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Microsoft, The New IBM

Something interesting happened on the road to and from software dominance. Microsoft, which always delighted in displacing the old farts of technology, has become an old fart itself.


Yes, ladies and gents, meet Microsoft: the new IBM. What once seemed a hungry, always-working-the-angles product powerhouse now seems increasingly set in its ways and downright stodgy.

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Case in point: When asked how Microsoft will fix its enterprise licensing debacle, a spokesman professed disbelief that there's even a problem, saying the program is right in line with how Oracle does things. So here's a high-ranking PR person actually citing Oracle (Oracle!) as an exemplar in corporate licensing. That would have been unimaginable from the old Microsoft.

Another example: A SQL Server product management-type discounts MySQL out of hand. He never sees the open-source database in any mission-critical deployments, it sneaks into corporate accounts, blah blah blah. Does he not remember this is exactly how SQL Server started out not all that long ago? Maybe he better talk to some of his elders.

A longtime solution provider partner, when asked if he's noticed attitudinal changes in Redmond, is practically struck dumb by rage. "They're bureaucratic, they're repeating themselves, and they all think they're geniuses," he said. This is not good feedback for a company supposedly obsessed with customer and partner satisfaction.

Unprompted, a Microsoft insider puts it bluntly: "We've become IBM." For a company legendary for internecine battles over strategies and features, pushback is no longer encouraged or even accepted, at least on the marketing side, this insider said.

Microsoft execs spend an inordinate amount of time detailing their curriculum vitaes at events. Another partner said there is a paranoia that if you haven't been with the company 10 years, you better prove you can play with the big boys.

As for "new" IBM, it's seen huge software marketing success with WebSphere and Linux, although it's unclear how profitable those efforts have been. It has been aggressive in its middleware attack on Microsoft and its battle to woo ISVs away from the Redmond camp. Time will tell if that elephant really can dance.

Can Microsoft regain its edge? Barbara Darrow is industry editor at CRN. Contact her at

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