Even Microsoft stumbles

“Somewhere down the road”, writes Good Morning Silicon Valley, “somebody should take a whack at calculating how much Vista has cost Microsoft — in lost or postponed sales, missed opportunities and damaged reputation — as an illustration of just how badly off track you can get when you find yourself moving at high speed in the wrong direction at the wrong moment”.

And an annus horribilis it was — the first since the company went public in 1986 that it saw a decline in annual revenue. For the quarter, Microsoft fell short of analysts’ revenue expectations by more than a billion dollars, and the bad news came from all directions. The online business, the Entertainment and Devices division, the unit that makes Office, even the server software group, all slid. And then there was the Client division, the one that makes Windows for PCs — revenue off 29 percent, operating profit down 33 percent. Microsoft blamed slumping PC sales, and while the recession was certainly the major culprit, it didn’t help that Vista gave customers few reasons to upgrade and more than a few to keep waiting. The company said it was also hurt by the growth in the netbook niche. Vista can’t play in that market, so those sales went to the lower-margin Windows XP.

Vista was a self-inflicted wound. But even without it Microsoft would have stumbled: the downside of its monopoly on business customers is that it is bound to be affected by a recession.