Microsoft is Dead: The Cliffs Notes

April 2007

When I wrote that Microsoft was dead, I didn't mean it literally. I couldn't have. Companies aren't alive, so they can't die.

In fact "Microsoft is Dead" was what we in the trade call a metaphor. I meant something else. Over the last couple days there has been some disagreement about what I meant. Some people who were scandalized by the essay convinced themselves I meant something rather stupid: that Microsoft is about to go out of business. This they diligently refuted.

So maybe I'd better explain exactly what I did mean. What I meant was not that Microsoft is suddenly going to stop making money, but that people at the leading edge of the software business no longer have to think about them.

There are plenty of companies in that category that make decent profits. SAP for example. They make a lot of money. But does anyone developing new technology have to worry about them? I doubt it. When I said that Microsoft was dead, I meant they had, like IBM before them, passed across into this underworld.

Ceasing to matter doesn't mean a company is going to go out of business next year, any more than it means a pop star will suddenly become poor. But it probably means there is trouble ahead. Actors and musicians occasionally make comebacks, but technology companies almost never do. Technology companies are projectiles. And because of that you can call them dead long before any problems show up on the balance sheet. Relevance may lead revenues by five or even ten years.

People have given me various disreputable motives for saying that Microsoft was dead: that it was linkbait, or even that by publicly ridiculing them I hoped to turn them into a "customer" for YC-funded startups. (I'm not that bad at sales.) My actual disreputable motive was that I wanted to be the first to call it. But that does at least entail some risk. If you're the first to call something, you'd better be right. If the monster turns out not to be dead after all—if they can somehow morph themselves into something startups have to worry about again—I'll look like a fool. But I'm willing to take that risk.