Microsoft is to Google as Lotus was to Microsoft

This isn’t a huge new insight but it’s interesting to see history kind of repeating itself.

Sometimes a product is so locked in and so entrenched that it looks like it will never be beat. After all, no one ever got fired for buying IBM right? And you’d have to be crazy to try to build a new spreadsheet to compete with Excel, because companies large and small have an unbelievable investment in training, familiarity and documents so that any change is extremely hard and costly.

It is said, correctly, I think, that such entrenched software products often get unseated during a platform switch. When a dominant technology platform (e.g. PCs or Windows) is losing it’s dominance in favor of a new technology (e.g. Cloud-based apps) the dominant software company and products are vulnerable.

Did you know that Lotus Development had total dominance in spreadsheets on MS-DOS? And then Microsoft Windows ‘came along’ (that coming along took almost a decade but still Lotus got caught short.

Lotus kept investing in 1-2-3 – the couldn’t not – while Microsoft without the ‘baggage‘ of an installed base could bet on their ‘new platform’ and build a great new spreadsheet called Excel. It was a gamble, and they won.

Now we might be seeing history repeating itself. In a New York Times Article from a day or three ago:

“Microsoft’s long-awaited move, analysts say, is a studiously crafted bet, including various offerings at different prices. They are not sure whether it represents wishful thinking or a workable strategy. Microsoft’s plan is to embrace the demand for cloud-based tools for office workers, which promise to be less costly for companies than conventional software, and yet avoid cannibalizing a business that is its biggest single money-maker.” (from Microsoft Takes to Cloud to Ward Off Competition)

Wow, that sounds like what I heard around Lotus about 15 years ago.

Imagine this: “Lotus’ plan is to embrace the demand for Windows-based tools for office workers,[…] and yet avoid cannibalizing a business that is its biggest single money-maker”