Microsoft at 40: 5 Successes, 5 Failures - InformationWeek

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4/9/2015
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Kelly Sheridan
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Microsoft at 40: 5 Successes, 5 Failures

In honor of Microsoft's 40th birthday, InformationWeek reflects on the successes, failures, and lessons learned that built the company as it stands today.
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In 1975, 19-year-old Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard and teamed up with his buddy Paul Allen to revolutionize the history of computing. Shortly afterwards, Microsoft was born with the mission of putting a computer in every home.

Four decades and three CEOs later, the company has evolved into an empire that continues to dominate personal computing around the world, albeit while dealing with issues of middle age. There may not be a computer in every household around the world, but Microsoft is markedly closer to achieving this goal than it was upon its inception.

The celebration of Microsoft's 40th birthday is one that marks many decades of hard work and the great triumphs and disappointing failures that came with it. After all, you don't evolve from a tiny startup to a billion-dollar enterprise without a few setbacks.

[Windows 10: Redstone Update in 2016]

We learned that when Microsoft succeeds, it makes a splash. From the inception of MS-DOS to the widely applauded Windows 95, to the current development of Windows 10, the tech giant has made clear that it's a force to be watched. Its software has become a staple of businesses and consumers throughout the world. 

However, with great success come great failures. There have been times that Microsoft has arrived too late (or too early) to the game when trying to pin down the next big tech trend. Sometimes it completely missed the mark, and consequently suffered as customers fled in favor of competitors like Apple.

In celebration of its 40th birthday, former CEO Gates wrote an email to employees running the corporation that he has since left in the hands of successors Steve Ballmer and, now, Satya Nadella as he focuses his time on philanthropic efforts. Gates briefly reflected on a largely successful history but also noted, "What matters now is what we do next."

We've spent plenty of time pondering how Microsoft's current projects will affect its future. Will Windows 10 appeal to a global audience that mostly trashed its predecessor, Windows 8? Will Windows Phone ever see growth in a market dominated by Apple and Samsung? Will Satya Nadella's "mobile first, cloud first" vision carry Microsoft into a successful future?

Let's take a break from speculation and reflect on how Microsoft grew into the company it is today. On the following pages, we'll look back at some of the moments that built Microsoft -- and some products that, perhaps, should have stayed ideas.

Kelly Sheridan is the Staff Editor at Dark Reading, where she focuses on cybersecurity news and analysis. She is a business technology journalist who previously reported for InformationWeek, where she covered Microsoft, and Insurance & Technology, where she covered financial ... View Full Bio

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JerryRioux
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JerryRioux,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/9/2015 | 5:53:14 PM
Tough Critic
Boy, you're a tough critic, Kelly.  Only five successes in 40 years???  IMHO, Microsoft had far more successes than failures over the decades.  Windows 3.1 was definitely a success - especially for those of us who'd used earlier versions of the product.  Word and Excel were clearly individual successes longer before Office arrived.  They handily toppled WordPerfect and Lotus 1-2-3 from their thrones.  (Though, I still miss a few of WordPerfect's superior features.)  Outlook and FrontPage were also winners, though FrontPage's heydays are long gone. 

I'm also surprised that you didn't include RT on the failures list.  Though I personally love using RT, it was quite a commercial flop.
Kelly22
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Kelly22,
User Rank: Strategist
4/10/2015 | 10:52:50 AM
Re: Tough Critic
@JerryRioux if I had chosen to spotlight all of Microsoft's highlights in 40 years, I'd be writing throughout the next week! Though with that kind of time, I would have chosen to include Win 3.1, 7 and Xbox among Microsoft's other big successes. I remember using WordPerfect when I was younger and liked it, but it was no competition for Word combined with the rest of the Office suite.
NedH549
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NedH549,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/10/2015 | 12:32:37 PM
Re: Tough Critic
What?  No mension of VISTA??
tjgkg
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tjgkg,
User Rank: Ninja
4/11/2015 | 3:11:42 PM
Re: Tough Critic
I agree with you about Win 3.1. It's what stabilized Windows and allowed it to start dominating the market. But to say that Word and Excel knocked WordPerfect and Lotus off their perches is misleading. Because they were bundled together and MS became a monopoly is the reason they lost out, not because they were superior products. In fact I don't even think MS developed either one of them, they were acquisitions.
JohnW585
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JohnW585,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/12/2015 | 5:10:43 PM
LOL
Of course: Clippy is a minus, XP is a plus...
scooper612
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scooper612,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/10/2015 | 9:27:27 AM
Missing the biggest Misses
What about BOB?  No, not the movie.....the ......well, I guess you could call it an OS.  Or, maybe not.  Either way this "front-end" geared mainly for kids completely missed the mark that others like Leapfrog have made a killing at.

