The movie “Pirates of Silicon Valley” released in 1999 has a scene where IBM employees are shown in the 1970’s – all dressed in black suits and tie – basking in the glory of their supremacy in the computer market. IBM employees work in their fancy offices and laugh at the idea of Windows while Bill Gates and Steve Jobs are shown as youngsters, wearing jeans and running around, creating their businesses our of garages.
At today’s launch of the new Micorsoft Office 2010 in New Delhi, India I was reminded of that scene. All the Microsoft employees were wearing black suits and the event was in a star hotel with elaborate decorations etc. It looked exactly like the scene in the movie – except the sides had changed.
While the demo was being made of the how Outlook 2010 converts email chains into conversations, I overheard a couple of reporters say – that’s a straight copy from Google. When they showed some fancy Powerpoint transitions, another reporter friend actually said – that looks like Apple Keynote. Eventually, when they did show the web collaboration features of MS Office, it did look very similar to Google Docs.
Microsoft today also announced a partnership with Nokia wherein business phones of Nokia would carry an “Office Communicator” allowing presentations and chats etc to be done through cellphones. Nokia is another company desperately trying to retain market share, fighting new age companies like Blackberry and Apple in their market. The announcement seemed like two large sinking ships banking on each other to trying to save themselves.
While the event was meant to impress the press, I’m not sure they managed to do that. For one, the over 100+ reporters had no questions – I repeat – no questions for the Microsoft India Chairman. It was like the reporters were saying – we don’t care really what you do. Then, one uninterested reporter asked a very basic question – what are your sales figures and targets in India? That sounded like a decent question but the response – a duck to avoid it – was a surprise. Either they didn’t know the figures or were too embarrassed to share it.
Unless an IT company innovates, create new features and launches path breaking products, IT is not the business they can remain in for a long period of time.
From the 1970’s scenes in the movie till today, IBM is no longer in the PC market. From what I saw of Microsoft today, I’m not sure how long they will remain in the market. They’re growing old – unless they shed their black suits (& old ideas) and start innovating, some day, Microsoft will be where IBM is today. Doing something completely different from where they started and hopefully surviving.