Is Microsoft a four-letter word?

Microsoft has never been less popular, which may be exactly what it needs to goad it to taking new risks and building back its brand.

Oh, how the mighty have fallen!

Microsoft, once king of the software hill, has reached a new low, even as it shows signs of bouncing back to new life. The open-source world considers being likened to Microsoft as the ultimate insult, while the up-and-coming Web crowd is embarrassed to be associated with its stodgy forbear.

Let me be your Steve Jobs. Please?
Wall Street, for its part, doesn't much care for Microsoft, either, judging by the cold shoulder it has given Microsoft's stock over the past 10 years.

Perhaps getting the hint, a slew of Microsoft executives have jumped ship in the past few years.

Won't someone give Microsoft a break?

Probably not, and, ironically, this industry indifference may be just what Microsoft needs, as it offers the company freedom to take bigger risks and shields nascent product efforts from criticism.

Microsoft continues to rake in the profits of past monopolistic indiscretions in its Office and Windows divisions. In fact, the company makes very little money on anything else, leading the company to rely too heavily on past successes , rather than fixating on future growth.

There are exceptions (like SharePoint), but they are just that: exceptions.

Microsoft's pariah status, however, gives it a second chance. Suddenly, Microsoft is the underdog, the company that everyone seems content to underestimate, and to give the benefit of the doubt, at least when it comes to product strategy.

For example, Google is shipping 60,000 Android handsets each day. Pretty impressive, right?

Meanwhile, Microsoft unveiled Windows Phone 7 Series and got awesome coverage...for not releasing another Windows 6.5 dog.

Similarly, Microsoft's release of Windows 7 was significant insofar as the product actually worked without being a resource hog and nagging users into a comatose state.

Getting the picture? Microsoft has fallen so far in the world's estimation that the mere release of software that works without annoying people is cause for celebration. (Microsoft's advertising, however, remains amazingly bad.)

Microsoft's humbled status has also freed it to boldly experiment with new pricing models, like its Starter version priced at $0.00. Microsoft needs to take risks. The market is now willing to allow the company to take them.

The Redmond giant hasn't had this long of a leash in over a decade. Sure, it's anathema to the open-source crowd and unhip and unloved by the Apple and Google contingents. But this may be exactly what it needs.

About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.

     

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