But at the absolute top of my worst (and hated) list has to be Windows ME.  After they hurried the release of 98 riddled with bugs and then redeamed themselves with 98se (it was good), they then took all that was solid in 95 and 98se and completely through it out the windows (yes, pun intended) and put out the abomination they called the "Millenium Edition."  The only thing millenial about that piece of crap were the bugs and BSODs.

Great column Kelly!
Pablo Valerio
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Pablo Valerio,
User Rank: Ninja
4/10/2015 | 9:36:22 AM
A couple of hardware products
Kelly, 

I belive that Microsoft deserves some praise for a couple of hardware products:

1. The Ergonomic Keyboard: Introduced in 1994 was designed to help people type more naturally. It became very popular and other manufacturers started to offer similar products.

2. The X-Box: Although the console market is quite competitive MS has been sucessful in making the X-Box one of the top gaming platforms. The Xbox + Kinect combo is one of the most powerful systems you can connect to your TV.

 

 
Kelly22
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Kelly22,
User Rank: Strategist
4/10/2015 | 11:28:54 AM
Re: A couple of hardware products
@pablo great point, Xbox was another big hit from Microsoft. The ergonomic keyboard is also worthy of inclusion among its best products... I smell a follow-up list in the making.
mpineda78501
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mpineda78501,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/10/2015 | 10:05:28 AM
where do you leave Enterprise IT tools?
MS has consistently delivered great products for IT and enterprise for decades.  Among them: Windows Server, Exchange, WSUS, SCE, SQL Server, Lync.  We should give the company more credit than just 5 successes in 40 years.  Perhaps its largest contribution to the technology industry was the standardization of platforms for developers and users in general.
hho927
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hho927,
User Rank: Ninja
4/10/2015 | 4:53:12 PM
Re: where do you leave Enterprise IT tools?
I'm not impressed by MS server admin tools. Unix/Linux has better server admin tools. The only different is windows offer GUI which makes so many windows server administrators dump because they don't really understand the underneath.

I'm not impressed by visual studio either. It's slow and buggy and mostly is for windows platform.

Where is visual basic now?
rjones2818
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rjones2818,
User Rank: Strategist
4/10/2015 | 10:22:08 AM
What? No Windows ME?
You have to have some serious flops not to include Windows ME as a top five flop.

 

And...now that I think of it, Steve probably should have been listed as a top five flop as well.  Windows 10 is a coin flip at this time.
jagibbons
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jagibbons,
User Rank: Ninja
4/10/2015 | 12:53:38 PM
Re: What? No Windows ME?
In the business space, Vista was definitely a problem. At least until the first big service pack came out. After that, it was a decent OS. I would argue ME was far worse than Vista, even on day one.
mejiac
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mejiac,
User Rank: Ninja
4/11/2015 | 11:25:21 AM
Re: What? No Windows ME?
@jagibbons,

I concur...ME was by far the worst! To the point that even booting up it would fail.

