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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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
4/13/2015 | 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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...
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.
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.
tjgkg
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50%
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.
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