The software giant is grappling with a mid-life crisis
Jun 9th 2011 | SAN FRANCISCO | from The Economist print edition
COMPARED with IBM, Microsoft is a mere stripling. Founded in 1975, it rose swiftly to dominate the world of personal computing with its Windows operating system and Office suite of word-processing and other productivity tools. But the company is now showing some worrying signs of middle-age fatigue. In particular, it is struggling to find a growth strategy that will enthuse disgruntled shareholders.
Grumbles are understandable. Since Steve Ballmer took over from Bill Gates as chief executive in 2000, Microsoft’s share price has languished and the company has lost its reputation as a tech trend-setter. It has been left behind in hot areas such as search and social networking by younger companies, some of which love to thumb their noses at their older rival. Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Google, recently proclaimed that leadership in the tech world had passed from Microsoft and others to a “Gang of Four” fast-growing, consumer-oriented businesses: Google, Apple, Amazon and Facebook.
抱怨是可以理解的。自从2000年史蒂夫??鲍尔默(Steve Ballmer)从比尔??盖茨手中接掌微软总裁一职以后，微软的股价就一蹶不振，公司也失去了作为科技弄潮儿的声誉。在诸如搜索和社交网络等热门领域中，它被年轻一代的公司甩在了后面，这些公司中的有一些热衷于嘲笑这位年纪大的对手。谷歌的执行主席埃里克??施密特(Eric Schmidt)最近宣称科技世界的领导力量已经从微软和其他公司传递到一个发展迅速、以消费者为导向的“四人组”公司手中：谷歌，苹果，亚马逊和脸谱网。
Few would quibble with that. The question is: what, if anything, can Microsoft do to change it? In at least some respects, the company appears to be suffering from similar ailments to those that laid IBM low before Lou Gerstner was hired in 1993 to get it back on its feet. These include arrogance bred of dominance of a particular area—mainframe computers at IBM, personal computers at Microsoft—and internal fiefs that hamper swift change. For instance, the division that champions cloud computing must deal with one that is the cheerleader for Windows, which is likely to want computing to stay on desktops for as long as possible to maximise its own revenues.
As IBM’s experience shows, rejuvenation in the tech world is possible. And some observers see encouraging glimmers of progress at Microsoft. Sarah Rotman Epps of Forrester, a research firm, reckons that Windows 8, a forthcoming version of Microsoft’s operating system, could be a serious competitor to Google’s Android on tablet computers if the company can get it to market next year. Microsoft is also in far better shape financially than IBM was at its nadir, so it can afford to splash out on acquisitions such as its recent $8.5 billion purchase of Skype, an internet-phone and video-calling service.
IBM的经验证明，在科技世界重新焕发青春是可能的。一些观察者在微软身上看到了些许鼓舞人心的进步。市场研究Forrester公司的莎拉??罗特曼??埃普斯(Sarah Rotman Epps)认为如果微软能让接下来的新操作系统Windows8在明年上市，那么它很可能在平板电脑领域与谷歌的安卓系统一决高。与IBM出于最低点时的金融构架相比，微软的要好得多，所以它才可以花大价钱进行收购，比如最近它用85亿美元收购了网络电话及视频服务提供商Skype公司。
That bet and an alliance with Nokia in mobile phones (putting the phone version of Windows into the big but troubled Finnish firm’s devices) show that Microsoft is trying to bulk up in promising areas. Yet sceptics worry that such initiatives are not the product of an overarching strategic vision, but are instead tactical moves designed to placate critics who fear Microsoft is drifting downwards. David Einhorn, a prominent hedge-fund manager whose fund holds shares in Microsoft, has publicly called for a change at the top of the firm, arguing that Mr Ballmer is “stuck in the past”. So far, the company’s board, chaired by Mr Gates, has backed its chief executive. But if IBM’s history is a guide, Microsoft may yet end up jettisoning its leader.