Just as overnight success can take a lifetime, overnight collapse can also take a long time. There are founders creating companies today who weren’t born when people were still actually scared of big bad “Micro$oft.” It stopped setting the agenda 18 years ago. Windows 95 was a moment of victory, but it was also the peak: It came just at the moment when the Internet started taking off, and Microsoft was never a relevant force on the Internet despite investing tens of billions of dollars.
But you needed a PC to use the Internet, and for almost everyone that PC ran Windows, so Microsoft’s failure to create successful online services didn’t seem to matter. Microsoft survived and thrived in the PC Internet era, despite appearing to be irrelevant, by milking its victory in the previous phase of the technology industry. PC sales were 59 million units in 1995 and rose to over 350 million in 2012. Of course, that’s now coming to an end.
Though it looks as if we’ve passed the tipping point, this process isn’t going to be over quickly. PC sales aren’t going to zero this year. But the replacement cycle, already at five years, will lengthen further and further, more and more apps will move to mobile or the cloud, and for many people the PC will end up like the printer or fax — vestigial reminders of an older way of doing things. Microsoft may yet manage to turn Windows tablets and phones into products with meaningful market share, but it will never be dominant again.
I remember when M$ was the tech leviathan everybody loved to hate.
Will anybody ever dominate the tech scene the way they once did? Or, for that matter, the way IBM did before Microsoft?
History says: Probably. For a time.