I personally liked Vista, I saw it as a step forward (which Windows 7 was able to take to the finish line). One thing I know Vista caused major headaches for corporate IT was that the requirements to upgrade to Vista was greater than existing machines on XP. So a system upgrade would entail new hardware. Thankfully with Windows 7, company laptops were able to push updates overnight versus issuing new laptops.
jagibbons
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jagibbons,
User Rank: Ninja
4/11/2015 | 12:00:48 PM
Re: What? No Windows ME?
Eventually old computers have to be upgraded or replaced. When that time comes, many will complain about the OS that eventually needed the upgrade. Vista was a big change from XP. People didn't like it. Windows 8 was a big change from 7. Many didn't like it. It's is actually a very good OS that pushed some changes people weren't ready for. Perfect? No. But a failed OS? Certainly not.
tjgkg
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tjgkg,
User Rank: Ninja
4/11/2015 | 12:59:53 PM
Re: What? No Windows ME?
Win 8 not a failure? It is a very poorly designed GUI. I do not think I have found one person who likes it. At least with Vista the GUI did not radically change and all the problems were fixed with Win7. But even years after Win8's release, people are still refusing to buy a PC with it installed. Instead they are opting for Win7. From what i have heard, Win10 is going to allow the user to select the GUI. That certainly is an acknowledgement that Win8 is a failure. That and the start button on Win8.1!
mejiac
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mejiac,
User Rank: Ninja
4/14/2015 | 9:54:19 AM
Re: What? No Windows ME?
@tjgkh,

I share your sentiment regarding Win 8...the Metro UI added no value what so ever, even less at the entreprise level.

I do encourage you to try out Windows 10 Technical Preview, and I think you'll be pleasently surprised at the changes and enhancements Microsoft has implemented. I'm using it as a dedicated HTPC, and I love it (granted, with bugs here and there, but it's expected).

I love the use of Cortana, it's so convenient.
Li Tan
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Li Tan,
User Rank: Ninja
4/15/2015 | 2:48:29 PM
Re: What? No Windows ME?
I have tried Windows 10 and it brings much better user experience compared to its ancestors. In the past 40 years, MS brought us a bunch of great products: MS Messenger, Windows, Office, etc. Some of them are still dominating today and the milestone product of mordern computing industry.
mejiac
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mejiac,
User Rank: Ninja
4/16/2015 | 1:01:16 PM
Re: What? No Windows ME?
It's clear that microsoft has been in many ways at the forefront of technology trends and consumer behaviour. Things have changed mostly because of fierce (very fierce) competition, where customers today want quicker turn around regarding product upgrades. And because of the market, consumers also want things to "just work", versus having to go through installation wizzards and check boxes.

So far what I've seen in Windows 10 is a winner, and the rest of the ecosystem (Phone, Tablets) are also looking very promising.
Li Tan
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Li Tan,
User Rank: Ninja
4/15/2015 | 2:48:32 PM
Re: What? No Windows ME?
I have tried Windows 10 and it brings much better user experience compared to its ancestors. In the past 40 years, MS brought us a bunch of great products: MS Messenger, Windows, Office, etc. Some of them are still dominating today and the milestone product of mordern computing industry.
tjgkg
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tjgkg,
User Rank: Ninja
5/4/2015 | 1:43:01 PM
Re: What? No Windows ME?
@mejiac: Very encouraging news about Win 10. I'm happy that Microsoft hears the comments. I'm trying to support a vendor with Win 8.x laptops and it has really been terrible. Maybe all this will go away with the new system.
mejiac
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mejiac,
User Rank: Ninja
5/4/2015 | 3:37:42 PM
Re: What? No Windows ME?
@tjgkg,

Thank you for your comment. Think you can share with the community what have been your main hurdles and any leassons learned?

 

