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Microsoft: The Faint Smell of Rot 903

happycorp writes "A business reporter for ABC/Fortune is asking whether Microsoft is poised to collapse, based on years of industry observation (with successful calls in the past, he notes) rather than purely technical considerations. A short read, with this favorite quote: "if you sniff the air, you can just make out the first hints of rot.""
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Microsoft: The Faint Smell of Rot

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  • by tmk ( 712144 ) on Friday February 11, 2005 @07:29PM (#11647888)
    ...about the Roman Empire in the time of Julius Caesar. But it took several hundert years until it collapsed.
  • by mattyrobinson69 ( 751521 ) on Friday February 11, 2005 @07:41PM (#11648016)
    growth is way down in the OS and office departments
  • by madhippy ( 525384 ) on Friday February 11, 2005 @07:53PM (#11648158)
    whilst software doesn't 'wear out' - the environment in which the software is designed to operate changes such that the effect is a degredation of the software in terms of its ability to interoperate with other software and also to remain maintainable...

    for example, you've just completed a c# project for a client with target machines based on WinXP, Office XP etc... your next project is to update some software which was originally written in Vb3 running on Win3.1 - currently running on NT, the new machines the company want to roll out run 2k - will it work? what about all the dependencies ? how far do you want to 'cripple' your dev box so it matches the release system?

    (VMware is really incredibly awesome for this kind of situation ... )

    I'm personally in favour of software being maintained more like a car - yearly checkups / updates / replacement parts etc... I wonder if the net effect of regular maintenance on software would be cheaper than the develop / wait 5 years / then have to reconstruct the whole thing ....

    my 2p which by current exchange rates is around 0.0000001cents ...
  • by ChatHuant ( 801522 ) on Friday February 11, 2005 @08:00PM (#11648229)
    This kind of "insight" can be applied to almost every company, and it's about as good as Colin Fry's cold reading

    Looking for previous Malone predictions I found this gem where he predicts the death of Apple. I quote from the full article []:

    "No, I think that if Jobs proved anything, it's that the core body of Macolytes is pretty inviolable. It would be very damn hard to lose them. The question is: Can he do much more than he's done right now? He's up against 300 companies. No matter how clever he is, the combined creativity and brainpower of 300 companies ultimately will defeat him. He didn't believe that the first time around. I think he knows that now. That's why I think he's positioned Apple for the big exit. I suspect he's shopping the place around. I hear rumors to that effect but I couldn't confirm them. If he was smart he'd do the same thing as NeXT. Remember, NeXT almost died, he managed to go sideways with it, establish it with a certain amount of prestige but not a lot of long-term potential, and sold it to Apple. He ended up being a hero, but he came within weeks of being a goat. If he can sell Apple and make a ton of money, then he becomes the savior."
  • Re:Uh huh (Score:3, Informative)

    by captnitro ( 160231 ) on Friday February 11, 2005 @08:01PM (#11648235)
    Worldcom purchased MCI and then filed for bankruptcy protection in 2002 after "misaccounting" for about $3.5 billion. Compaq was purchased by HP and is one of the reasons everybody's glad to see Carly leaving this week - it was largely regarded as a stupid move. Sega is a major player in independent development because their tenure in the gaming industry, tragicly, reads like a country western song.

    I think the poster's point was not death, but significantly diminished power, as the point of the FA was. I mean, even the dog is still around -- except he was auctioned off for dot com chump change ($185k) to an insurance company.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 11, 2005 @08:07PM (#11648269)
    Eh? The Darwin core kernel system architecture event model is among the best in the industry. It often outperforms those of BSD (most types), Solaris and Linux. Kernel events such as Level 1, 2 and 4, have much less latency, and is prioritized over other higher-level events, making direct kernel calls faster, in most cases.

    BC and BB events are of course not as fast, but API calls in Carbon and Cocoa are based around A* events (OpenStep did this, too), so the performance loss is pretty minimal.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 11, 2005 @08:17PM (#11648340)
    "Microsoft knows that things can change quickly in their market. Bill Gates has said this many many times. Unlike HP/SGI/foobar, they readily admit that and understand this. Their executives are smart, and are technically knowledgeable, and they have the smart engineers to back it up. HP and SGI have stupid executives, business school grads who have no real background in technology.

