cloud clients and web server owners to use licensed software, as the trend is clearly to use Open Software.

dave.clarke
dave.clarke

From reading many years of posts in TechRepublic, there is this constant criticism that Microsoft isn't visionary and keeping up with the constantly evolving Apple OS and/or *nix. Today I see a whole bunch of posts indicating that they're evil because they try to keep up with new technologies (albeit slowly) and in doing so there is the potential for incompatibility with other software that once worked on an old version of the OS. XP was released 10 years ago. Vista 5 years ago. Can we just make sure there's nobody out there expecting a program that ran under Windows 3.0 to run on 7? I'm not sure how long you expect support to last. This is not the vehicle industry it is the technology industry that has advanced and continues to advance exponentially since the days I was writing mainframe COBOL in the 80s. People get over it. If you want the benefits of a new OS version you may need to upgrade other programs or find alternatives. If you're that upset change OS' while you're at it.

fred
fred

Especially important in these bad economic times, not every individual or company can afford to upgrade at Microsoft's whim. When their hardware wears out then they can upgrade. Many mission critical apps aren't supported in the Vista / Win7 environments so don't drop legacy OS support. Add a reasonable charge for the support - Yes, by all means.

mjc5
mjc5

While Windows is a fine job creation and job security computer platform, This just isn't 1990 any more. Sorry, but the OS is a bag full of problems in general. Users have been beta testers for the new OS rollouts, and some of those rollouts were poor indeed. I've used MS, MacOS and Linux for years. Microsoft since MS-DOS days, Mac OS flavors since around 6, and Linux for about 3 years now. Windows is the most consistent in that it takes the most care, and has the most problems. I have another day of the month called "After Patch Wednesday", when all the calls come in. As for MS being able to make a new system that isn't like their older ones, I just don't think they have the culture for it. It isn't possible, so it isn't going to happen. Then again, I don't care all that much, because I'm not using their OS any more- except for one small use, and it's going before too long. After the disaster of Vista, and the wacky (for lack of a better term) Office with it's dysfunctional ribbon and ball "features", I've converted all but one of my computers to Linux, or OSX on the Mac side - and I won't own another. Since I've retired, I just don't have to stay up on the MS circus, and I have to say, it feels pretty good...

cwarner7_11
cwarner7_11

The year is 2003. I am running Windows 99 SE, and very happy with it. Microsoft decides to drop support for 98 SE. I have a look at Windows XP. Most of my critical programs won't run on XP. It will cost me in excess of $5000 in software costs to upgrade to newer versions of critical software that will function with XP, but offer only spurious improvements to the actual functioning. There has to be a better way... I abandon Microsoft for Windows. I figure out how to continue using my legacy software by running 98 SE (for which I still own a valid license) in VirtualBox. I discover that upgrading to newer versions of my operating system of choice does not render my not-insignificant investment in software superfluous... Should Microsoft drop legacy support? Since when has Microsoft OFFERED legacy support?

RG Bargy
RG Bargy

I'm sure lots of other people have said this but Microsoft already has a great reputation as a Big Brother type organisation which gets very rich (remember their numbers are astronomic, even if the analysts think they are underperforming) by forcing its customers to buy new stuff because the old stuff is buggy and then stops being supported. it makes them look BAAD and that doesn't help the marketing or the public image. And lest we forget the image becomes the brand, ask Steve Jobs...

mikifinaz1
mikifinaz1

Microsoft has been slowly backing out of support and dumping it on the computer makers by re-writing their agreements to supply operating system, who in turn are dumping it for the most part on third world representatives that on a good day have trouble communicating with Americans. Tactics like this and others make Linux look better and better. They think that using tactis like this and dynamic partitioning will prevent in roads by Linux by making it "too hard" to mount Linux. But, soon the aggravation level will be high enough so that users will take the extra steps to learn Linux and dump WinX. Few people remember when Microsoft Word was an also run product to WordPerfect. WordPerfect dropped 24/7 tech support and Micorosoft leaped on it and crushed them. So dropping tech support is not such a wise idea.

