They cant focus on Apple, IBM, or Google as a company and each has made moves that have largely gone unchallenged in recent months. The Sun opportunity appears to have been missed by Microsoft, they have been unable to create a compelling alternative to either the iPhone or the iPod, and currently Apple is taking a massive amount of market share in the PC space.
In fact the company is defined by conflicts that likely shouldnt exist. For instance Media Room is in conflict with Media Center, Xbox with PC Gaming, Live Mesh with Windows, and Zune with Windows Mobile. To a large extent this mirrors the problems in the IBM of the 1980s that Microsoft beat. And it helps explain why they have, this decade, been much less able to compete with smaller firms.
But Google is starting to make Microsoft look like an example of simplicity. The company is ranging so far afield that their battles and the massive decline in their image is starting to define them.
They have taken on phone companies, utilities, libraries, and they even have a group working on automotive designs. Yet their revenue sources have changed very little in the last year (they actually require job applicants to recite how Google makes its money, likely because their executives need to be constantly reminded).
Microsofts Bing is able to take share from a largely defocused Google, which cant seem to stay on a subject area long enough to finish it.
While neither IBM nor Apple are perfect IBM still has way too much bureaucracy and Apple is both too dependent on Steve Jobs and too controlling both firms lead their respective industries in terms of focus and general financial health.
Apple stood out over IBMs, which did very nicely as well last quarter because the consumer market moves more quickly than the IT market and IBMs results have been more consistent for similar reasons.
In the end, and over time, focus tends to define the winners over the losers. Companies that lose focus as much as Google seems to be doing at the moment seldom survive with their executive teams intact.
While Microsoft seems to be repeating IBMs mistakes, Google appears to be excelling here and making avoidable mistakes ranging across all industries and geographies. Its almost as if a Google executive mistakenly believed a book on corporate disasters was a to-do list.
Regardless, there is a lesson here on all sides. Focus = profits and right now profits are golden.