Fitzgerald, who I spoke with for the better part of an hour in preparation for the story, thought we dipped into some hyperbole with the whole "do or die" language. Microsofties, apparently, have become jaded by the many "Microsoft's biggest challenge yet" stories over the years. He pointed to the graphical user interface, C++ and Linux as larger historical challenges for the company than the Internet.
The Internet is clearly up there, somewhere in the mix. Otherwise, Microsoft wouldn't be giving the future of its platform business the "software plus services" label. And it wouldn't be so cagey about Windows Live Core. And it wouldn't be shaking up its search and advertising organization. Then again, that software piece is mighty important to Microsoft.
Take the matter of Salesforce.com, which Fitzgerald has discussed the last three times he's spoken with InformationWeek and apparently also during discussions with a few others he's recently spoken with. Fitzgerald says we let Salesforce.com CEO Mark Benioff off the hook by letting him criticize Microsoft without pointing out that Salesforce.com, the company whose very logo is "no software," has its own offline version.
But what if Salesforce.com isn't the competitor that we're necessarily saying is the main harbinger of the switch to the Internet. What about, say, Google? Sure Google has a bit of code on the PC today with Google Earth, Talk and Picasa, but a few execs I've spoken with there say they hope to move everything off the PC eventually, to have very little desktop footprint outside little things like widgets and toolbars.
Google Apps. Online productivity tools, no persistent code needed. Now with presentations. Gmail. No need for anything on the desktop except a notifier, and then only as an option. Analytics. Reader. Blogger. Calendar.
Sure, companies have huge investments in the current on-premise versions of Microsoft software. And that isn't likely to change anytime soon with the likes of often risk averse IT management. But the perception is, and perception becomes reality. Microsoft needs to capture a perception of leadership, and that's something they've lost over the last few years. Heck, this same company waited almost six years to put out a new version of Internet Explorer. Silverlight may help, but it's not the end-all be-all.
Bottom line: Though it maintains its dominance, Microsoft needs to consistently prove (and properly market) its leadership position on the Web or risk losing even more luster.