    I'll bet on Microsoft."

    You lose dummy.

  • by ComputerSlicer23 ( 516509 ) on Friday February 11, 2005 @08:21PM (#11648365)
    You realize that this is a company that books something on the order of 1 billion dollars a month in profit right? I know it used to be 1 billion dollars a quarter, but not too long ago, I'm fairly sure they posted 12Billion dollars in a single fiscial year.

    I'm not sure what their operating costs are (I believe it's something just insanely low once you remove their research costs). Yeah, I'm fairly confident they can stick around once the pyramid scheme collapses.

    By the by, I've been told the the pyramid collapsed a while back. Anytime a company re-prices options, it's a fairly sure sign, that a) they are using stocks as a primary form of compensation, and b) that the jig is up, and no one will ever get wildly rich of options again. They repriced a ton of options after the bubble burst and the stock price plummeted 50% from the all time high. I knew several people who were recruited to work there pre-bubble days. Both of them turned down the jobs, as they were about 2/3rds the going rate. However, you got enough options to turn you into a millionare in 10 years assuming they stock price continued it's incredible price rise. Relatively high risk, high reward.

    I've lost the link, but there was a pretty good economic analysis a while back that showed, essentially that new investors in Microsoft were paying Microsofts wages and a lot of their taxes by buying up all the stock that got dumped into the market as converted options. The interesting part was that they ended up showing that Microsoft would lose a billion dollars a year if they paid the money out that employees got as options. The thing about that is, that I don't think Microsoft will make nearly as many of their employees millionaires as they used to. So I don't believe they'll lose all that money. I think they are right, that Microsoft played the market to the hilt. The market thought it was getting in on a good deal, when really Microsoft was using the markets capital to compensate employees.

    They are still doing it to an extent by giving away actual stock. However, my guess is that is probably a great deal less lucrative then options were back in the day.


  • by aoteoroa ( 596031 ) on Friday February 11, 2005 @08:22PM (#11648370)
    No - they have a lot of assests. And "investments". In cash they are about equal with Apple. Have a look at their quarterly earnings.

    Huh? How do you figure?

    Apple Balance Sheet 25-Sep-04 []
    $2,969,000,000 Cash
    $2,495,000,000 Short Term Investments
    $5.5 billion cash equivalents

    Microsoft Balance Sheet 30-Jun-04 []
    $15,982,000,000 Cash
    $44,610,000,000 Short Term Investments
    $60.5 billion cash equivalents
  • by jgardn ( 539054 ) <> on Friday February 11, 2005 @08:24PM (#11648388) Homepage Journal
    You are right. "corpus" is a body, which is where we get the words "corpse" from.

    "Corporate" or "incorporate" means to form a body. Legally, a corporation has the rights of a human, but that is a modern invention. Historically, a corporation was a way that a new "body" could be formed of many different people. The articles of incorporation detail how the body is run, how decision are made, what the purpose of the body is, etc...

    Every organization that comes together and has rules for how the organization is run is a corporation in that sense of the word. You'll note that sometimes "organization", "association", "body", "assembly" can be used to mean the same thing.

    In the market, for-profit corporations are formed by investors who want to take their capital (time, talents, cash, resources) and turn it into something more. You've heard of "synergy" right? That's the idea that the combination of the parts is greater than the sum of the parts. As the corporation matures, they don't expect much in return. When the corporation is complete, they expect to get regular payments on their investments. Should the corporation fail its purpose, they expect to be able to salvage whatever capital they can from the effort.

    Rich people don't do like Scrooge McDuck and swim in their piles of cash. Instead, they drain their coffers and invest it hoping to get even more cash. Or they give it away to their favorite charities. Rich people can't stand seeing money lying around doing nothing much like nerds can't stand seeing a computer turned off doing nothing.
  • by slashname3 ( 739398 ) on Friday February 11, 2005 @09:07PM (#11648692)
    I stated a similar opinion early last year just after Microsoft announced they were issuing a huge one time dividend. Microsoft is figuring out how to extract as much money as they can before their stock starts the long decline.