th1b.taylor
th1b.taylor

If MS does not rewrite the kernel, as was promised for the Longhorn Project, changing the name will only be laughed at. First, please understand, I went from Beta Tester to Ubuntu/Linux User/Installer in ??07 because of disgust. MS is in trouble because they do not seem to have the single minded direction of a Bill Gates and with the Legacy Support within the Linux line Micro Soft is years behind in innovation. I, recently, loaded an AMD K6 system with 256 megs of RAM and a forty gig hdd with Puppy Linux/Lucid and it ran like a system with 4 gigs of Ram with a Quad-core processor. The long and the short of the matter is that MS has got to step up to the plate, keep it??s focus and stop lying to it??s customers.

mswift
mswift

The supposed strength of Apple IOS is the number of apps available 400,000 inexpensive things that generally perform a a single function. You think that MS would be smart to blow off the millions of existing DOS (lots of controls system running out there on DOS) apps and Windows apps to be "fresh"???? I have DOS apps we wrote in the late 70s that run untouched on 32 bit Windows 7. If you followed the rules, all that stuff still works.

YetAnotherBob
YetAnotherBob

Debra Shinder Like you, I am also old enough to remember when Microsoft was Micro Soft, and had only one product, a Basic compiler for the Altair. Also, like you I can remember when IBM was the 800 Lb Gorilla. I can even remember when AT&T was Ma Bell, the biggest and meanest corporation on Earth. Microsoft grew the way it did because of Bill Gates determination to be the cheapest thing on the block. IBM's PC-Dos had some things that Microsoft Dos didn't have. But those things weren't important to the people who bought PC clones when Compaq brought them out. They mattered even less when the other 'clone makers' brought their versions out. Dos was always available for $99. Sometimes, for even less. The alternative operating systems were costing something more like $500. So, of course Microsoft sold a lot of Dos. As the "PC" market grew, so grew Microsoft. When Windows came along, it was soon offered packaged with DOS. I remember back in the late 1980's Windows was often called the most purchased, least used product, after the Bible. until Windows 3.1, Almost no one even tried to use it. It was just too crash prone. All the programs ran just fine in DOS. the profits were rolling in. Microsoft spent a lot of it's new found wealth on acquisitions. That's how they got Word and Excel, both programs that copied poorly the then market leaders Word Perfect and Lotus 123. I still find Word to be worse than the old WP5.1 for editing and correcting documents. But Excel had caught up with ca 1990 123 by the 2000 version. Word will probably never be as good as the old Word Perfect 'Reveal Codes' was for finding formatting errors. Most older typists that I know still say "Give me back my Word Perfect!" Microsoft successfully copied the Novel certifications programs, and Bill Gates really hit it big when he offered a complete office suite for $99. Word Perfect cost $249, and Lotus 123 cost $399 at the time. True, the level of support offered by Microsoft was not very good, but, corporate accountants didn't care. It was after all, half the price, and was good enough. Also, the newly certified MSEs and MCSEs were trained to buy Microsoft. So they had in-house recommendations. So the money just kept rolling in. Microsoft then began to offer many more options to developers. Now, they were taking on Borland. That made a long battle, but in the end, Borland self destructed. Word Perfect was sold to Novel, for several billion, and to recoop, it's best in the world software support was essentially eliminated. Paradox and Quattro Pro were bought from Borland, and Borland became just a small programming language seller. Novel had created the Word Perfect Office. In retaliation, Microsoft had to add a data base to it's Office package. Thus was born Access. When Microsoft also added Powerpoint, a product origionally modeled on an Apple product that was never offered on PC's, the battle for the office was won. That was in about 1995. Now, Wall Street loved Microsoft. Profits had been growing by over 20% a year for more than a decade. Bill Gates was hailed as a Genius. But the seeds of his failure were sown in the success. Stock prices soared. To keep the investors happy, Microsoft had to keep growing at this hefty rate. And Bill Gates tried. New products were brought out with a relentless regularity. Like most new products in any business, there were more failures than successes. Steve Jobs of Apple had some of the same experiences too. Remember Lisa and Newton? By 1999, the handwriting was on the wall for Bill Gates. Wall Street interests owned more than half of the stock in Microsoft, and they demanded that the 20% growth continue. But, there was a problem for Bill. How do you grow your market by 20% a year when you are already at a 95% market share dominance, and the market is maturing? It's just not possible. So, Bill Gates took the graceful way out. He retired. (Probably with a lot of pressure to do it.) Now, Microsoft's problems would be blamed on someone else. That was Steve Ballmer. He had been Microsoft's chief accountant. Wall Street likes Accountants and lawyers. they don't understand the tech guys. Bill Gates had always been presented as a tech guy, but he had really been a sales guy. Paul Allen was the original tech guy. Just like in Apple, Jobs was the sales guy, while 'The Woz' was the tech guy. Sales makes the money now, while tech makes the sales for next year possible. That's how tech business really works. To please 'the Street' Steve Ballmer has had to raise prices every year. He has also been actively looking for the best talent. Yes, there are a lot of older people in Microsoft. but that is partially because they are people who have produced amazing things more than once before they were lured to Microsoft. There is a lot of talent there. But, there is also a lot of need there. Steve Ballmer is under a microscope, and is constantly challenged and threatened. It's not a job that I would want right now. The easy days are all