In the 1990s, Microsoft was the undisputed, undefeated heavyweight champion of IT. With operating system release after operating system release and a huge market share, it seemed to be an unstoppable juggernaut.
What a difference a decade makes. With the end of the 2000s in sight, Microsoft's still on top, to be sure. But as the old saying goes, uneasy rests the crown. Although things eventually worked out in Microsoft's favor, its trust-busting legal troubles at the beginning of the decade gave the company some (perhaps undeserved) negative publicity.
Redmond now faces serious competition from other IT giants such as Apple and Google, as well as the techie insurgents in the open-source community. And its recent attempt at acquiring Web rival Yahoo seems to be moving in "two steps forward, two steps back" fashion.
Perhaps the biggest concern for the company this decade, though, has been the release of and response to Windows Vista, Microsoft's much-ballyhooed OS. The development project, originally dubbed "Longhorn," was marked by undue secrecy, numerous delays and a somewhat anticlimactic launch.
Back in September 2006, I wrote the following in CertMag:
"Redmond's soon-to-debut operating system – Microsoft's Windows Vista – has a lot of buzz around it. A good deal of the chatter, however, has been about its delayed launch deadlines. The company has pushed back the dates for releasing Vista to the public a few times, and it might again in order to get the OS ‘ready for prime time,' in the words of Microsoft founder Bill Gates. When it does come out, though, what features and functions will the tech world be talking about?"
I went on to overview the new interface, networking capabilities and security features. Yet, once Vista was actually released in early 2007, the main topic of discussion wasn't the "features and functions," but rather the fact that so few customers, corporate and individual, seemed to be interested in Vista.
In fact, most of Microsoft's target audience opted to stick with previous versions of Windows. (It has since managed to capture about 5 percent of large-business accounts, according to the company's own statistics.) A few months after its launch, Vista was perhaps best-known in the public mind as the punch line in Apple's iconic "Mac vs. PC" commercials. Even worse, these days, some corporate IT directors have suggested they might just skip this release and wait for Microsoft's next OS. Given the time Vista took, that might be a while.
Microsoft isn't going to take this lying down, though. The company seems to have launched a marketing blitz focused on educating potential customers about its product and addressing some misconceptions. An example of this was its recent "Five Misunderstood Features in Windows Vista" announcement that addressed issues with user-account control, image management, display driver model, Windows search and 64-bit architecture. (For more on that, go here.)