    Expect to see Microsoft making similar disbursments over the next few years. This will do two things, it will keep a lot of their share holders holding the stock and allow them to stuff their pockets with cash.

    It is funny that in the last few weeks we learned that AT&T is being bought up by SBC. AT&T used to be the huge monopoly everyone hated. Their slide started about 6 or 7 years ago. It should have been obvious to most people when they sold off NCR, cable operations, wireless, and the other stuff. AT&T became unfocused on what they were and in order to show profits they started selling portions of themselves instead of stepping into the broadband consumer market and taking over. Maybe they were afraid of being a monopoly in that market and getting broken up again. Of course the most telling indication is when Armstrong duped a good share of the employees into investing in Wireless and then dropping the bomb three days later.

    It will take many years for Microsoft to decline. The next telling item will be how long it take longhorn to come out and just how the business world takes to it. I suspect if Microsoft keeps the licensing the way they changed it (yearly lease of the OS and packages) that many companies will opt to try a different OS for their servers and workstations. Linux is good enough on the server end to display Microsoft and arguably good enough for the desktop now. Another year and Linux may become the default standard on the desktop, finally breaking Microsofts stangle hold. At that point the decline will accelarate. Microsoft will thrash around trying to invent the next BIG thing that everyone must have. And each time they will miss the mark, by just enough that others will swoop in and take that market. Look at the tablet PC and thier attempt at the handheld markets. X-box is another example. They only have about 27% of the market running third behind Sony and Nintendo. Will be interesting to see how that develops over the next few years. Of course I hardly think Microsoft can survive at its present scale as just another game box company.

    Expect Microsoft to try to "re-invent" themselves several times over the next 10 years. Each time they slip a little further down the spiral just like AT&T did.
  • Re:Collapse? (Score:2, Informative)

    by nomadic ( 141991 ) <nomadicworld@gmai l . c om> on Friday February 11, 2005 @09:31PM (#11648858) Homepage
    They've got enough cash in the bank to run the business for decades if they never made another cent

    Not anymore. Back in November they paid an enormous dividend and got rid of about 32 BILLION in cash all at once.
  • by demachina ( 71715 ) on Friday February 11, 2005 @09:34PM (#11648874)
    "But it doesn't matter to SGI, which lags way behind IBM and Sun in HPC sales. It's not the market, it's the company."

    No trust me its the market. It takes a ton of R&D money to stay on top of the HPC market, floating point and I/O in particular, and it gets worse with each new generation of chips.

    Don't think its doing any wonders financially for SUN, they are in almost as bad a shape as SGI.

    IBM is in it more for the PR and prestige. They are big enough they can afford the R&D costs especially with other big companies alongside like Sony, Toshiba and Apple. They are also a lot better at pushing the PowerPC technology in to both the low and high end. I'd sure like to know if IBM is making any serious money in their HPC efforts, I seriously doubt it once you factor out the R&D costs.

    SGI simple lacked the resources to sustain MIPS development for HPC on its own, especially with MIPS going lowend and SGI trying to go high end and floating point with it. Now they are trying to keep both MIPS alive and make IA64 work and neither one of them do outside of the few niches where IA64 doesn't suck, or where they are building highly specialed systems for special government customers with deep pockets.
  • by molo ( 94384 ) on Friday February 11, 2005 @09:45PM (#11648927) Journal
    Microsoft stock stopped rising years ago. See here:

    MSFT 5 years []

    MSFT max []

  • July 2000 (Score:2, Informative)

    by maysonl ( 642042 ) <> on Friday February 11, 2005 @09:52PM (#11648960)
    According to the date in the archives listing on the site...
  • by Mattintosh ( 758112 ) on Friday February 11, 2005 @09:54PM (#11648968)
    Apple obituaries are an art form.

    Heck, according to The Mac Observer's Apple Death Knell Counter [], even Steve Jobs himself weighed in with an Apple Obit at one point.
  • by Oswald ( 235719 ) on Friday February 11, 2005 @10:33PM (#11649128)
    Nabisco used to be a cigarette company - that's right, Nabisco the _food_ company.

