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Microsoft, the follower

Software giant claims to be a technology innovator, but history suggests a different narrative. So let's take a closer look at the record.

Microsoft earlier this week celebrated its 10,000th patent. Implicit in that announcement is the supposition that "patents = innovation." However, a quick look at Microsoft's last five years demonstrate a company that is struggling to copycat the best the industry has to offer, rather than innovate.

Take, for example, Microsoft's decision to open retail stores. Never mind the fact that most technology companies have failed to successfully launch retail outlets, as CNET's Charles Cooper reminds us, and never mind that Microsoft's primary products like Windows 7 are likely to come pre-bundled with new computers, not bought separately at retail, as ZDNet's Sam Diaz writes.

No, the real problem with the retail stores is that they demonstrate a continued lack of creativity and innovation at Microsoft. Don't believe me? Well, how about these products that broke new ground in innovation?

  • XBox (Sony Playstation)
  • Live Search (Google, Yahoo)
  • Zune (Apple iPod)
  • Vista/Windows 7 (Apple's Mac OS X)
  • I'm a PC advertising campaign (Apple's Mac vs. PC campaign)
  • SharePoint (Documentum - though to be fair, SharePoint is significantly better than Documentum and the old-school ECM products)
  • Tabbed browsing and other features in IE (Firefox)

And so on. Even Microsoft's Surface, which is very cool, functions much like an iPhone (though at significant scale).

Maybe this isn't all that new. After all, Microsoft's Office product originally started off as a rip-off of WordPerfect, and has hardly changed since the day Microsoft killed off WordPerfect. This is why Mitchell Baker's counsel to the European Commission to not allow Microsoft to dominate the browser market is timely and important: Microsoft is not an innovator, and becomes even less of one when it dominates a market.

Microsoft does a great job of executing against others' innovations. It is not an innovator, however, as David Wheeler called out back in 2001.

In this way it's much like the criticism it has of open source: Microsoft claims that open source steals others' intellectual property and doesn't innovate. Pot calling kettle black?

Follow me on Twitter at mjasay.