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If you're Steve Ballmer, don't read this

While the rest of the nation celebrates Independence Day, Microsoft gets more confirmation that its once legendary domination over the desktop is slipping away.

Instead of kicking back for the July 4 holiday, Steve Ballmer should be going crazy right now.

If you're Microsoft's CEO, the finding by Evans Data of a falloff in the number of developers writing apps for Windows desktop computers makes for grim reading.

The study, which reports a 10 percent drop in the number of developers writing software applications for Windows, also forecasts another 2 percent decline this year. The big winner--this hardly comes as a surprise--is Linux. Evans Data says the percentage of developers writing Linux applications is up 34 percent from last year.

I suppose Microsoft can satisfy itself with the "to be sure" clause that about 65 percent of developers still write for the Windows desktop. True as far as that goes. I don't know anybody of right mind willing to suggest Microsoft is headed for bankruptcy court. But Ballmer can connect the dots as well as anyone, and he understands that the trend points in the wrong direction.

Ballmer: Happy July 4

I remember how a (now former) Microsoft exec tried his best making side-by-side comparisons between the Windows OS stack and Linux, hoping to convince me of Microsoft's inherent advantage. Why didn't I just see? Sort of reminded me of the warden in the movie Cool Hand Luke telling Paul Newman that he needed to get his mind right. Happily, Microsoft's minions aren't running that jive anymore--or at least not with a straight face.

Operating system development obviously is a fraught process, but Microsoft's brass blew an important test when it failed to get XP's replacement ready for the market. While XP ranks as a stable product, it took too long to carry the Longhorn project over the goal line.

Microsoft is rightfully proud of the Vista operating system, but it came at a cost. During the interminable run-up to Vista, Apple one-upped Microsoft by getting out more timely updates to market while Linux successfully rooted itself within the corporate enterprise community.

Microsoft's hopes now rest with Ray Ozzie, the company's chief software architect. But not even the Great White Wizard can turn back the clock.