While Microsoft fully understands what it takes to move in areas where Apple cannot, in many ways it is still tied to the problems that resulted from its first deep contact with IBM. And unless it can cure itself of this IBM-sourced illness Microsofts long-term future wont look anything like its astounding past.
It is attempting to do just that with its own movement to Open Source and major restructuring in a number of divisions. Recently I saw a product that gave me hope that Microsoft was, in fact, getting better. Unlike so many offerings from Microsoft of late it felt complete, well designed, solidly executed. I cant talk about the product yet, because it is unannounced, but if it is an indicator of things to come (and not just an isolated case) the company may be getting better. For their sake I hope so because they dont have a lot of time, and their partners are still dependent to some degree on Microsoft.
Google: The New Superstar
It must be difficult for both Apple and Microsofts CEO to look at Google and remember what it was like when they were the stars of tech. Much like an aging award-winning actress who now plays only supporting roles, both Apple and Microsofts stars have paled under the brilliance of young Googles rising star.
Google, so far, has avoided both the problems associated with Apples and Microsofts models. By initially not focusing on large business they didnt have to form a deep partnership nor emulate a predecessor and have created a work environment envied by Apple and Microsoft employees alike. In addition, they quickly realized (and maybe always did) that, to make a difference, it wasnt about a single product but about control of the revenue stream.
This was more of a blend of Microsofts wanting to be in everything and Apples do a few things well product strategy. Google has a limited offering but it touches the majority of people who search on the web and increasingly Google gets a piece of the related action.
Google has also resisted the temptation to focus on Microsoft. This kind of focus nearly killed Sun and was core to Netscape, Googles direct predecessor, making a series of terminal mistakes. Instead Google focused like a laser on customers and in locking down their revenue stream with a strategy that could, if they arent blocked by anti-trust government response, lead them to the kind of dominance historically enjoyed by IBM, and currently still enjoyed by Microsoft.
While they have yet to make much of a mark with their secondary software products, like Google Apps, it is their nearly complete rejection of the current technology market and its offerings and their ability to milk the Open Source eco system that may go down in history as a best practice.