Barney's Rubble

Glutton for Market Share

There seems to be no end to Microsoft's appetite for acquisitions and new markets.

This column, if you strip out the specifics, could've been written anytime in the last 20 years. But writing it now is more relevant than ever for we are truly at a danger point.

The problem? Microsoft wants it all. If there's a dime to be made, Redmond wants the whole 10 cents. In categories it invents (think hard to remember the last one, maybe Flight Simulator?) that's fine. Create a new category, build a brilliant product, and reap the rewards. That's the American way.

In the early days Microsoft went after large, entrenched companies like Lotus, which at one time was far bigger than Microsoft. Sure, Microsoft leveraged its desktop monopoly, but in the end Lotus was simply outsmarted -- as was IBM -- a company whose tab for two-martini lunches used to exceed Redmond's yearly income.

I could live with this, and, in fact, enjoyed watching these giants get knocked around.

But with the big guns defeated, Microsoft is turning to smaller players, and now nearly every third party is in the Redmond cross hairs.

Here's the latest hit list:

  • Anti-virus and Security Software -- McAfee, Symantec and Sunbelt were not just good partners, they saved Microsoft by making Windows usable. Now that Microsoft has figured out how to make the same software, these companies are suddenly the enemy.
  • Management software -- when Windows NT first shipped, it was a bit rough around the edges. Fortunately, systems management companies were there to smooth it all out. Now that MOM and other tools are mature, Redmond no longer needs this help. See ya!
  • Unified Communications/Messaging -- Microsoft plans to go after Cisco, Avaya and all the rest -- the same companies that taught Microsoft how it all works in the first place.
Yummy!

Walk any Microsoft show, Tech-Ed or the yearly Partner conference, and you'll see aisle after aisle of niche companies. Important indeed, but not exactly designed to go toe to toe with Big M. And many of these niche companies are next on the list.

Microsoft should not kill off or even marginalize third parties. It's bad for innovation, bad for business, bad for the magazines and Web sites that rely upon these companies for advertising (and give you great, free content as a result, and I'm not just talking about this mag you've got in your hot little hands).

What should you do? Don't blindly buy bigger and bigger Microsoft stacks. Just because it's integrated doesn't mean it's best in the long run. Remember, the chief advantage of any monopoly is price control.

Support third parties. Don't let Microsoft have it all, or you'll have to live with it when they do.

About the Author

Doug Barney is editor in chief of Redmond magazine and the VP, editorial director of Redmond Media Group.

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