What today's tech is teaching tomorrow's workforce

The kids are all right, and they increasingly prefer Apple, Google, and open source. What will this mean for Microsoft?

Matt Asay Contributing Writer
Matt Asay is a veteran technology columnist who has written for CNET, ReadWrite, and other tech media. Asay has also held a variety of executive roles with leading mobile and big data software companies.
Matt Asay
2 min read

The technology we call innovative will seem pedestrian to our children.

From touch screens to open source, our kids are being conditioned to interact with technology in ways we hardly expected even a decade ago, despite what "The Jetsons" foreshadowed back in the '60s.

Hey, kids, I can make you cool!
One thing seems increasingly clear: our children are not being conditioned to buy Microsoft. Not anymore.

This thought came to me from two directions yesterday. The first was a text message my 13-year old daughter sent me:

BTW bring more Ubuntu stickers if possible. I wore my Ubuntu shirt today and a ton of nerds complimented me on it. Apparently people love Ubuntu. I think that if I ever have any problem at school, I'll be backed up. I love you so much.

When she has worn her Apple shirt before, she gets the same sort of reaction, albeit from a different section of her school's population. I suspect she wouldn't get the same sort of reception with a Windows 7 shirt: I doubt people would care. Microsoft simply doesn't inspire that sort of emotion.

This prompted a second reaction to the changing face of technology. It seems clear that Bing and Xbox notwithstanding, the Redmond giant has abdicated its innovative urge, as former Microsoft tablet executive Dick Brass opined recently:

Microsoft's huge profits--$6.7 billion for the past quarter--come almost entirely from Windows and Office programs first developed decades ago. Like G.M. with its trucks and S.U.V.'s, Microsoft can't count on these venerable products to sustain it forever. Perhaps worst of all, Microsoft is no longer considered the cool or cutting-edge place to work. There has been a steady exit of its best and brightest.

Those best and brightest work at Google or Apple now, and/or they work on open-source projects.

Don't believe me? Run a random sample of the world's Web companies like Facebook. In them you'll discover a penchant for Apple, Google, and open source, and an average age below 30. There's a youthquake going on, and it doesn't bode well for Microsoft.

Yes, Microsoft still claims 18 percent of the U.S. smartphone market and gargantuan shares of the "desktop" operating system and office productivity suite markets, not to mention healthy shares in the enterprise server, database, and collaboration markets.

But today's children don't see those things. They don't use Excel or SQL Server or .Net. They use Facebook, iPhones, and, if they're technically inclined, open source. Microsoft and Apple can give technology away to inculcate themselves in the minds of children, but they can't make it as easily accessible and pliable as open source does.

Or won't.

Apple is somewhat shielded from the open-source onslaught because it's perceived as ubercool. Kids like that. Heck, adults do, too. But Microsoft doesn't have the coolness factor. This is perhaps an asset with the old-school enterprise crowd, but it's a crippling factor in raising tomorrow's workforce to prefer Microsoft.