Predicting the decline of Microsoft is a favorite sport for some, and indeed, there is plenty of reason to argue that Redmond will struggle as Google and others provide cheaper alternatives to the powerfully profitable combination of Windows and Office.
But efforts ranging from Surface to Windows Phone to Project Natal also provide reason to think that Microsoft might yet be able to innovate its way through some of these challenges. The future of the world's largest software maker was the topic of Friday's CNET Reporters' Roundtable, where Robert Scoble and Don Dodge joined Rafe Needleman and me to talk about the challenges facing the company.
The soul of Microsoft
"The engineers are in a difficult position because they know what is happening in the world," said Dodge, who recently left a role at Microsoft evangelizing to start-ups and joined Google in a similar role. "They know the direction of software, but they also know where the revenue is coming from and where the customers are. That's with Windows and Office and SQL Server and Sharepoint. That's where the money is coming from; that's the way software is built. They are somewhat boxed in and can't really implement some of the ideas that they have, at least not as quickly as they would like to."
Meanwhile, the folks at Technologizer asked 28 journalists, former Microsoft workers, and others to weigh in on the future of Windows. The responses, from folks like Guy Kawasaki and Mary Jo Foley, make for an interesting read.
For example, Rob Helm of Directions on Microsoft offered this take:
For Windows to remain important, it will have to win and hold the world of low-end Web terminals--smartphones, Netbooks, and notepads--just as it won and held the PC. That means offering a small footprint, strong power management, and well-designed packages of software and hardware that are less open and more secure than a typical PC. For Microsoft, that's a technical challenge, but even more a business one, because it will have to work more closely with hardware and software developers than it ever has before.