Alsop on Longhorn

Stewart Also, writing in Fortune, says that Microsoft has become uninteresting, as many of its recent forays outside of the PC business have not yet yielded positive results. Why does Microsoft need to look beyond? “Microsoft can’t make itself much bigger on the desktop because it already provides the operating system (and virtually all the word processors, spreadsheets, e-mail programs, and other key applications) for some 95% of the PCs sold around the world. The market for PCs isn’t growing very fast simply because it’s already so big.”

The big bet is Microsoft’s next-generation OS, Longhorn. Its prospects:

Microsoft’s greatest hope for growth is the next version of Windows, called Longhorn, which the company sees as its competitive response to Linux. More than that, Gates, who is pouring his soul and the bulk of his worktime into Longhorn, sees it as a revolution: an easy-to-use operating system for normal (i.e., non-computer geek) people. There’s a lot about Longhorn that Microsoft isn’t telling yet, but the company’s most ambitious goal is to build into the software a kind of universal file system that organizes all digital informationspreadsheets, e-mails, digital pictures, home videos, MP3s, all of itinto one big, user-friendly database.

Will Longhorn rock the world? I don’t think so. For one thing, the computer industry has dreamed of universal file systems since the days of the Nixon administration or even earlier. Microsoft won’t be any better at achieving that dream than IBM, Digital, Xerox, Hewlett-Packard, Sun Microsystems, or any other company that has attempted the same thing.

Even if Longhorn is a big improvement over Windows, it still won’t ignite a revolution. Why? Becauseand believe me, I never thought I’d say this in a million yearsMicrosoft’s software is good enough. We all bitch and moan about one shortcoming or another, as I’ve often done in these pages over the years. But there’s not a whole lot Microsoft can do to make its programs so much better that they justify the suffering we have to endure any time we upgrade to something new. Longhorn might get geeks all sweaty with desire, but to the rest of us, it’s still just an operating system.

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.