Well it might be a little early to announce that Bill and the boys have 'shuffled off this mortal coil', but the one thing I do feel confident about is that their stranglehold on the worlds supply of software is coming to a grinding halt.
For the past 10 years they have 'owned' the desktop and the office environment. It really all had its roots in what happened in 1992. Microsoft had been throwing pots of money into the Windows 'black hole', people basically didn't like the stinking product. From its nasty inception in 1985 Bill had not been able to give it away! It was clunky, it slowed down an already too slow processor, and offered nothing new or innovative.
Then they released Windows 3.11, and the world changed! This version allowed you to 'cheaply' (its all relative) connect computers together to share data and printers. Finally Bill had a success on his hands. Although it actually took until 1996 for him to obtain his stanglehold on computing. In 1995 he released Windows 95, and Office 95, to give you an idea about how successful this launch was, they sold a million copies of Win95 in 4 days! At $100 a copy, that's a cool $100 million dollars in revenue, not a bad weeks take.
I have always been interested in the computer industry and have maintained an ear to the ground about what Microsoft are doing. Ever since I first came across the company (1991, DOS 1.0), I have disliked their marketing strategy. Create a need, by all but giving the product away, and then gradually and relentlessly hike the price. This is almost like peddling drugs, create you addicts at a loss, then sell them their fix for ever more increasing prices.
With each release of Windows, the price has steadily increased, Windows XP Home (Home means its been stripped of any useful features) retails for about $160. You can bet your bottom dollar that when Windows Vista debuts next year you won't be getting any change out of $200.
There have always been alternatives to using Microsoft products, unfortunately the alternatives were not attractive. That has changed significantly over the past year.
Linux is an operating system, the problem in the past was that Linux was designed by geeks, programmed by geeks, and only used by geeks, because you needed a PHD in astrophysics to get it to do the most menial task. Even the lowly text editor (VI) required an IQ approaching that of Einstein to use it.
Linux over the past year has grown in leaps and bounds. If you can insert a CD into your CD drive, you too can load Linux. Even better, the price tag is $zero. I am always a fan of free stuff. Free is my favorite price for any thing.
Bill and the boys have been grumbling for some considerable time about how people are pirating the Microsoft products! I am not a fan of pirated software myself, but I also think that if products are priced correctly, you remove the need, and the desire to pirate. Bill has gone to great lengths with Office and XP to make it very difficult to set up illicit copies (at least for the cheapo home versions), so what are the pirates doing? Bootlegging the much more expensive and feature rich versions aimed at the enterprise user.
You can bet your last Microsoft share that the security built into Vista will be even more rigorous and harder to crack.
I run several (probably too many) computers at home, and if I was to run XP on them all I would have over $1000 invested. Well that is a little too rich for my blood, so I have diversified my portfolio! Likewise I like and need a wordprocessor, spreadsheet, and presentation manager.
I would like to use MS Office, but at $400 or so, a copy I would have $3000 invested. Again, that's way too much for me, that is 7 months rent on my apartment!
I may be a little strange and out of the norm with the number of computers I have, but, these days it is not unusual for the average family to have 2, or even 3 in their home. These software costs are beginning to approach the cost of the actual hardware it's self.
What can be done about this? I hear you ask. Well actually quite a lot. Instead of using Windows give Linux a try, there are lots of versions available, personally I use Fedora and Debian, not because they are any better than any of the others, I just stumbled upon them first.
Instead of running Microsoft Office, take a look at Open Office, no it is not quite as feature rich as the $400 Microsoft offering, but it is catching up fast. Better still you can read and write MS Office documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. Oh and best of all, it's free.
Need to make a web page? Well FrontPage does a good job for the novice Web Designer, but why not take a look at Nvu, for the most part it does the same job, it even looks similar, and it has the magic price tag of $zero.
Do you need a web page and don't want to learn anything about the technical stuff? Take a look at Google Pages. It's a great little product, even the absolute beginner can create and host a professional looking page.
I could continue this list for a very long time, instead of Access (which is amateurish at best) try MySQL, which is a serious database product.
Or want truly portable documents? Take a look at Writely.
With each day that passes these products gain features and converts.
I really do believe that while we may be a little early for the Microsoft wake, it is clear that the world is discovering that there are some alternatives out there.