behind them. They are still growing their customer base, but they are losing market share. Both Windows and Office, the two big money earners that Bill Gates left them are both slowly dropping in the market. Windows is down from 95% to less than 85%, and that's just measuring what was shipped from the manufacturers. Only large corporations and strong fans buy Windows now. It is bought pre-installed. While less so with Office, it is still the major purchase channel. The costs of purchasing both Windows and Office have grown by between 200% and 300% over the last 10 years. They still have the majority of the Office business, but it's not the market crushing 93% that they had when Bill Gates retired. That's where Microsoft is today. Losing market share in desktop and office. taking a beating in servers, being wiped out in mobile and phone. finally making a profit in games. losing that profit in web search and some other markets. There is just no where for Microsoft to go. the market realizes that. that is why the stock price has been flat for 10 years. Microsoft is now a big stock. It pays dividends. It was a growth stock when Mr. Gates was at the helm. I disagree with many of your conclusions. Where Microsoft could give itself room to grow would not be by losing compatibility with the older software base. They have already done as much of that as the market is willing to take. What I feel that Microsoft should do is to make Windows available on other platforms. Not Windows proper, as it is now, but Windows as a Windows shell, with an emulation layer. Windows proper should continue to be done just as it is now, with a few minor alterations. The new Windows shell should be distributed as C code, with bianaries available for the biggest markets. This would allow Windows to run on the mainframes and supercomputers that now run Linux. Those are mostly not Intel chips, and run a whole zoo of other architectures. Running Windows as a shell would allow Microsoft to sell Office as it currently is to the organizations that run those very big systems. Currently, Microsoft products are not even an option on Big Iron. That would give them a whole new market to expand into. The people there would already be familiar with Office, it's strengths (it has many) and it's weaknesses (It has some). They would be in their comfort zones with it. Currently, only IBM's Open Office clone is available commercially in that space. Microsoft should also embrace Linux on the desktop. Most Linux users are not using Linux exclusively. I am one that fits into that category. Windows is a pain to install and use with Linux. It keeps trying to be the only OS on the computer. Linux does not need to be a threat to Microsoft. It is actually a resource for the company. Let Windows be friendly to Linux installations. The new Windows file system make installation of Linux more difficult. This is not needed. Microsoft would, of course, not be liable for anything that I did installing Linux, but if they made it easier to support the boot loader, or allow an option to switch OS, or a free virtualizer to run both OS at the same time, even in the basic versions it would make a lot of people's lives easier. It would also give the 'hard core' Linux people less reason to go away from Microsoft, and more reason to use it. I can right now, run Windows on Linux in a Virtual Machine, but that takes up a lot of memory. I can run Linux on Windows in a virtual machine, but that also takes up a lot of memory. A simple shell, with the required libraries in Linux would allow me more flexibility. Running Windows as my main OS doesn't mean I can't also run Linux on the same machine. running Linux as my main OS shouldn't mean I can't also run Microsoft Windows. But it seems to be Microsoft's choice that I can do the first, if I look enough up on liine, but that I can't do the second. That reduces Microsoft's real market. Currently, according to figures I have seen, including those from Microsoft to the SEC. Microsoft currently has an 85% share of the desktop market in the US. Linux currently has around 5% desktop share. But they overlap by around 4%. Microsoft should make it easy for us to do both. There is also a big Apple market out there for them to grab, but Apple is almost all consumer. The big money is in the government and Corporate world. That market is where a lot of the Linux growth is happening. Do you think Red Hat is selling $600 per seat to the home users? There is a Billion Dollar market that Microsoft is locked out of just from that one company. It's really many times bigger than Red Hat alone, because of the free clones. Why would Microsoft be deliberately walking away from 5 to 10 Billion dollars, right now, with the knowledge that it will be hundreds of Billions of Dollars in 5 years time? Microsoft isn't the Devil incarnate. It's just a company. It does make some good products. Never the best, but never at a price like the best. One example of that is Microsoft Project. It is not nearly as capable as say Primavera was fifteen years ago, but, it costs an order of magnitude less. I am not currently building a Ten Billion Dollar Nuclear Plant, I don't need Primavera's level of capability. It's a similar thing for Microsoft SQL verses Oracle. The time to buy Oracle is when the Microsoft data base chokes and dies as the load gets bigger. No, Microsoft isn't the Devil, Nor is Google the Devil, or a Saint. Both are really just corporations. But, Microsoft could do things to make it easier for me to chose Microsoft. That is where they have a golden opportunity. Lay off the legal threats, You may gain in the US, but you lose in the rest of the world. Which is bigger? There are better ways to convince me that Microsoft is a good way to spend my money. both at home, and at work. In it's growth days, Microsoft didn't worry about real Innovations. It just made what worked (more or less) available to us at a price we were willing to live with. If Microsoft survives as a force, it will be because they go back to that basic mission. You can't be all things to all people, and for many Microsoft grows less vital every year. It's been that way since 2000. I just can't figure it out.