    Frankly, it's not clear why you even mention this, but just in case it's important to your point, Nabisco has never been a tobacco company. In the big merger craze of the '80's, Nabisco bought (or merged with--it's a matter of perspective) R.J.Reynolds. They combined their finances, but never their operations, and many of the employees at Nabisco were heartsick about the deal at the time. Over time, RJR became the half of the company people focused on--maybe it was because of their immense profitability, maybe because they were always in the news, maybe just because they put the "RJR" before the the "Nabisco" in the corporate name. Finally, people started talking about how RJR's legal liablity was keeping shareholders from realizing the value of the company's hidden gem, Nabisco, so Nabisco spun off R.J.Reynolds and things were back like they were before--for about a year, then Kraft Foods, a subsidiary of Altria, aka. Philip Morris, bought Nabisco. So now, they're right back in bed with those cigarette guys, only this time they're not even nominally in charge.

    But it's not like they were a tobacco company that decided one day to quit making cigarettes and start making Oreos and Ritz Crackers. The damn name says it all: NAtional BIScuit COmpany.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 11, 2005 @10:34PM (#11649141)
    I'll second the doubt about Microsoft ever doing this, and add more reasons. R&D costs are always expensed in the current period []; to do otherwise is not according to GAAP []. Furthermore, R&D is given a substantial tax credit -- not a deduction, a credit. I believe it's $1 for $1, so if you classify an expense as R&D, it comes right off your tax bill. At my company, every year I have to fill out a form asking how much of my department's activity goes toward R&D (costs such as customer support doesn't count, for example).
  • Re:Record profits (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 11, 2005 @10:44PM (#11649186)
    A tautology in the logic sense is effectively a statement whose truth table is entirely true.

    E.G., "A or Not A"

    A | A or Not A | value
    T | T or F | T
    F | F or T | T

    Contrast that with a contradiction, for instance "B and Not B"

    B | B and Not B | value
    T | T and F | F
    F | F and T | F

    So, no, an argument that assumes the consequent and is therefore circular is not a tautology.

  • by burnsy ( 563104 ) on Friday February 11, 2005 @11:03PM (#11649267)
    You are incorrect. For FY 2004, overall revenue was up %14, Windows revenue up 11%, and Office revenue was up 14%. Hard to call any company that has double digit growth "rotting".
  • by Alan Hicks ( 660661 ) on Friday February 11, 2005 @11:38PM (#11649410) Homepage
    Amendment XIII

    1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

    2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

    Doesn't mean a corporation can't be "owned". While IANAL, the stock you own in a corporation isn't literally a portion of the company, but rather a portion of the company's earnings. I could be wrong there, but that's how I understand it.

    And for the record, slavery is legal in the USA as a punishment for crime, though I don't know of any State or federal law that allows slavery as a punishment (community service and enforced labor as part of prison sentences aside).

  • by HangingChad ( 677530 ) on Friday February 11, 2005 @11:51PM (#11649458) Homepage
    Microsoft is making record profits, and you people say it's beginning to "rot?" Wishful thinking, to say to least.

    Quite the contrary. A rocket has already run out of fuel well before it reaches maximum altitude. Don't confuse revenue with innovation.

    The only means MSFT has to grow revenue is to squeeze more revenue out of you. Every person who jumps ship puts that much more pressure

    MSFT has been run by the bean counters for the last decade. Zero innovation, constant cut backs, shifting production overseas, and ever newer ways to squeeze a few more pennies out of...

    Go visit their offices in Redmond. There's no energy or excitement there, it's a crypt. Dead company walking the green mile!

  • Re:Comparison? (Score:5, Informative)

    by SewersOfRivendell ( 646620 ) on Saturday February 12, 2005 @12:34AM (#11649637)
    You, sir, are quoting out of context. The full paragraph is this:

    Does anyone out there love MSN? I doubt it; it seems to share AOL's fate of being disliked but not hated enough to change your e-mail account. And do college kids still dream of going to work at MS? Five years ago it was a source of pride to go to work for the Evil Empire -- now, who cares? It's just Motorola with wetter winters.

    In other words, he's talking about how college kids perceive Microsoft, not about the current reality of working there or about contrasting it with Motorola.

