Does Microsoft Scare Anyone Anymore?

Earlier this week, I was having a conversation with a friend about Microsoft. We were talking about Windows, Office, and the Xbox 360, and discussing why we felt the software giant has been so successful over the years.Towards the end of the conversation, my friend change the topic a bit, saying Microsoft still wields too much power in the industry and has changed little since its heyday as the so-called "Evil Empire."[Image credit: MadAboutCows]

It was a surprising statement, and one that I couldn't let go. After pressing him on why he felt that way, he said that he believed Microsoft's dominance in the marketplace is still at its height, and smaller competitors just don't have the ability to catch up.

There are some regulators that might agree with that sentiment. In the U.S., the company hasn't faced too much scrutiny as of late, as evidenced by its easily won approval of the Skype acquisition, but in the European Union, it has caught some heat, thanks to Internet Explorer and Windows. And there are still some in the EU that appear to have a target on Microsoft's back.

But I'm not so convinced that the world should be so fearful of Microsoft. Sure, it's big and it's dominating the OS market, but the company has also lost some of its mojo over the last several years. Other companies, like Google and Apple, have come up and made Microsoft look rather obsolete in several markets, most notably online and in the mobile space.

[aquote]I'm not convinced that Microsoft believes that it has the kind of power that it used to wield[/aquote]

What's more, I'm not convinced that Microsoft believes that it has the kind of power that it used to wield. The company knows that in many markets it's playing catch-up, and it understands that there is one major threat to its business that it can't easily solve: Google.

The way I see it, Google has the ability to eventually take Microsoft down. Will it happen in five years? Not a chance. But in ten years, we might be shocked to see how marginalized Microsoft has become at the hands of Google's onslaught. Meanwhile, Apple will continue to do what it does best on the hardware side and grow to be even bigger. And all the while, Microsoft will be left to wonder what hit it.

Of course, those predictions could be wrong and Microsoft might finally decide to shift focus and attempt to be more forward-thinking. But I'm suspect. I think Microsoft has spent far too long looking in the rear-view mirror for the company to so dramatically change things up in the short-term. Microsoft is content with dominance in the OS and office-productivity markets, and it will ride that train for as long as possible.

So, considering all that, I can't help but wonder why folks would be scared by Microsoft. Sure, the company is big, but its power and influence aren't even close to where they were years ago.