essin
essin

That's why people don't use Macs for business. Apple makes great appliances, but you can't make an entire business strategy out of blenders and toasters. Something has to provide a long-term organizing concept and the data to back it up, and that something has to be there year after year. Microsoft has a 30 year history of continuity. Don't blow it now.

cgh51
cgh51

That would make my choice for the NEXT OPERATING system easy - Linux. As a CIO I would gladly do that. The biggest problem I have is that I have thousands of computers to deal with running applications that I MUST SUPPORT for 20+ years due to various government programs and contracts. Put THAT in your pipe and smoke it MIcrosoft. If I have to do it as a virtual environment, I will keep all my XP licenses and run them under VMWare on LINUX! Trust me - there are hundreds - nay thousands if NOT TENS OF THOUSANDS of companies that sell equipment running on Microsoft's boxes right now. I can guarantee that they will LOSE a large number of them if they try to pull this crap. But - that is probably the best thing that could happen to the industry over the long term - i.e. diminishing Microsoft's role in being the "market leader" (cough cough). As far as I'm concerned, no company has done so little (real new development) with so much (new, raw CPU horsepower) in a span of 25 years that it's simply amazing. One of the things that has ticked me off even more is GRATUITOUS changes that they have made to virtually every application they have. Simply rearranging gui's so the same functionality is in different places cuts down productivity for months an causes us (IT folks supporting users) no end of grief. So, please - go ahead and make a change with NO backward compatibility - you would be doing me a HUGE favor.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

