When Steve Ballmer took over Microsoft’s leadership role from the company’s iconic founder Bill Gates about a decade ago, he had some pretty big shoes to fill in, and help Microsoft emerge from Gates’ larger than life shadow. Under him Microsoft has been like a born-again company.
Everyone knows that while Microsoft were going through the transitional period a few young guns (read Apple, Google and Facebook) arrived in the market and raced ahead of them in several technology niches which Microsoft hadn’t even begin to tap into during this period, most notably – Search, Smart phones and Social Networking. Though it took them a while, Microsoft eventually realized that going into the next decade, these were the key areas that were going to define IT, Internet and the Industry as a whole. They decided to act, and have gradually but surely started to establish a foothold in many of these niches. They now have a search engine that is next only to Google, they are gaining some good momentum in the mobile device arena and they try their hands at – Social, every once in a while.
If their CEO read the last part, I am pretty sure he would beg to differ with me. That is because Steve Ballmer doesn’t agree with the fact that Microsoft is an emerging player in the various verticals I referred to above. Instead he believes, or rather he insists that Microsoft are going to beat their competition and do it in style. Certainly in the search space he believes Microsoft will “beat Google in a blind test” and in true Steve Ballmer style doesn’t mind sharing so with the world. In a free wheeling interview to Business Today, Mr. Ballmer made no bones about who he thought was the leading player in the search engine space.
“We [at Microsoft] have come from nowhere to having a product today which I can tell you in a blind-test beats Google in the U.S.” – Steve Ballmer, CEO, Microsoft.
But that’s not all, he went on to add that Microsoft will actually “beat Google in all markets”. I am not saying they can’t, sure they can, after all, they revolutionized the computer software industry in the 90s in a way that nobody had done before or since. I mean they are “Microsoft“, they can touch anything remotely IT and turn into gold, right? – WRONG.
To our tech savvy readers I don’t even have to mention this, but for the benefit of our non-tech readers I will do that anyway – in the tech sphere there are no guarantees, there are no short cuts and there are, most definitely no self professed we-are-the-champions kind of market leaders. When it comes to cutting edge technology, there is only one thing that drives the growth of an organization and that is innovation. What I am trying to suggest here is that you can’t recycle innovation. And let’s face it as good as Bing is, as sleek as Windows Phone is, and as praise worthy as Microsoft’s efforts in Social are, they are all late starters, very late in fact. So Mr. Ballmer can predict the future of search engine dominance all he wants, but that doesn’t change the fact that no company is going to touch Google in the search space in the foreseeable future.
Also his claim that Microsoft will outdo Google in all markets is pushing it a little out of bounds. While Microsoft is a force to be reckoned with, on the web, in the U.S. that isn’t quite the case in the rest of the world. The same can be said about Microsoft’s foray into the mobile space. Even though the research firm IDC has predicted that Windows Phone will see an explosive growth over the period of the next four years, in the tech world it is always better to take into account future trends that lie in the range of 6-12 months. The industry has matured so much over the years, that the rule of the thumb now says that both hardware and software get outdated in a year’s time at best. It therefore becomes a little hard to predict a 4-5 year growth cycle for this industry. In simple words, you never know if someone like say a Facebook comes into the hardware arena with its own phone and starts to gain momentum, all predictions might come to naught.
So let’s not be bullish about Microsoft’s chances of overturning Android’s predicted market share of 61% in the next 5, maybe even 7 years. I personally believe that Microsoft is yet to prove its mettle in the mobile space, because if it weren’t for popular public opinion about who they were, I doubt that Windows Phone would be able to make any serious dents in the Android or for that matter iOS market shares. Apple and Google have made the Smart phone, Tablet and Search spaces something of their own. They don’t go around looking to enter a new market not knowing if they can compete with the industry leaders of that segment, instead they create their own market.
If I met Mr. Ballmer today I would let him know what I as a long time loyal Windows user throughout the late 90s and the better part of this century think of Microsoft as a company. When I like most others think about Microsoft, the first things that come to mind are the Operating Systems, the Office suites and digital services such as MSN. When I think Apple, the first things that come to mind are the Macs, iPhones, iPads, iPods, iTunes line of products. Apple has always done what they do best – innovate, and to do that they stick to their guns, they build great hardware and software products and don’t feel the urge to start a new social network. Even after conceding the market share in mobile OS space to Android, Apple remains by far the world’s most valuable company.
Microsoft could learn a thing or two from the company they are, at least historically, most closely associated with. why stroll into someone else’s garden when you have a pretty cool one of your own. If they can just work on making their flagship products – the Windows series, the awesome office suites, the xbox series and everything else in between, better then they already are, they would still do better than making hypothetical predictions about beating Google and the like at their own game.