Is Windows 8 to Microsoft like OS/2 was to IBM?

Back in 2007 I wrote a blog that asked “Is Microsoft like ‘old’ IBM?” That was in the days when the mighty Redmond software factory seemed unable to do wrong. At the end of the blog, I asked:

I wonder how long Microsoft’s good times will last?

I thought it would last much longer than it has. Microsoft is now looking distinctly less mighty and infallible than it used to, that is because it missed the new markets of smartphone operating systems and tablets until they were well established by other companies.

Now I am beginning to wonder whether Microsoft is tracing the same steps with Windows 8 as IBM did in the 1980s when it released the OS/2 operating system?

Remember, IBM brought out OS/2 to try and win back its PC operating system market share from the growing Windows operating system. By that time, IBM had also lost its dominance of the PC hardware market, and it tried to counter that by introducing the PS/2. Both these initiatives followed the tried-and-trusted IBM approach to dominate a market with its own proprietary products.

What do I see now? Microsoft losing the Windows-based PC hardware platform to tablets and smartphones running Android or iOS, and struggling to become significant in the smartphone operating system. What does Microsoft do? Bring out Windows 8 as a touch–oriented operating system, to run on PCs, tablets, and smartphones.

Some people are already writing off Windows 8 as a failure; and a respectable tech journalist has commented:

… consumers don’t appear to be warming to Windows 8 …

Recent statistics paint a stark picture of the health of the PC industry: in April, analyst firm Gartner said that 79,2m PCs were shipped in the first quarter of 2013, an 11,2% decline over the same quarter in 2012 and the first time the number had fallen below 80m since the second quarter of 2009.

The same journalist observed:

 The problem Microsoft faces is far deeper than a simple change in the formula of its software. The entire structure of the computer industry has changed.

Doesn’t that sound like the situation IBM faced in the 1980s and 1990s when the computing paradigm changed from mainframes to PCs?

As I also wrote at the time:

IBM went from being a great tech-oriented company to one run by bean counters; the more I deal as a partner with Microsoft the more I feel that way about them as well.

I believe that still to be true. However, they obviously do have some good techies as the recent Xbox One announcement has shown.

IBM managed to change its fortunes under the leadership of Lou Gerstner. I hope Microsoft do the same.

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3 thoughts on “Is Windows 8 to Microsoft like OS/2 was to IBM?

  1. All true.

    And yet here is the funny thing, Microsoft has done some of its best work for a decade in the last 18 months – new Windows, new smartphone, tablets, new Office, new XBox – and that still isn’t enough.

  2. Reblogged this on Bill Bennett and commented:
    Microsoft has done some of its best work for a decade in the last 18 months – new Windows, new smartphone, tablets, new Office, new XBox – and that still isn’t enough to keep the company relevant. It is already looking like an underdog. I don’t think matters will improve until there’s a leadership change.

    • Bill, you make a good point, Microsoft has come out with a number of new products, but apart from xBox I wonder whether the others aren’t just a response to a competitor. They are now running a distant second or third; I don’t think that would have happened had Gates still been involved. I think you’re right that a leadership change is required.

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