I’ve been sorting through my off-line digital library this weekend (I tend to store interesting articles for personal reference) and stumbled across an old Business Week article from October 2004 – ‘This Way to the Future‘ (still available online). I remember reading a quote from it at the time and wondering if it described the position Microsoft was in. (I was then working at MS and disagreed with some of the processes being put in place.)

The article included a question put to Steve Jobs:

“What can we learn from Apple’s struggle to innovate during the decade before your return in 1997?”

The response:

“How are monopolies lost? Some very good product people invent some very good products. [But] what’s the point of focusing on making the product even better when the only company you can take business from is yourself? So a different group of people starts to move up. And who usually ends up running the show? The sales guy. Then one day the monopoly expires, for whatever reason… but by then, the best product people have left or they are no longer listened to. And so the company goes through this tumultous time, and it either survives or it doesn’t”

At the time, it felt like the statement described Microsoft. 2.5 years later, it’s interesting to observe the changes (more so now that I’m an outsider again). Microsoft is still very much being run by the sales guys when you look at Vista and Office but is also dabbling heavily in new strategies, mostly involving the word ‘Live’ (see: Web 2.0 dots). Will they survive or not? I wouldn’t underestimate the effort they will spend trying.

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