How much time and effort in producing a new version without having to deal with past issues + how m,uch easier would it to be add new features without unfortunate impacts from previous attempts versus how much business would they lose if a chnage of OS, meant rewriting/repurchasing hardware and software... History suggests that there's little chance of this happening, without doing both, ie new OS and apps, and keep old one going, with the current stuff going obsolete... There are lots of technical advantages to MS, and eventually for us in dropping legacy support, business ones, iffy....

steve6375
steve6375

Why would I buy Windows 8? 1. It does everything my old OS did (backwards compatibility) - even if I have to install extra (but included) components. 2. It works better on new h/w platforms such as Tablet PCs and netbooks. Remove any one of these 2 reasons and you lose sales and loyal users. It is point 2 that MS really need to concentrate on. The Tablet/touch screen/small screen UI needs to have the 'best' user experience. Add that to backwards compatibility and you have a winning combination! Also, why can't I have 'load on demand' rather than 'load everything under the kitchen sink at boot up'. I want a lightweight OS for calendar/browser/email with fast boot times and quick response and low power footprint, which I can easily 'switch' to a full bells and whistles OS when I want to. Then I can run my tablet PC undocked whilst on the move (quick boot and shutdown), or docked for a full Windows system.

JohnMcGrew
JohnMcGrew

During the '90s, one of the biggest problems (and most limiting factors) at Microsoft was the fact that so much of their workforce was under 40. Under 30, actually. These 20-something product managers, although technically talented were otherwise inexperienced and clueless when dealing outside of their insular geek world. This tended to alienate Microsoft's more mature clients. Microsoft actually had to hire "consultants", frequently retirees from large companies with corporate experience to act as go-betweens between the arrogant and inexperienced Microsoft kids and their corporate clients, because the clients were refusing to put up with the spoiled kids anymore. I knew several who made a lot of money in that role. As for this "youth is everything" cult, look out. If you're lucky, sooner or later you too will be "over 40". I hope the marketplace will treat you better than your attitude is treating those currently unemployed now.

afgcons
afgcons

One of my clients STILL uses an "applet" (an ASSEMBLER sub-routine) I wrote in 1970, 40 years later on current hardware and zOS. Dropping legacy support is a killer of >future< sales. I have unused VISTA and Win7 licences because of MS desire to displace things I need by things I don't need. I might like to have them, even need to have them eventually - if, but and when..!

jokl-123
jokl-123

Your last but one sentence brings Windows to the stars. And I can tell you a lot of user would be happy if that happend much earlier, so years ago. ;-) And btw, Yes, it does make sense to cut off compatibility. But there should be the way open to the programs that never will be changed, because they are running and there is no other way to do things.

blarman
blarman

After a certain point, legacy support does become a problem. It isn't economically feasible for Microsoft (not that they really support anything anyways), and sometimes businesses have critical apps that have no upgrade. So why doesn't Microsoft spin off a compatibility section whose only job is to offer annual support contracts for older operating systems past the 5-yr window. Have users pay $30/yr for support of that older OS. This same group can work on writing drivers for certain major devices for custom clients who need it. For newer operating systems, they've already done the pain of forcing users to convert to Vista/7. MS only faces even more developer dissent by making another major overhaul to the kernel and driver architecture, but it should work on reducing the install package back to where it fits on a CD. 3 GB to install an OS? Ridiculous. Move the drivers to an online repository (except for network ones). Stop by default installing stupid things like the character map and the usability programs. And give the users the option of which OS GUI to use - stop forcing them to use the newest thing every time. And ESPECIALLY stop screwing around with all the management interfaces! It used to take only a couple of clicks to get into any item in the control panel. Now it takes twice as many (networking anyone?). This is stupid. If you're not going to make my job easier, at least don't make it harder! Microsoft really needs to fire their product evaluation team and use real users and IT pros to evaluate the GUI during beta. Every OS they put out a new GUI, and every time they force the changes. Let the users take control and make the OS operate in a way that helps them be productive.

