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Posts Tagged ‘Microsoft’

Up in the cloud

Cloud computing is growing rapidly and has started to dominate many parts of the IT market. Cloud revenues are rising at around 25% per year and, according to Jeremy Duke of Synergy Research Group:

“Major barriers to cloud adoption are now almost a thing of the past, especially on the public-cloud side. Cloud technologies are now generating massive revenues for technology vendors and cloud service providers, and yet there are still many years of strong growth ahead.”

The market leader in cloud services (as opposed to cloud hardware) is Amazon Web Services (AWS), a subsidiary of Amazon. At the end of 2016, it had a market share of around 40%, larger than the next three competitors (Microsoft, Google and IBM), combined. AWS originated cloud computing some 10 years ago. It is set to have generated revenue of $13 billion in 2016.

The cloud computing services market is an oligopoly, with a significant market leader, AWS. But is the competition from other players in the market, including IT giants, such as Google, Microsoft, IBM and Oracle, enough to guarantee that the market stays competitive and that prices will fall as technology improves and costs fall?

Certainly all the major players are investing heavily in new services, better infrastructure and marketing. And they are already established suppliers in other sectors of the IT market. Microsoft and Google, in particular, are strong contenders to AWS. Nevertheless, as the first article states:

Neither Google nor Microsoft have an easy task since AWS will continue to be an innovation machine with a widely recognized brand among the all-important developer community. Both Amazon’s major competitors have an opportunity to solidify themselves as strong alternatives in what is turning into a public cloud oligopoly.

Articles
While Amazon dominates cloud infrastructure, an oligopoly is emerging. Which will buyers bet on? diginomica, Kurt Marko (16/2/17)
Study: AWS has 45% share of public cloud infrastructure market — more than Microsoft, Google, IBM combined GeekWire, Dan Richman (31/10/16)
Cloud computing revenues jumped 25% in 2016, with strong growth ahead, researcher says GeekWire, Dan Richman (4/1/17)

Data
Press releases Synergy Research Group

Questions

  1. Distinguish the different segments of the cloud computing market.
  2. What competitive advantages does AWS have over its major rivals?
  3. What specific advantages does Microsoft have in the cloud computing market?
  4. Is the amount of competition in the cloud computing market enough to prevent the firms from charging excessive prices to their customers? How might you assess what is ‘excessive’?
  5. What barriers to entry are there in the cloud computing market? Should they be a worry for competition authorities?
  6. Are the any network economies in cloud computing? What might they be?
  7. Cloud computing is a rapidly developing industry (for example, the relatively recent development of cloud containers). How does the speed of development impact on competition?
  8. How would market saturation affect competition and the behaviour of the major players?
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Breaking free from the Office

Microsoft’s Office suite is the market leader in the multi-billion dollar office software market. Although an oligopoly, thanks to strong network economies Microsoft has a virtual monopoly in many parts of the market. Network economies occur when it saves money and/or time for people to use the same product (software, in this case), especially within an organisation, such as a company or a government.

Despite the rise of open-source software, such as Apache’s OpenOffice and Google Docs, Microsoft’s Office products, such as Word, Excel and PowerPoint, still dominate the market. But are things about to change?

The UK government has announced that it will seek to abandon reliance on Microsoft Office in the public sector. Provided there are common standards within and across departments, it will encourage departments to use a range of software products, using free or low-cost alternatives to Microsoft products where possible. This should save hundreds of millions of pounds.

Will other governments around the world and other organisations follow suit? There is a lot of money to be saved on software costs. But will switching to alternatives impose costs of its own and will these outweigh the costs saved?

UK government to abandon Microsoft “oligopoly” for open source software Digital Spy, Mayer Nissim (29/1/14)
No, the government isn’t dumping Office, but it does want to start seeing other people ZDNet, Nick Heath (29/1/14)
UK government once again threatens to ditch Microsoft Office The Verge, Tom Warren (29/1/14)
UK government to abandon Microsoft Office in favour of open-source software PCR, Matthew Jarvis (29/1/14)
UK government plans switch from Microsoft Office to open source The Guardian (29/1/14)
Open source push ‘could save taxpayer millions’ The Telegraph, Matthew Sparkes (30/1/14)
Will Google Docs kill off Microsoft Office? CNN Money, Adrian Covert (13/11/13)

Questions

  1. Why has Microsoft retained a virtual monopoly of the office software market? How relevant are network economies to the decision of organisations and individuals not to switch?
  2. Identify other examples of network economies and how they impact on competition.
  3. How do competitors to Microsoft attempt to overcome the resistance of people to switching to their office software?
  4. What methods does Microsoft use to try to retain its position of market dominance?
  5. How does Apple compete with Microsoft in the office software market?
  6. What factors are likely to determine the success of Google Docs in capturing significant market share from Microsoft Office?
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Microsoft breaks promise to the European Commission

Since the late 1990s the European Commission (EC) has been concerned with trying to prevent Microsoft from abusing its dominant position. As described previously on this site, in the latest instalment last week Microsoft was fined for accidentally failing to adhere to an earlier commitment automatically to allow Windows users a choice of web browser.

This is the first case of fines being imposed for failure to comply with commitments required by the EC. In part because of Microsoft’s compliance, the fine imposed was well below the maximum level it could have been. However, it still means that Microsoft has now in total contributed enough to the EC’s coffers to cover the competition department’s budget for over 20 years.

Commitments appear to be increasingly the EC’s preferred solution for resolving competition disputes, especially in the rapidly changing IT sector (see for example Google and e-books). In contrast to a lengthy litigation process, in theory such commitments can quickly fix the problem and increase competition. The EC hopes that the fine imposed on Microsoft will send clear signals to firms that agreed upon commitments must be adhered to. However, this case also highlights that behavioural commitments require close monitoring by the competition authorities. As one industry consultant argues:

While it’s highly likely that it was a technical mistake that broke the browser choice facility the fact that it remained broken for 14 months raises significant questions about Microsoft’s ability and willingness to comply with the voluntary agreement with the EU.

