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12/8/2009
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Bob Evans
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Global CIO: Steve Jobs Is Bugs Bunny But Microsoft Is Elmer Fudd

Windows 7 is nice, Bing is neat, Sharepoint is solid, and Azure is promising. But does Microsoft scare the crap out of any of its competitors anymore?

Quick--when was the last time Microsoft dazzled you with breakthrough thinking and agenda-setting innovation?

What was the last Microsoft product you couldn't wait to get your hands on, that would make a huge impact on your enterprise?

When you and your team put together your list of Five IT Vendors We Can't Live Without, does Microsoft still make the cut?

Now consider Steve Jobs and Apple:

They took on the incredibly hidebound and entrenched music industry and blew it to pieces with the truly historic iPod and iTunes.

Then they leveraged that iPod distribution model and revolutionized how people think about apps, how people create apps, how people market and distribute apps, and how people consume apps.

And they have exerted a profound and global impact on all manner of products and services as thousands of other companies have picked up on Apple's core philosophies of engaging customers as co-creators of value and ideas, of seeing the world through the eyes and desires of customers instead of purely through the lens of least-cost manufacturing.

I think a lot of companies fear Apple, and they fear it not because of its financial might (though it is vast), nor because of its brilliant suite of products (though it is intimidating), nor because of its marketing (though it is outstanding).

No, I think lots of companies inside and outside the tech business fear Apple because it is the ultimate disrupter and the crusher of the status quo. It is the blazing, roadkill-making thing in the night those companies fear they will never see coming, either through the windshield or in the rearview mirror.

They fear the magic of Steve Jobs and Apple. They fear Jobs' cunning and daring, his audacious and relentless refusal to play by the rules that trap so many other companies in the killing box of predictability, his willingness to blast head-on into so-called untouchables like digital-rights management, and his steadfast contempt for the average, the good-enough, the expected.

Those companies--most companies--want things to be predictable and comfortable. But Steve Jobs and Apple just don't do predictable and comfortable, and they make it harder and harder for others to do predictable and comfortable because the buying public--consumers and businesses alike--are becoming accustomed to having it their way instead of the seller's way.

A lot of companies used to fear Microsoft, too, and I'd be remiss if I failed to say that a fair number of the frightened were Microsoft's own customers!

But now? I'd say that for a lot of tech companies, the formerly frightened have split into two camps: one that regards Microsoft with a wary respect and awareness, along with some accommodation, and also a second and growing cadre of software companies that have flipped the fear-vector 180 degrees and have now become the hunter with Microsoft as the prey.

They see Microsoft as drifting toward fat and complacent, prone to bold talk but tepid action, and increasingly satisfied with being a not-so-fast follower instead of the brash and aggressive embracer of high-risk strategies and approaches that enabled Microsoft to dominate markets by sheer dint of its unmatched will and its sometimes-brutal assault on any and all obstacles between it and the top spot.

Global CIO
Global CIOs: A Site Just For You
Visit InformationWeek's Global CIO -- our new online community and information resource for CIOs operating in the global economy.
As my colleague and Microsoft expert Paul McDougall wrote almost two years ago about the danger to Microsoft in acquiring Yahoo, "The fact is, Microsoft reached its zenith at a time when PC buyers had little choice but to purchase a Windows-based machine. The culture of monopoly born of that still infuses most of the company's offerings today, even in markets where buyers have lots to choose from."

What happened? How did Steve Jobs and Apple slip so smoothly into the slick and indomitable Bugs Bunny while Microsoft let itself become the tongue-tied and bumbling Elmer Fudd whose aggression seems maxed out in merely asking where oh where has that wacky wabbit gone? Here's the big problem Microsoft faces:

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