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Steve Ballmer is pained by his company's struggles, but his attempts to turn around his company's struggling units have seen little success thus far.   (Source: Reuters)

Microsoft Zune is one of the company's struggling products. Others include its search efforts, its mobile phone efforts, and its tablet efforts.  (Source: LIFE)
CNN Money says that the end may be near for Microsoft's attempts to appeal to the masses

Amid record profits Microsoft has serious cause for concern.  It is coming off the high of the fastest-selling operating system in its history -- Windows 7.  That OS sent its profits soaring and convinced some that Microsoft was no longer on the retreat.

But part of Windows 7's success was due to how poorly received Vista was.  With Windows 8 landing reportedly in 2012, the company may have significant difficulties in convincing the average consumer to upgrade to its latest and great OS.

Other than the Windows brand, Xbox and Microsoft Office are the company's other two major successes in the consumer sector.  But the Xbox trails Nintendo's “family friendly” Wii and the Office team is getting seriously nervous about growing consumer interest in OpenOffice.

On the other hand, Bing has failed to gain even 10 percent of the search market in most metrics, despite a massive ad push and a deal with Yahoo. Zune remains a tiny player in the MP3 market, having failed to become a true competitor in terms of sales to Apple's iPod line.  And Microsoft's smartphone empire, once a major player, is in rebuilding mode after the disastrous Kin and ill-received Windows Mobile 6.5.  It is placing its hopes on Windows Phone 7, but that phone enters a packed market.

Internet Explorer, Microsoft's browser, has long led the market, but has seen a steady decline in recent years, which may allow Firefox and Chrome to eventually reach its formerly insurmountable market share peak.  Microsoft's key hope here is a new product, Internet Explorer 9.  

So while it seems that 
CNN Money's recent headline, "Microsoft is a dying consumer brand", is a bit sensational, it is a claim that is grounded in some reality.  

One of the key points in the article is that aside from the struggles of many of Microsoft's consumer "expansion" business units, it is also bleeding executive talent, like many other struggling firms (HP, Yahoo, etc.).  States the report, "Microsoft's executive suite is in turmoil. CFO Chris Liddel, entertainment unit head Robbie Bach, device design leader J Allard and business division chief Stephen Elop have left within the past year. Ray Ozzie joined the exit parade last week."

The report praises Microsoft's recent efforts, but concludes in cautionary fashion, "Microsoft just has to hope [they're] not too late."

Much like the Romans or Greeks, Microsoft has built a mighty empire, a key part of which are expansions into new arenas -- in Microsoft's case phones, video game consoles, and internet services.  

But much like the Roman empire fell, Microsoft appears dangerously close to losing its expansions to hungrier parties.  But much like Rome, it will likely hold on to its central holdings (Windows, Internet Explorer, Xbox, and Microsoft Office) for some time, even if its other efforts fall into commercial purgatory.

The talent gap is absolutely a concern for Microsoft.  And equally concerning is the fact that the company is being led by Steve Ballmer.  Mr. Ballmer, while a brilliant tactician in some regards and a man with obviously enormous love for the company, has failed to execute a strategy to turn around the company's struggling units -- or one that works at least.  

To succeed, Microsoft may need to move on without Mr. Ballmer.  But who to pick to lead the world's largest software company, perhaps the most powerful technology company in the world?  The leading candidates have already left the company.  That means that, essentially, there's no easy answer to Microsoft's leadership issues and that the ongoing risk to the company is tremendous.

Is Microsoft's consumer brand "dying"?  Not yet, in our minds.  But it lacks the hunger that it once did.  And it most certainly sorely misses the leadership of its founder and chief visionary -- Bill Gates.

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Microsoft Brand Among Consumers
By limitedaccess on 10/27/2010 2:35:08 PM , Rating: 2
Aside from the Xbox though, Microsoft has not won over home consumers for a very long time now, if ever. Microsoft to me has always been chosen due to a lack of alternatives in the market.

Take Windows for instance, OSX and Linux aren't really true alternatives for most people (due to compatibility), for me I pick Windows to use at home for that major reason, not any other. This is probably why Windows still does very will in this area. If there were hypothetically versions of OSX, Chrome, and Linux that could be completely compatible with all Windows programs, I'm sure it would experience problems there as well.

Internet Explorer now has a wide array of acceptable alternatives such as Firefox, Chrome, and etc. Open Office is a strong alternative for home users (especially being free) to MS Office. MS Search services (Bing, Live) have of course always had to deal with many competitors, some much more established then them (Google).

