I usually pay relatively little attention to news about Microsoft, not counting the usual jokes about virii and blue screens. What one hears about XP and Vista is usually not too exciting, and even MSFT stock has been slowly but steadily going down since 2000.

But lately there’s been some philosophical discussion of the whole Microsoft story. For instance, Forbes has a very interesting discussion of Microsoft’s midlife crisis:

…In the dog years of Silicon Valley, Microsoft, at 30, is in advanced middle age. The company relies on Windows and a suite of desktop applications – products released a decade ago – for 80% of sales and 140% of profits. Newer products – the Xbox videogame machine, the MSN online service, the wireless and small-business software – collectively have racked up $7 billion in losses in four years…

The article goes on to draw parallels to IBM, which suffered a similar crisis in the Eighties. Then I saw a couple of Business Week articles, including one about employee dissatisfaction. It was interesting to read how far Microsoft has come from its beginnings – both in the positive and negative senses – and in what varied direction.

Then I saw this great post over at Matt Gemmell‘s blog:

I just don’t have any real anger towards Microsoft anymore…

…I’m not interested in Microsoft bashing or even much Windows criticism at this point, and that surprises the hell out of me, to be honest. I guess I just don’t really care anymore. I have an OS that I really like, without the sense of compromise I had way back in the days of classic Mac OS. I feel I’ve got the best end of the deal, and I still get the “elite club” thing we’ve all always cherished. I don’t want Apple to destroy Microsoft, nor are they going to…

…I wouldn’t want to use Windows on my own machine, but at long last I think I’m finally really comfortable with it being around. I guess that if I was Microsoft, I’d find that pretty terrifying.

Of course you should read the whole thing; I’ll be translating this for publication in Macmania magazine later on, since I thought Matt’s really spot on here.

Finally, while considering writing something up here, someone pointed me at the latest Rob Enderle Apple Death Knell (here are the other ones – currently 46!). I won’t dissect it too detailedly as The Mac Observer folks have already done so, but what I found most striking about that piece was the great disconnect between the writer’s view of Apple and “Linux” as minor/doomed competitors of Microsoft for the entire computing market, and my (and other’s) feelings of Apple and Microsoft inhabiting increasingly different spaces.

Yes, there’s still part of the rivalry over the desktop OS market – the Tiger/Vista face-off which both sides view as mostly decided, each in their favor. And the QuickTime/WindowsMedia thing, which has largely migrated out of the desktop space into the music player space. But, come on, it makes no sense anymore to speak broadly of “marketshare”. The computer market has split into multiple markets. Servers are going one way, cheapie home or office computers another, high-end game machines yet another, and so forth for at least a dozen of splinter markets. Apple is interested in some of these segments, but not in most others; and correctly so, as they shouldn’t fall into the trap of overextending their reach, as Microsoft seems to have done. Instead, with the iPod, they’ve defined and dominated one new market with great focus and competence.

I can’t resist quoting one paragraph of the Enderle piece, however:

For Office 12 the clear advancement is discoverability. The product has over 1,500 features and most of us use 30 or 40. The massive UI enhancement has to do with being able to find and understand these features, the vast majority of which have been included in earlier versions of the product. This is something where the words “long overdue” seem incredibly inadequate. Everything else, no matter how compelling, that is new in this product simply seems unimportant when compared to this one comprehensive overdue enhancement.

If I understood this alright… the user now needs a search facility to find out which of these 1,500 features should be used to turn off, say, automatic uppercasing? This is the microcosmic analogue of Microsoft’s error of trying to do all things for all markets. And failing, if Forbes’ numbers are correct.

If my hunches are correct (as I’ve explained in the previous post), Apple will probably seize the PowerPC->Intel transition to leave the retail OS market entirely. They’ll sell updates for holdout Mac OS 9 users for some time, and updates for MacIntel boxes, but in 2-3 years they may even stop breaking out OS update sales figures from other software sales figures. It will be great fun reading these columnist after that happens.