As an avid Slashdot reader, I came today across a story there pointing to an article by a Michael S. Malone about Microsoft beginning to rot. While there are some valid and interesting points in this article (like the significance of gut vs. balance sheets or the true fact that I didn’t hear anyone praising their user experience with MS’s stuff recently) I’m not convinced.

Main reason why I’m a bit cautious with predictions of Microsoft’s failure, collapse or whatever in the near future is because I’ve been burned in the past. Back in ’96-’97 when Linux was developing at blazing speeds and what Microsoft had was crappy Windows ’95 it also looked like they run out of steam. We laughed at Win95 as being a 16-bit overlay for DOS 7.0 (which it basically was) and NT 3.51, well, wasn’t exciting at all (though it worked). They almost missed the whole Internet thing, Internet explorer was pathetic in comparison to Netscape. Everyone I knew was sure open source would wipe out likes of Microsoft within a few years.

But none of this happened. Netscape was wiped out, IE dominance is settled even despite IE again looking pathetic in comparison to Mozilla‘s newest breed. Office still rules and there is nothing to beat it. Open Office? Well, for simple documents and spreadsheets maybe yes. And yes, it has improved a lot over last few years. But still for serious word processing, I’m sorry, but no.

Also Linux is still a great server OS but still can’t be considered seriously for the desktop for non-geeks. I’ve installed Ubuntu three days ago. I was really amazed how little has changed since three years ago when I, sadly, abandoned Linux as my desktop. Again, a few things that can’t be done in any other way but by editing config files with, say, vi. I enjoy vi and I still remember what to edit, but does a simple user? And no access to most of applications without reading manuals and adding additional repositories of .deb packages (mostly for ideological reasons). It is not “install and work”, it’s still “install and then tweak the things around to get anywhere”. This is the part of the mix that makes OS X a success – some OS X users I know were not even aware there was a command line on their system until I showed them. Now, that’s how a modern GUI OS should be designed. If there is a Linux distro to match this please let me know, but I think I’ll end up buying a PB when I’ll save enough money to do it.

And in the meantime Microsoft has improved a lot. XP is stable, easy to use and I’m yet to have a virus infection or anything after three years of having it on my PC (which is connected to the net 24/7 on a public address, BTW). Also Office has improved a lot in terms of stability and reliability. I remember using Office 97 which without SR-1 crashed a lot and we had lots of problems with it. Office 2003 I use now is rock stable. This is not exciting, this is nothing new but maybe in these days of computing becoming commonplace (and programming & sysadmining becoming a blue-collar commodity job) what is needed is not excitement but solid, predictable functioning? Can you think of a killer feature now missing from, say, Word that would excite the masses?

So, maybe Microsoft is just maturing with the market. They were a geeky sweatshop when computing was the new, exciting field. They are a solid, respectable, middle-aged corporation now. So, I don’t think we will see them sinking anytime soon.