Those who can compete, do. Those who can't, sue

Microsoft needs to grow up and look forward.

It's an old adage, originally applied to the teaching profession ("those who can't, teach"), but it's probably more appropriate to the software world. I'm a wee bit tired by patent FUD and other substitutes for real competition from Microsoft. Microsoft has built a great business on comparatively good products. Yet in its old age, it seems incapable of competing on customer value and instead keeps fetishing its patent portfolio, as if anyone but its lawyers care about those.

If Microsoft wants to compete in the 21st Century, it's going to have to build 21st Century value. Patents and copyright don't provide that value. They hardly even demonstrate it.

Sharepoint is a good start. While it may have started as a way to preserve its 20th Century monopoly, it actually provides quiet a bit of value. Kudos to Microsoft for that.

The XBox is also a good start, though Microsoft can't seem to make real money (meaning, profit) from it.

Beyond these, the future looks bleak for Microsoft. It has consistently underperformed whenever it steps outside its Windows/Office comfort zones, which is perhaps why it continues to turn to the one thing that requires little talent but lots of monetary heft: litigation.

I want the old Microsoft back. The company that thought its products were better, even when they weren't. The company that would compete tooth and nail to demonstrate superior customer value (even when it didn't have it). A real competitor, in other words. A competitor to a wide range of products, not to an array of legal services.

These days Microsoft looks more like Baker & McKenzie LLP than it does a software company. This must be embarrassing to competitors like Steve Ballmer and Bill Gates, who hate to lose and have built a business on solving customer problems. It must be galling to feel that the only real value they provide to customers these days is to bill in 15-minute increments instead of six-minute increments.

Microsoft needs to return to its roots as a software company, and not as a boutique litigation firm specializing in patent terrorism. It should consider new ways of delivering software (SaaS and open source), delivery mechanisms that will challenge its foundations but provide new sources of growth and innovation (as Sun is discovering).

In short, Microsoft needs to look forward to its future, rather than trying to horde its past. There's a lot more money in the future than in the past.

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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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