Amid the recent stock-market bloodbath, Microsoft’s longtime control of the still-lucrative market for desktop operating systems has become even more glaringly evident, economic specialists and fund managers say. It has played a big role in allowing Microsoft to ride out the recession and even raise prices for customers, these people say.
“When things slow down, [Microsoft] is just in a different kind of fight,” says Walter Casey, an analyst and portfolio manager at Banc One Investment Advisors. “These guys are just churning out copies of Windows and getting upgrades from the existing base” of customers, instead of having to search out brand-new customers and hit them up for big sales, he says. “To an organization, their software is almost like water or something … replacing all of that would be very difficult.”
“They’ve got a situation where it’s almost impossible for anyone to break into that market,” says Hal Varian, an expert in the economics of software and dean of the School of Information Management and Systems at the University of California at Berkeley. Mr. Varian says Microsoft benefits from a classic “positive feedback” loop, with unit costs dropping as more products are sold, and the popularity of Microsoft’s products making them more attractive to new users.
The upshot: Most customers still don’t really have a choice of desktop software, analysts say. Competing products are on the market, but most aren’t yet viable.
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