Thanks
tjgkg
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tjgkg,
User Rank: Ninja
5/4/2015 | 5:31:13 PM
Re: What? No Windows ME?
Aside from the general clumsiness of the UI, trying to set up wi-fi connectivity on my company's network has been a real challenge lately. Despite using protocols (such as PEAP) that have worked in Win 7, they do not work with Win 8.x. It is very difficult to get into various devices and settings. Nothing is logically or intuitively designed.
Kelly22
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Kelly22,
User Rank: Strategist
4/13/2015 | 10:25:36 AM
Re: What? No Windows ME?
At first I was undecided on whether to call Windows 8 a huge miss for Microsoft. I have a Surface running it now and while it's not great, it's functional. I prefer to use it as a touchscreen because I think the OS was designed for that. But ultimately Win8 went on the list because Microsoft missed the mark for its target audience with its design. Most users running Windows in business or for productivity aren't using the OS on a touchscreen; they're running it on a desktop or laptop. The GUI just doesn't lend itself to that kind of use.
rjones2818
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rjones2818,
User Rank: Strategist
4/13/2015 | 1:05:31 PM
Re: What? No Windows ME?
Windows 8 was a commercial failure. It didn't move people off of XP like it was supposed to and it didn't force companies to upgrade their computer hardware.  Part of this is that Microsoft welded touch on top of it in an attempt to compete with IOS and Android.  That's pretty much failed so far.  It's not a bad operating system once you get past the tiles, but it has been perceived as a failure, much the way Vista was.
jagibbons
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jagibbons,
User Rank: Ninja
4/13/2015 | 1:16:19 PM
Re: What? No Windows ME?
I'll agree that it didn't push the monumental shift that Microsoft had hoped. For those who take a little bit of time to get used to the altered "start menu" or just decide not to let it bother them, the workings of the OS are an improvement over Windows 7. If you have a touchscreen, so much the better.
jries921
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jries921,
User Rank: Ninja
4/17/2015 | 12:33:23 PM
Re: What? No Windows ME?
The notion that MS can or should force customers or anyone else to do anything is precisely what got it into legal trouble in the 1990s and early 2000s.  Legitimate businesses don't force, they put out goods and services people want to buy at prices they're happy to pay.  Vista was an expensive lesson in what happens when a vendor overestimates its ability to dictate to the market.  It appeared for a time that MS management had learned that lesson, but then they put out Windows 8.  Hopefully this time the lesson will take permanently, but only time will tell.

 
tjgkg
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tjgkg,
User Rank: Ninja
4/11/2015 | 1:05:44 PM
Re: What? No Windows ME?
ME was a transitional o/s. It was really there for folks who needed backward compatability with pre Win95 applications. XP resolved just about all those issues as did the changes to the protocols MS issued to developers for their applications running on future versions of Windows. I agree with you, Vista was not a problem for me but more for Corporate IT. But Win8 is a disaster.
tjgkg
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tjgkg,
User Rank: Ninja
4/11/2015 | 3:15:52 PM
Re: What? No Windows ME?
I don't think ME was meant as a serious next edition. It was the last of the Win 3.x operating systems and was essentially a stop gap before XP was released to take over. Remember there was 95 "for consumers" and NT "for enterprises" at the time. XP brought them together.
fuller_douglas
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fuller_douglas,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/10/2015 | 11:39:21 AM
Microsoft at 40
There is no mention of Datacenter products. What about Windows Server, MS SQL Server, IIS and Exchange? A huge number of companies run their businesses on these products. Of course there have been misses here as well. SharePoint has never delivered what it should have
hho927
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hho927,
User Rank: Ninja
4/10/2015 | 1:43:56 PM
DOS was bought
Not created.

The list is limitted.

I would rank: best) windows 95, office suite(word,excel, powerpoint,etc), slq, windows nt (server),exchange, xp, xbox, kinect

worst)windows 3.1, windows mobile, kin phone, zune mp3 player, windows me(vista,8.1), activex (IE), surface rt
tjgkg
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tjgkg,
User Rank: Ninja
4/11/2015 | 1:08:27 PM
Re: DOS was bought
One could also say Win 95 was Apple 90 (or something like that). The Office suite was a collection of applications that were acquired. The components were good, but not the best. Word was not WordPerfect, Excel was not Lotus, etc. But Gates wound up cornering the market and his products prevailed.
mejiac
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mejiac,
User Rank: Ninja
4/11/2015 | 11:29:45 AM
40 years of leassons learned
Kelly,

Really great article. Kudos on being able to reduce the list of both ups and downs to just 10, since if given freedom, we can easilly write books on the subject...Good Work!

From the list of the "downs", it goes to show that a company can try to venture into trying to produce it's own design, but you have to consider the voice of the customer. You can't simply put a product on the shelves and assume people will accept them, and even more in such a competitive environemnt where other companies will bend over backwards and back to assure a good consumer experience.