olarande
olarande

For those of us in emerging economies, we see things differently but in our case practically. Our customers pay for software and expect it to work - all the time and every time. That is the STRENGTH that Microsoft has on all of us - a strangle hold that the likes of Apple or Google can NEVER achieve. If Microsoft drops legacy support, it is not the developer that will drop Microsoft per se, it is the business community that will. Once they do, they will not TRUST Microsoft again, so they will definitely CHOOSE another platform. Developers, will have to switch to whatever platform the 'business' community decides to trust. We, as techies, need to always REMEMBER that the unix variants offer more technical power than Windows, but they are not 'business friendly'. Too many versions, too many variants, too many incompatibilities. The 'slow and steady' wins the race approach of Microsoft, had won, is winning and will continue to win.

jokl-123
jokl-123

Your are right. Thats the reason why I say, trow compatibility away. But there must still a way to use the old programs that fit all needs and to use some old hardware that is still working fine. You brought up an additional point: File system or Application compatibility. This is even more important. In an other way: How can you open an old document, if there is no way to use that old application. And this is a forum of techies. Think of users, maybe privat users, but also small companies that are using their software for a very long time. So there should be a way to work with all those legacy devices and there shoudl be a strategy to keep them save while using the web.

bobc4012
bobc4012

IBM still supports old COBOL apps and other apps from the late 60s that were written for the 360 systems. While the H/W and the OSs has improved by orders of magnitude over the years, IBM realized that customers didn't want to spend more money rewriting Apps when not necessary. Even their early 360 systems (certain models) had H/W emulation mode for 1400 series customers who only had binary (no source to be found). IBM even killed one "new OS replacement" project in the late 60s after their marketing groups voted it down because customers would not accept incompatibilities that forced them to recompile and rewrite in some cases. At that time, there was not a great deal of non-IBM S/W applications being marketed plus IBM SEs were writing a lot of the customers apps. The same holds true for "old Unix shops". There are still nearly 40 year old Unix apps running today. Unfortunately, the "modern PC S/W makers still have that "hobbyist" mentality when early PC users wrote their BASIC programs, dialed up bulletin boards, etc. Back then, PCs were new and exciting and people didn't mind change and buying some (relatively) cheap new S/W when a new PC and/or OS came out. That mindset was carried over to the small business world and then on to larger business. Companies like MS and Apple still produce S/W with that mindset. As far as Apple changing, they are still a relatively small percentage of the PC market, even with businesses.

cwarner7_11
cwarner7_11

Within the *.nix world, one has a number of options for using software written for different operating systems. Of course it is a lot easier if one has the capability to re-compile the source code for one's platform, but I run a number of "Windows Only" packages on my Linux box...And most of the important Open Source apps that I have come to rely on come in multiple versions that can be compiled for whatever operating system one likes. If this can be done in the Open Source world, why not the commercial world?

mjc5
mjc5

What about the IMac was limiting you? Give some thought that you might not know enough about it. I see PC users complaining about how OSX machines are so awful and hard to work with. Usually it turns out that they expect all computers to work the same way. I see people condemning Mac because some commands use Apple key instead of command for some functions. I still see people complaining about the one button mouse too - speaking of legacy. Haven't used one in 15 years. But in the ford versus Chevy world of computer weenie waving, I guess that makes sense. Open up Terminal, and isn't much you cant do. Anyhow, I have to chuckle at your comment about the open source community and Microsoft's engagement with it. The only way they will truly engage with it is if they can make money off of it and they can control it. Soon we'd be paying for our "Open Source" apps.

