What it is: “Breaking Windows” is a book detailing Microsoft’s fall from its dominant position in the computer industry. Surprisingly, this book was published in 2001.
Most companies don’t fail because of rivals. Instead, most companies fail through self-inflicted wounds. If companies would just avoid hurting themselves, they would be able to survive practically any problems.
Borders Books didn’t fail because of Amazon. Borders Books failed because they focused on their retail stores and completely ignored the idea of selling books online. At one point, Borders’ own web site directed customers to Amazon to buy books because Borders didn’t want the hassle of setting up an online store.
Kodak didn’t fail because digital photography became better and easier than film. Kodak failed because they refused to switch to digital photography until it was too late. Kodak’s shareholders once held a vote on whether they should focus exclusively on their film business, split their efforts between film and digital photography, or switch completely to digital photography. Oddly enough, many of Kodak’s shareholders voted to ignore digital photography and focus on their then-lucrative film business, and we all know how that turned out in the end.
What’s interesting about Microsoft is that they started to fall the moment Bill Gates decided to protect Windows at all costs. In the late 90’s, many executives at Microsoft wanted to adapt the open standards of the Internet. Bill Gates and many others decided that adopting open standards would threaten their Windows and Office monopolies, so they chose to focus on preserving Windows and Office at the expense of open standards.
When Java grew in popularity, Microsoft tried to offer their own version of Java called J#, which failed. When Netscape Navigator was the most popular browser around, Microsoft tried to create a new browser standard called Internet Explorer, which didn’t quite follow existing Internet standards. That’s why Internet Explorer 6 has so many problems from security vulnerabilities to simple inability to view ordinary web page content. Recently Microsoft even created a new browser called Edge to help people forget about the security and reliability problems of Internet Explorer.
By constantly trying to protect Windows and Office, Bill Gates helped cripple Microsoft’s ability to adapt to changing standards. Linux grew in popularity in response to the sluggishness and unreliability of Windows while Firefox grew in popularity in response to the poor performance of Internet Explorer. At one time, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer dominated the Internet right up until Microsoft refused to make it faster, more secure, and more reliable, which left the door open for rival browsers like Firefox to thrive.
“Breaking Windows” details how Microsoft, in the late 90’s, set the seeds for its own gradual demise by trying to make everything revolve around Windows and Office. Anyone remember Windows Mobile, Microsoft’s original phone operating system that resembled the desktop metaphor of Windows 95? When Microsoft failed to port the desktop user interface of Windows to smartphones, they tried to opposite approach by trying to port the user interface of Windows Phone to Windows 8, which failed equally hard.
At one time, Microsoft slapped the label of Windows on practically everything from Windows RT, Windows CE, Windows Live, and Windows Phone. The idea was to make everything easy for Windows users at the sacrifice of usability. Obviously that strategy of forcing the Windows user interface on everything didn’t work, but that hasn’t stopped Microsoft from trying again and again.
At one time, Microsoft was always in the computer industry news. People lined up for the latest release of Windows and Office, and businesses thrived around the Microsoft ecosystem. That doesn’t happen any more and it likely never will happen again with Microsoft. After twin disappointments in Vista and Windows 8, the world has moved on from a Windows-only world to a world of Android, iOS, OS X, and Linux in addition to Windows.
In the computer world, Windows is just one of many choices instead of being the only choice. When people have a choice, not all of them will choose Windows.
For a book published way back in 2001, “Breaking Windows” is surprisingly accurate in explaining how Bill Gates helped wreck Microsoft by stubbornly trying to protect Windows and Office. The iPhone came out in 2007 and now earns more revenue than all of Microsoft’s products combined. The iPad appeared in 2010 and pretty much wrecked the netbook market and hurt the Windows PC market at the same time. With the Apple TV and Apple Watch along with the Macintosh, iPhone, and iPad, Apple has moved into the dominant position in the computer industry that Microsoft used to hold.
One day Apple will likely fail due to their own bungling, but until that day happens, you can read “Breaking Windows” to see how Microsoft set the seeds for its own destruction by failing to adapt to changing conditions.