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Anyone who has been around for more than a few years in the
technology industry can remember when Microsoft was a Goliath that couldn’t be
taken down.  The company dominated the
technology industry and toppled those companies who dared to threaten its market
share.  And that’s not because Microsoft
was ever first to market with technology. No, not at all.

For instance, Apple came first selling a computer with a
graphical user interface. Before that we lived in a world of command-line
interfaces such as DOS. But once Apple showed how it could be done and that
people wanted it, Microsoft brought to market the ever clunky Windows 3.x which
crashed if you looked at it sideways. Then came Windows 95, and the rest was
history. Microsoft owned the user interface again.

Remember Lotus 123? The Lotus spreadsheet drove sales of the
IBM PC in the 1980s. But Microsoft came along with Excel and ultimately won.

And what about exploiting the wonder that was the world wide
web in the mid-1990s. Wonder boy entrepreneur  Marc Andreessen came along, creator of what
would become the Netscape Naviagator web browser, and founded Netscape, quickly
threatening Microsoft with the promise that users could access their documents
and files via a browser no matter what operating system they were using.
Netscape’s initial public offering in 1995 achieved nearly a record for a first
day gain and valued the company at about $2.9 billion.

But Microsoft  with
its huge development resources soon improved its Internet Explorer web browser
enough to best Netscape Navigator. And Microsoft began offering some web server
technologies for free, killing Netscape’s own web server pricing. Netscape
couldn’t compete.

Microsoft’s strategy has always involved being second or
third to market after a technology had already proven a hit with users.
Microsoft would launch with an inferior product and improve on it until its
features and pricing beat the market-leading competition. Another key aspect to
Microsoft’s strategy was owning the user interface.  Microsoft was laser focused on identifying
the interface or functionality that inspired users and then offering its own
version of that. When users lived in the operating system it was Windows. When
it was about productivity applications it was Office. When it was email,
Microsoft introduced Outlook on the client side. And when it was a web browser
Microsoft came out with IE.

Fast forward to today. Microsoft was very late to the smartphone
game. PCs still reigned supreme when Apple introduced iPhone. Now users are
more attached to their smartphones than their PCs, a shift that has diminished
Microsoft’s influence in the technology market. Meanwhile, Netscape’s vision of
accessing applications via a web browser is being realized – by Google. Google
Apps may not match Microsoft Office feature by feature. But more people are
paying attention to it now than a year ago. The rise of Google Apps is also a
hit to Microsoft’s Goliath status.

Microsoft has always been considered a channel-friendly
company, and many  IT solution provider
partners of Microsoft are vastly disappointed by the software giant’s recent
missteps and miscalculations. Neither Apple nor Google offers as robust a
channel program. Partners want Microsoft to succeed.  But what happened to the Goliath that
Microsoft once was? Sure, Windows and Office and other Microsoft technologies
still remain huge. But the old Microsoft wouldn’t have put up with its tech
giant status being threatened.

And on the eve of Microsoft’s Worldwide Partner Conference,
we are left to wonder, can Microsoft come back from behind to own the
smartphone, cloud applications and tablet markets where users live now?  Will Microsoft executives surprise us with
announcements of new innovations and brilliant strategies?  I hope so. 
But I doubt it.