Microsoft on the back foot

It seems as though Microsoft are increasingly falling behind in the technology race.
Most people would still tie the word ‘Microsoft’ together with the word ‘Computer’, but increasingly websmart users are beginning to migrate to new software (and hardware) that is threatening to break that link.
Firefox is one of the most famous example of this. For years Microsoft’s Internet Explorer was the only way for a web user to browse the Internet, or at least it seemed that way. The fact that it was pre-installed on any Windows-based computer meant that it was the starting point for surfing. Couple that with the fact that other browsers cost money (or else were too hard to find and install) meant that only the hardcore Microsoft-hater would take the time to hunt them down, and what would they be doing on a Windows PC anyway?! Firefox was different because it was free, easy to use and full of great features. People who were sick of spyware attacks and constant pop-ups were told to “Get Firefox” and the wonders of viral marketing meant that the target community got to know the perks of switching within months.
But besides browsers, where else is Microsofts kingdom under attack? Well Open Source technology has opened the floodgates, with pretty much any piece of Microsoft software having a free alternative online. Some aren’t user friendly and some are unstable but they still present choice to users, something that has been lacking in the computer world for too long.
Windows Media Player is also being pushed to once side as iPod users start to switch to iTunes for their music needs. The recent ruling by the EU that Microsoft must offer a version of Windows without its media player hasn’t helped things at all.
There are, however more established companies that are threatening this giant. Google has always been a king of innovation and now more than ever it is slapping Microsoft right were it hurts. The creation of Gmail, with its 1GB storage capacity led to a mass exodus from Hotmail and Yahoo. The fact that it technically still isn’t open to the public helps to add salt to their wounds. Hotmail, owned by Microsoft, has now been forced to follow suit and up its capacity from the rediculous 4MB to a more respectable 250MB. A generous 2GB option was put forward to paying customers, something that now looks equally rediculous in light of Gmails recent 1 year old celebration and subsequent increase to ‘infinate’ storage. It should be pointed out, though that 250MB is a more than adequate size for an average free e-mail account. MSN Search still trails behind Google Search by miles, and a quick look in MSN’s Sandbox will reveal just how far behind they are lagging in other ventures. Start is an MSN take on the Google personalised homepage idea, and MSN Virtual Earth is a poor cousin to Google’s intergrated and polished Google Maps. The MSN atlas has also come under criticism for showing Apple headquarters as an empty parking lot and also featuring the Twin Towers of New York, meaning the photographs are at least 4 years old.
Other established names in computer technology are also making moves. Since interest in Apple has skyrocketed in tandem with iPod sales, the company has been given the chance to a few swipes back at their long-time rival and better (sales-wise, anyway). The recently launched Mac Mini offered customers a compact, powerful and cheap alternative to the PC. Not only did it possess the standard Mac good looks, it also put an end to customer excuses that Apple computers were too expensive. The fact that it’s smaller than most PC’s didn’t hurt its sales too much either.
By the looks of things it won’t be long until the actual OS is the only stronghold left for Microsoft. While Linux poses a minor threat it’s widely accepted that the software is far too technical for your average user. While it may have its flaws there is no denying just how user friendly the Windows platform is. Then again, selling the Windows OS is where the money is.
Be it Open Source technology, software or hardware rivals, it increasingly seems as though the giant of Microsoft is taking a nap giving a few advantageous birds the chance to take some easy shots. Let’s not get carried away with the idea that Microsoft is on its deathbed though, far from it. It does, however, need to get back on the ball if it wishes to remain at the fore of technological advances in the future, rather than constantly playing catch up. As things stand Vista, and all that comes with it will need to be more of a leap forward than an attempt to get level again.

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