bobc4012
bobc4012

From what I have been reading from previous articles at this site (its sister site and other sites) is that Windows 8 may not be fully compatible with Windows 7. Could this mean that Windows 7 will be the "last 'desktop' release"? Or does it mean that this issue will be discussed again in a few short (or maybe long) months?

bobc4012
bobc4012

You can write an OS to handle "old MS 'legacy" code". I wouldn't be surprised if some of your old COBOL programs (and PL/I, Assembler, etc.) are still running on the "newer" mainframes. There are COBOL programs written from the 60s that will still run on today's mainframes (some may need recompilation). If an OS is built on a solid foundation, it has the ability to support old legacy code (note, I said ability, which doesn't mean its always the case).

cwarner7_11
cwarner7_11

Granted, I haven't been using Linux as long as I used Windows, but I have done several upgrades from the first version Linux I used. Guess what? All my old apps still work. Upgrades are mostly painless, and frequently add more than just eye candy to the computer experience. Back in my Windows days, an upgrade was a painful, expensive proposition. Many of my favorite apps would not work in the "new" version (I still hang on to Win 98SE for that very reason). If Linux can do it, why can't Microsoft?

bobc4012
bobc4012

I have (and still do - on 5 1/4 floppies) apps that couldn't run on XP (most of them ran in DOS mode on Win. 95). I also had REXX code I wrote that ran on OS/2 and PC-DOS like any other BAT file. I could run them on XP in command line mode by invoking the REXX interpreter and passing the "REXX file and parms as parameters to the interpreter (when I had Win. 95, I just installed PC-DOS (which I paid $50 at the time at an IBM PC store) over MS-DOS (which if bought separately cost $99 at the time)).

bobc4012
bobc4012

I am pretty much agreement with most of what you said. A very good post. A couple of points. however. IBM had some of the best salespeople in the world. It didn't help in the PC world when the mentality was to sell "big iron" = "big commissions". It also didn't help when it came to software products as they had some of the best software people in the business plus their research arm (again, BC = BI). IBM also learned the hard way when they tried to drop some of their earlier 360 based systems. Their European and other WT customers back then couldn't afford the massive DP structure required to run big OS on big iron and stuck with mid-size systems (BOS/DOS -> VSE -> etc., and, of course, smaller System 38 -> AS400). I also can't see MS rewriting their OS to run on IBM mainframes - even running as a guest on VM (at least not without IBM's help - would you help out MS if you were IBM?). Also, given the current patent system (which should be scrapped - go back to just copyrighting), I'm sure someone at MS would produce code that IBM would claim infringed upon some of their code somewhere. Also, why would one want to install MS code that is nowhere as secure as the mainframe code? Plus I don't think IBM would produce a "layer" that provided I/Fs to allow existing Windows apps to run on the mainframe - not because they couldn't do it, but because of the law suit costs that occur for writing code supporting MS I/Fs.

JohnMcGrew
JohnMcGrew

Although I preferred WordStar. There has never been a product better for pure writing and merging text and data.

cwarner7_11
cwarner7_11

Steve6375- you write: "Also, why can't I have 'load on demand' rather than 'load everything under the kitchen sink at boot up'. I want a lightweight OS for calendar/browser/email with fast boot times and quick response and low power footprint, which I can easily 'switch' to a full bells and whistles OS when I want to..." The tragedy is that I used to have exactly what you are describing with my old Palm Tungsten, but instead of docking, I had to connect the device via cable (or Bluetooth) to my desktop/notebook. No longer available. No longer compatible. But, because I am no longer tied to MS, I still have the capability...

mswift
mswift

Windows 7 is halfway to what you want. They no longer load everything at boot up. Using hibernation, power up is under 7 seconds. Play with a Win 7 laptop with a good SSD for a while and I think you will be pleased.