Only the xbox has managed to succeed over stern competition, though its success if you look at it is as much due to some of Sony's decisions regarding the PS3, as any of Microsoft's involving the xbox.

RE: Microsoft Brand Among Consumers
By Luticus on 10/27/2010 4:02:48 PM , Rating: 2
this is probably why Windows still does very will in this area. If there were hypothetically versions of OSX, Chrome, and Linux that could be completely compatible with all Windows programs, I'm sure it would experience problems there as well
as it stand these 3 would need to get A LOT better in terms of function and features to even be on the same playing field as windows. Linux is nice but it's got a long way to go. OSX is a joke in the corporate world and doesn't support many of the features that make windows great (nor does it have a real answer to them) and chrome is just another Linux in a Google package running cloud-based apps. Windows for me, no contest!

Internet ExploRer 8 is decent enough; if you're a domain admin then you'll understand that all other browsers are a torn in your side because they defy group policy.

Open office is NOT a strong alternative to MS Office. It's a good stand in or stopgap if you can't afford office but in terms of features, interface, usability, and completeness Open Office doesn't hold a candle to MS Office. Sure home users can make open office work but they are loosing out majorly by doing so, if they are fine with that then good, for me MS Office all the way!

As for Bing you are correct that google is a huge and strong competitor. In fact in terms of search Google wins no contest. I just refuse to use Google anymore because I believe them to be evil (despite their slogan)

The Xbox is a great platform. In fact it's an amazing platform! I'm more of a Wii fan sometimes (like when other m came out) but the Xbox will have a long life as one of my most used devices.

As for CNN's predictions I call BS! If GM can turn itself around from near bankruptcy and taking government handouts then I’m sure MS who's products are still relevant, who leads the market in many areas, who is universally accepted as the worlds most powerful tech company, and who is sitting on a pile of cash that could make a lot of other companies awfully jealous... yea, I’m not worried about them for a second. I might be worried if windows and office were "sucking wind", but they aren't. Windows is doing great and so is office.

Well I got to end this rant, I’m installing office 2011 (speaking of office) on my Mac... thank god! Everything else is garbage by comparison.

RE: Microsoft Brand Among Consumers
By limitedaccess on 10/27/2010 4:22:44 PM , Rating: 2
You bring up corporate which is a very different market. But my points were strictly from the home consumer point of view. And objectively speaking Microsoft does not have a strong brand image in this area, and there absolute dominance in the OS area really is one due to necessity.

But for the typical consumer (and no I don't mean the "tech savvy" consumer either), Microsoft isn't really a strong brand to them. They will buy an Apple product (even if it is terrible for them) simply because it is an Apple, that is a strong brand image. For instance Microsofts new win 7 phones, do you think the brand name Microsoft/Windows will have the same sway in that market as Apple for the typical consumer?

Microsoft's name has huge clout in the business/corporate market. But these days for the average home user, I do not see it being there at all. They only use MS products because of no real choice or because it's anywhere. Google and Apple for instance both have much strong brand names nowadays. (I use google for search, but own no Apple products or desire them, just to give an idea of my bias)

By captainBOB on 10/28/2010 12:19:36 AM , Rating: 2
Hate to say, the man has a point. Most people outside the tech literate and corporate don't know about Microsoft, all they know is that its a computer and it has a start menu and to go to the internet you double click 'the blue e', they might not even know the name of the OS let alone what an OS is.

Then you mention Apple, they think iPods, iPhones, iPads. What happens when they realize that Apple makes computers, they'll think if their iPod/iPhone is awesome then an Apple computer is awesome too, even with the 1000+ price tag. This is just something Microsoft doesn't have in the consumer market. People could watch an ad about Windows 7 and not realize it if it wasn't mentioned, while an Apple ad...instant recognition.

What would happen if hell froze over and Apple sold their products for 99% off MSRP for one fiscal quarter?

RE: Microsoft Brand Among Consumers
By nafhan on 10/27/2010 4:42:12 PM , Rating: 2
Alternatives aren't going to come from improvements in other OS's. Alternatives will arise due to the (eventual) irrelevance of the traditional PC (including Macs). More and more of what the average consumer does can be done from web based services that will run anywhere on any device.
MS knows this, and that's probably why they are making such a big push with things like Office 365 and WinPhone 7.
Also, desk/laptop workstations will still exist, but it'll be a niche market for professionals and power users, kind of like SLR cameras.

"The Space Elevator will be built about 50 years after everyone stops laughing" -- Sir Arthur C. Clarke

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