  • by nguyenhm ( 577058 ) on Saturday February 12, 2005 @12:49AM (#11649697)
    A corporation is a legal entity, not a (natural) person per se. A legal entity can enter into contracts in its own name, can be sued, can owe and be owed debts in its own name, etc. A natural person is a subset of legal entities. Corporations are another subset (as are partnerships, etc.). They don't have all the rights of a natural person, since they are the creations of the law. Shareholders actually own a portion of the corporation. However, corporations are set up such that ownership and control are separated (which justifies shareholders having limited liability, and was the whole reason for the creation of the corporate form in the first place, that along with pooling of capital), with the board being legally charged with managing the corporation, and the officers the board's (legal) agents.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 12, 2005 @01:51AM (#11649927)
    $15,982,000,000 Cash
    $44,610,000,000 Short Term Investments
    $60.5 billion cash equivalents

    - 32.64 Billion Special Dividend

    = 27.86 Billion Dollars ??? ol dermeeting04.mspx
    "With the approval of proposals two and three, the $3 per share special dividend will be paid on December 2nd to shareholders of record on November 17th. (Applause.)"

    10 Billions Shares currently.

    Special Dividend payed out on Dec 2 2004 to shareholders of Microsoft Shares. Note this one time payout of 32 Billion dollarswas supposed to have a tremdous effect on the Stockmarket S&P500 in December of 2004. Notice that it did nothing! Maket Actually went down in December and it has taken the market two and half months to creep up!

    Also note that this information isn't available by most web search engines... conspiracy???
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 12, 2005 @02:13AM (#11650003)
    In Malone's article, he only refers to his successful predictions. Thing is, he ran a a weekly column for a number of years, in which he made enough predictions that some of them were bound to be accurate. Here [] is a gem from May 1999: "But beware of the week after Labor Day. That's when Americans will come back to work and realize that, my God, Y2K is ninety days away. That's when the hoarding will begin. The ATMs will be drained and the loonies will head for the hills...Expensive millennial celebrations will be cancelled as one half of the country goes crazy and the other half hunkers down and holds its breath." True, he does predict the end of the internet bubble, but this is an obvious one, and he predicts its end several months early.

    But Malone usually is not so explicit in his predictions. In a column entitled "Apple R.I.P." written shortly after a stock depression in 2000, found here [], he says things like "Steve Jobs has put Apple again in a precarious position", but never outright says that Apple will fail. Of course, if it did fail, he would have taken credit for that prediction, but since it did not, no one can claim that he was wrong.

    In recent years, most of Malone's predictions about technology are negative. In fact, he has revealed himself to be an anti-technologist. Earlier I mentioned his fear of technology causing widespread hysteria with regard to Y2K. In a column about his late 96 year old neighbor: "To Charlotte and the lost world she represented. May we someday find our way back." In a column about how microprocessors were inspired by war-produced technology: "We need to remember these facts because they remind us that technology is a two-edged sword; that even the chips in our kids' Gameboys bear the bloodstains of their birth." That's about as accurate as saying that the modern VW Beetle promotes the genocide of Jews.

    So please take what this man says with a grain of salt.
  • by Eunuchswear ( 210685 ) on Saturday February 12, 2005 @07:15AM (#11650849) Journal

    The Republican argument was dividend taxes were double taxation, because the company paid taxes on it when the money was made and it was unfair to tax it again when it was paid out as a dividend. The little catch they didn't mention was big corporations exploit so many loopholes in the tax code, and take advantage of so many shelters they often don't pay any taxes in the first iteration.

    Here in France we have a simple solution to this. When you are paid a dividend you get a tax credit with it that is the amount of taxes already paid on that dividend.

    So a company that paid no taxes would be unable to give tax credits with its dividends, so the people receiving those dividends would pay more taxes.

  • Re:Record profits (Score:3, Informative)

    by Mikkeles ( 698461 ) on Saturday February 12, 2005 @01:18PM (#11652345)
    ' Isn't a "tautology" an argument that assumes the consequent, and is therefore circular?'

    No, that is called 'begging the question'.

Karl's version of Parkinson's Law: Work expands to exceed the time alloted it.