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How to Disrupt Microsoft

Microsoft has been the notorious personal computing powerhouse for decades and often the target of Those Who Would Dethrone the King. Speculation on how has become a popular sport over the years, but the plans have never been successful, except in niche areas. Yet it would be possible -- if companies could achieve a certain number of objectives, because coming up with an equivalent mouse trap ain't gonna do it.
  • Break the historic lock user workflow -- my colleague Michael Hickins has correctly noted that one of Microsoft's strengths is the position that the Outlook mail client has as a hub of business processes. It's a terror of integration, because everything from calendars and to-do lists to email, all with integration into Microsoft's real powerhouse, Word. To displace Microsoft in productivity, you have to start with an email server that can tie into Outlook, and then you eventually need a productivity front-end that could replace Outlook itself while providing a similar look and feel, maybe in an emulation mode.
  • Replace productivity applications -- Once a competitor has put its foot in the workflow, it's time to displace things like Word and Excel. Easier said than done. Being on the web alone will not be enough because it adds another point of failure for getting work done; let an Internet connection go down and things screech to a halt. So any competitor will need a full suit of applications that can have the same look and feel of Microsoft's apps, probably through the same trick that Microsoft used in offering emulation models to let Word Perfect and Lotus 1-2-3 users shift easily. Oh, and the applications have to be integrated to the same degree as Microsoft's so cross-app work won't break.
  • Trust -- Larry Dignan thinks that enterprise IT's trust in Google will increase. Whoever wants to supplant Microsoft has to remember that having a better mouse trap means nothing if no one is willing to give you a try, and that will take massive trust built on growing proven success. Impressive reference accounts will only be a first step and ultimately will only count if they stick with the upstart over time.
  • A better mouse trap -- So far, all these points are about climbing over the considerable barriers protecting Microsoft's entrenched position. But even if a company can make easy the transition to its products, what is the big reason to do so? Money? That is the popular assumption in high tech, but it's short-sighted. The real price of products is never in what you pay, but in what you pay in time, effort, and aggravation to keep using them to solve your problems. And unless you can find solid advantages that resonate with users as benefits to them, only a small portion of people will make the switch.
  • Patience -- Microsoft's dominance on the productivity front has as much to do with inertia and the practical comfort most users have with the software. Even if they grumble, they still use it because everyone else does. That is a powerful force: not just institutional inertia, but widespread cross-corporate inertia. It will take years to really begin making inroads, which will mean financial patience as well.
It's not an easy task list. And maybe that's why it hasn't yet happened.

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