Microsoft vs. Apple, Post Gates and Jobs: Which Survives Until 2020?

Microsoft suffers from a tarnished brand while Apple relies far too heavily on the brilliance of one man, Steve Jobs. Can either firm overcome their inherent flaws?
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If you look at the recent concerns surrounding Steve Jobs’ departure you’d probably conclude that Microsoft is the more likely to be around, given it’s still growing financially long after Bill Gates effectively stepped out of the leadership role.

Steve Jobs, on the other hand, has tied himself so closely to the appearance of success that few can see the possibility of a succession plan that could save the company even though, currently, Apple is flying higher than Microsoft is. It seems almost surreal that it’s even valid to talk about Apple’s failure, given how well they are currently doing – yet a lot of us are.

With Bill Gates departing completely from Microsoft shortly and Steve Jobs likely to depart Apple by the end of the decade if not sooner, let’s look at the future of these two companies and what is likely coming.

What is Survival?

But survival to me means more than remaining in business. For instance I think the IBM of the 1970s died in the late 1980s and we now have a different and dramatically weaker company in its place with the same name. Part of what makes Microsoft Microsoft and Apple Apple is their unique approaches to business and the market – things that their customers and investors admire and get excited about.

If we look at the Microsoft that came to power and peaked in 2005 and the Apple that initially peaked around 1987 and now is reborn and reaching even higher peaks today, we see some clear strengths that define both firms.

Apple is defined by focus on the consumer experience, by providing a combination of strong end-to-end experience that starts when the product is first conceptualized and moves through retail until a planned end of life. Apple is unique in that it seems to work very hard to ensure satisfaction with their intentionally limited number of offerings, from the moment a customer buys them to the moment they buy the next version.

Social engineering as applied to products is their greatest strength.

Microsoft is a platform and tools company at its core and vastly more complex than Apple. Complexity is not strength for the firm, however, and it too is best when focused – often requiring a competitor to provide that focus.

Its strongest division is the server and tools division, which best showcases this strength. This division focuses not on end users but developers and enterprise customers, who generally are very pleased with the results and have demonstrated their satisfaction by rewarding that division with strong financial growth. When Microsoft is strongest is when it’s sharply focused on a problem, has a goal in mind (not a competitor), and the company moves as one. The .NET initiative was their latest example of this strength.

Seeds for the Future

For Microsoft there are indicators of success ahead. Thanks largely to Apple’s very hostile product assassination campaign on Vista, Microsoft is currently more focused on making Windows 7 a hit than I’ve ever seen them since Windows 95.

They have largely dismantled their foolish “get the facts” campaign and started to fully embrace the open source needs of their developer audience. And they have created four new products that could rise to greatness: Microsoft Live Mesh, Sync, .NET Micro Framework, and One Care, each of which is well positioned against emerging opportunities. But any of these products could fall to executive foolishness executive foolishness – as Chrome Effects did, allowing someone like Adobe (Flash) to fill the void.

Apple has a bigger problem because of the solid connection to Steve Jobs and the apparent inability now, or in the past, to find someone else who can keep a large number of very creative people focused and productive – let alone be the chief sales person and product advocate.

But Apple is at the top of their game and actually enters this cycle much stronger. And there are tools available like Virsona that may eventually makes someone like Steve Jobs effectively immortal with regard to leadership. We have seen that Pixar/Disney can make fictional characters incredibly real, why not do the same to Steve Jobs and turn his image into a perpetual spokesman for Apple? So here do the seeds exist to potentially address the most difficult parts of Apple’s long-term problem: the loss of Steve Jobs.


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Tags: Microsoft, Apple, Vista, steve jobs, bill gates


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