I stronlgy agree that Windows 10 is microsoft listening, and applying it's leassons learned. I've been using Windows 10 as a dedicated HTPC, and I absolutly love it. To the point that I ordered a microphone that has greater capacity just so I can ask Cortana from accross the room.
Kelly22
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Kelly22,
User Rank: Strategist
4/13/2015 | 10:37:17 AM
Re: 40 years of leassons learned
@mejiac thanks! For a company that has grown as much as Microsoft has, 40 years is plenty of time for hits and misses. I think (/hope) that Windows 10 will be a good follow-up to Windows 8, just as Windows 7 addressed the issues in Vista. To your point, Win8 was Microsoft giving its customers what it thought they wanted - and, given the overwhelmingly negative reaction, they were wrong. It sounds like Microsoft has learned, though, and it's actively trying to listen. I'm also running the preview and think it looks great so far.
mejiac
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mejiac,
User Rank: Ninja
4/14/2015 | 9:49:23 AM
Re: 40 years of leassons learned
@Kelly22,

Spot On!

I am curious to see is Windows 10 will address any specific needs at the enterprise level, to the point that companies won't wait 5 years to migrate.

The transition from Windows XP to Windows 7 was slow at best, and most companies only migrated because Microsoft decided to pull the plug on XP support, so not sure what strategy will be implement for Windows 10
TerryB
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TerryB,
User Rank: Ninja
4/14/2015 | 1:21:18 PM
Re: 40 years of leassons learned
@mejac, I don't see that changing, certainly not at our company. Enterprises care about getting work done, which means applications, not o/s. I would argue the last o/s reason for enterprise productivity was either Active Directory or Group Policy support. You could also throw in, from the old days, the ability to boot faster and not crash on users. But for most part, that problem ended with XP and Pentium 4.

Now that core o/s doesn't bring anything new (like AD) to the table, every upgrade is just a cost exercise to get your applications running on new version, plus any user training. Win 10 should at least minimize training effort (over Win 8 with no Start button) and Win 10 should run most Win 7 apps without requiring upgrades. I think biggest thing to watch will be this new browser, how backwards compatible it is for IE apps. For example, we still run WSS 3.0 (free Sharepoint), how's that going to do with this new browser geared for HTML5?

So I'm suspecting end of support for Win 7 will again drive upgrade. If anyone in enterprise space disagrees, I'd be very curious to hear your thoughts why you would go sooner.
TerryB
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TerryB,
User Rank: Ninja
4/13/2015 | 2:00:12 PM
Active Directory
I'm a little surprised this wasn't mentioned in article or comments so far. Perhaps because it's not really a product but a service running on Windows products. But I would argue in enterprise space, it's the single business reason Macs and Linux has not made more headway into the Windows workstations.

I also think some of it's other enterprise products like SQL Server, Windows Server and Exchange have to be considered unqualified success stories. But I think list was more based on consumer side of things, who would never use any of these things (that they knew of). It is really this enterprise side of things that will keep MS relevant for forseeable future, not the consumer market. You could argue now that Xbox is their biggest consumer product, I'm not sure how many pure consumers (no work use at all) are still buying Windows machines. Their smartphones have replaced what consumers used to buy Windows machines for.
jries921
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jries921,
User Rank: Ninja
4/17/2015 | 12:24:38 PM
Vista was not the worst Windows of all time
I won't discuss 1 and 2 since I never used them, but while Vista was slow and booby trap laden, the UI was decent and it is rumored that once the driver issues were worked out, it functioned rather nicely (but was that really worth the effort?).  Nope, the worst Windows I have ever used is none other than Windows 8.0 due to its confusing, cumbersome user interface.  It should be noted that though a few of us thought Steve Ballmer should have been fired over Vista, it appears to have been the Windows 8 debacle that finally pushed him into a new career as an NBA owner.

 After all these years, I still think Windows 2000 was the best Windows I ever used.  May it rest in peace and honor.

 
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