mswift
mswift

You must live where you can get a good internet line. Lots of places don't get more than basic DSL. I'd much rather have a DVD that installs all versions of Win 7 than do gigabyte downloads at 1MB throughput that kill internet performance at every desktop and take hours and hours

cwarner7_11
cwarner7_11

Don't drop it! I need it! I am not going to memorize the codes for the few Greek symbols I use... Accessibility is also important- although most of the seriously challenged require significantly more accessibility options than what comes with the basic operating system...

cgh51
cgh51

It will be far easier for us to cleanse ourselves of this thing call "Microsoft" if they decide to produce an OS with absolutely NO backward compatibility. Zero cost Linux starts to look pretty good. It's already quite a bit faster than Microsoft (but then again, what isn't) and has evolved quite nicely in recent years. Plus, you have the source, so you could hire consultants to put in your own fixes or specializations and maintain them yourself, without any worry about not being able to "buy more licenses" or dropping support.

sboverie
sboverie

I actually hated WordStar; it was the first WYSIWYG word processor but it had quirks that made me print the same page multiple times to correct extra characters that did not appear on the screen. For a short time, most of the word processing was done on WordStar. People used to list WordStar second, after Word Perfect or Word, on resumes in the early 90's.

noorman
noorman

they could easily make those installable from an online repository; then those who (really) need it can easily get it on their PC or WS.

mswift
mswift

I'm sorry but I don't agree with you. Win 7 is in many cases as fast or faster than *nix. Linux started light and got heavier, Microsoft did the opposite. The Win7 kernal is about 450MB. The Win 8 kernal is about 250MB. Sleep time on my netbook is roughly 3 seconds down and 7 seconds up on an Atom processor with an SSD running Win 7 32 Ultimate Except qualified techies, hardly anybody is going the "hire consultants to put in your own fixes or specializations and maintain them yourself" route. Windows adds about $25 for home or $75 for pro to the price of a new PC and includes a year of support. What qualified Linux tech is going to install and configure Linux and support naive users for $25 or $75???

JohnMcGrew
JohnMcGrew

...in that your fingers rarely left the primary keys. This made touch-typing and editing incredibly efficient. It was far superior to the function-key driven WordPerfect or later mouse-menu driven Word. I used to bet WordPerfect & Word fanboys to "editing contests", where one would edit and print identical documents the fastest. I lever lost.

spdragoo
spdragoo

Is the extremely small harddrive footprint to keep character map part of the OS *that* big of a problem? Versus the extra inconvenience & time to open their browser & find the right code...assuming the Internet connection is even up at the time?

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

Microsoft say you need an absolute minimum of 1 GB, preferably 4 GB, of Ram and 16 GB of hard disc space to run Win 7 - that's a tad more than 450 MB. What needs to be measured is what's needed to give minimal operation. I've used Ubuntu for a few years and know many non-techs who use it too, non of us pay for any special tech support at all and the non-tech people say they like it as they no longer need to get a tech out every year to clean up the system, they way they had to with Windows. I don't know where you get your prices, but the minimum you pay for Windows down here is A$138.00 for an OEM copy Win 7 Pro, then about A$50.00 to $100.00 for a tech to install if you don't do it yourself. Retail Win 7 can cost up to A$300.00 depending on the version. I know non-tech people who can't load Windows but have no trouble loading Ubuntu on a system as it's easier and quicker to load. The only time you need a techie for most versions of Linux is when you have to set it up for special hardware or software, and then you need a techie to do the same in Windows - often it takes longer and costs more in Windows. The whole issue should resolve around which OS does the most for your needed technical end product, not which OS you think is better. And that's where MS are losing people. The deliberate changes MS are putting into their latest systems to make them incompatible with software designed for earlier versions of Windows are forcing business to spend more money to make their software usable in the newer versions of Windows. Some companies are not prepared to accept this every few years and are now looking at alternatives that allow them to continue to use existing software as Windows will not.