Is Microsoft the Big Brother watching you now?

by Ashok Nayar

I’ve always loved Microsoft. Primarily because I love Bill Gates. In a day and age where business is run by corporate moguls who care for little other than their bottom line, and who ultimately know little outside of their bottom line, it is fascinating to see an intellectual rise to the top. Watching Bill Gates give an interview is truly inspired. You can see the levels and depth of his intelligence in his speech. But beyond their founder and former CEO, I’ve loved the company and it’s underlying vision of putting a computer on everyone’s desk; a PC on everyone’s desk to be specific. And to some extent they’ve done that.

The issue lies in growing as they have, and staying current. Arguably, they’re the most powerful technology company in the world right now, spanning over 100 countries, with over 70,000 employees. But, as a consequence of growing, one becomes much more averse to change. An 800 lb gorilla takes much longer to walk a mile (assuming it can), than a mouse. Staying small and dynamic is a huge competitive advantage that many small startups have. As they grow, it’s inevitable that this advantage drops. But there have been a few companies, Google namely, that have managed to stay both current and grow to scale. Microsoft has not been able to do so.

Back in 1984, during the Superbowl, Apple, the young dynamic company of it’s time, launched an advertisement named “Big Brother is Watching You”. Who was this Big Brother they were referring to? It was none other than IBM, the giant corporate technology identity, that no one would ever think of overcoming. But, similar to Microsoft, they were large, slow, and averse to change. Has Microsoft become the new IBM? That’s probably not giving them enough credit, but looking at their product development and the lack of innovation that they have in the cloud these days, the argument is not too far off. Recently they launched an online version of Microsoft Office to compete with Google Docs, Thinkfree and Zoho. But all of these services are free, and Microsoft decides to allow only Microsoft Office owners to use it! The irony of the situation is that while trying to stay current and market to the consumers who have decided to use free software, they’re asking you to buy their product to use their free one!

Now Microsoft does have enough cash to buy up any industry, and they have much more cash than IBM ever did, so they’re probably not going anywhere soon. But if they continue to decide to go against innovation, and fail to notice changes within their own industry, well then I’d say with no hesitation, that they will have a tough time holding onto all that cash.