Technologizer

Mojo: Easy to Lose, Hard to Regain

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For this week’s Technologizer column on TIME.com, I wrote about Microsoft’s mojo–or, more specifically, the fact that the company has had trouble translating its utter dominance of PC software into a leadership role in the most significant emerging tech categories moving forward, such as Web services and mobile operating systems.

I do see signs of hope–Windows Phone 7, Windows 7, Bing, and Internet Explorer 9 are all much better than the products they replaced. And of course, Microsoft is in no danger of being anything other than a very large company which sells widely-used products which make billions and billions of dollars in profits every year. But it’s awfully tough for any company to lead more than one technological revolution–just ask Digital Equipment, Wang, Data General, or any of the massively successful minicomputer companies which eventually disappeared in the wake of the PC sea change in the 1980s.

Has any tech company had enormous mojo, lost it, and then regained it? There’s one gigantic example: Apple. But it’s a special case considering that its mojo came in the form of a person who left and then came back.

An example possibly more relevant to Microsoft’s challenge: Nintendo. It dominated the video game business for years, then struggled to stay relevant as trends changed. And then, with the Wii and the DS, it started setting the agenda for the industry all over again, and flourished. (Of course, these days it has to worry about preserving its mojo all over again.)

As I said in my column, Microsoft is in the odd position of being an 800-pound underdog. I remember the days when it ruled the PC industry like a not-so-benevolent dictator, and I don’t want to return to them. But I have to admit I’m rooting for it reinvent itself. For one thing, I think that it’s pretty clear that the only way for Microsoft to catch up with Apple, Google, and others is to build really good, really relevant products–and who wouldn’t want it to do that?

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