At the same time the situation also raises concerns over the EU’s ability to actually monitor the outcomes of antitrust agreements.

Microsoft offers web browser choice to IE users BBC News (19/02/10)
Microsoft faces hefty EU fine The Guardian (06/03/13)
Microsoft fined €561m for ‘browser choice’ error The Guardian, Charles Arthur (06/03/13)

Questions

  1. Why is it essential that competition disputes in the IT sector are quickly resolved?
  2. What are the problems with monitoring company behaviour in this sector?
  3. What are the pros and cons of agreeing commitments rather than litigation for competition law infringements?
  4. How might Microsoft respond to this latest fine from the EC?
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Anyone want to take a bite out of Apple?

The technology sector is highly complex and is led by Apple. However, as the tablet market is continuing to grow, it is becoming increasingly competitive with other firms such as Samsung gaining market share. Although both firms sell many products, it is the growing tablet market which is one of the keys to their continued growth.

Tablet PCs have seen a growth in the final quarter of 2012 to a high of 52.5 million units, according to IDC. Although Apple, leading the market, has seen a growth in its sales, its market share has declined to 43.6%. Over the same period, Samsung has increased its market share from 7.3% to 15.1%. While it is still a huge margin behind Apple in the tablet PC market, Samsung’s increase in sales from 2.2 million to 7.9 million is impressive and if such a trend were to continue, it would certainly cause Apple to take note.

It’s not just these two firms trying to take advantage of this growing industry. Microsoft has recently launched a new tablet PC and although its reception was less than spectacular, it is expected that Microsoft will become a key competitor in the long run. There are many factors driving the growth in this market and the war over market share is surely only just beginning. The chart shows the 75.3% growth in sales in just one year. (Click here for a PowerPoint of the chart.)

A Research Director at IDC said:

We expected a very strong fourth quarter, and the market didn’t disappoint…New product launches from the category’s top vendors, as well as new entrant Microsoft, led to a surge in consumer interest and very robust shipments totals during the holiday season’

Apple has been so dominant in this sector that other companies until recently have had little success in gaining market share. However, with companies such as Samsung and ASUS now making in-roads, competition is likely to become fierce. There are already concerns that Apple’s best days are behind it and its share price reflects this. People are now less willing to pay a premium price for an Apple product, as the innovations of its competitors have now caught up with those of the leading brand name. The following articles consider this growing market.

Samsung gain tablet market share as Apple lead narrows BBC News (1/2/13)
Apple snatches US lead from Samsung Financial Times, Tim Bradshaw (1/2/13)
Apple revenues miss expectations despite high sales figures BBC News (24/1/13)
Samsung eats into Apple sales in the tablet market Mirror, Ruki Sayid (1/2/13)
MacWorld’s Apple celebration opens amid fears of tech giant’s decline Guardian, Rory Carroll (31/1/13)
Samsung’s tablet sales soar as Apple’s grip on market loosens Daily News and Analysis, Richard Blagden (2/2/13)
Samsung takes a nibble out of Apple’s tablet lead InfoWorld, Ted Samson(31/1/13)
Tablet Sales up 75% as Samsung and Asus Gain on Apple Interational Business Times, Edward Smith (31/1/13)

Questions

  1. Which factors are behind this exceptional growth in the tablet PC market?
  2. Using the Boston matrix, where do you think tablet PCs fit in terms of market size and market growth?
  3. Where would you place this market in terms of the product life cycle?
  4. What does the product life cycle say about the degree of competition, the impact on pricing on profits etc. in the phase that you placed the tablet PC market in your answer to question 3?
  5. Why have Apple’s shares fallen recently? Do you think this will be the new trend?
  6. Microsoft’s new tablet didn’t attract huge sales. What explanation was given for this? Use a diagram to help answer this question.
  7. Tablet PCs are relatively expensive, yet sales of them have increased significantly over the past few years. What explanation is there for this, given that we have been (and still are) in tough financial times?
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Microsoft versus Google

There has been an ongoing battle between Microsoft and Google for many years in the technology industry. Microsoft have received many fines in countless anti-trust cases, but Microsoft has now taken the upper hand in the most recent development, after filing its first official complaint with the regulators against Google. Microsoft is claiming that Google’s actions are restricting competition in the market and thereby abusing its dominant position. This complaint follows numerous complaints by small businesses. Microsoft’s Brad Smith said that they had been forced to act because of a:

“broadening pattern of conduct aimed at stopping anyone else from creating a competitive alternative”.

Google controls approximately 95% of the European search engine market and complaints have focused on actions that Google have taken to restrict competition, further its dominance in the market and thereby harm consumers. The European Commission is already investigating Google and will continue to discuss the case with all parties involved.

Microsoft takes on Google with antitrust complaint Guardian, Mark Sweney (31/3/11)
Minnow Microsoft v the Google giant BBC News Blog, Rory Cellan-Jones (31/3/11)
Adding our voice to concerns about search in Europe Microsoft Blog, Brad Smith (30/3/11)
Microsoft accuses Google of antitrust violations CNN Money, David Goldman (31/3/11)

Questions

  1. What constitutes a dominant position? In what forms can a firm abuse its dominant position?
  2. What is the purpose of anti-trust laws and competition policy?
  3. To what extent are Google’s actions against consumer’s interests?
  4. What anti-competitive practices have Google been accused of? Explain how each is against consumer’s interests and against the interests of its competitors.
  5. What are (a) the arguments for keeping interest rates at 0.5% and (b) the arguments for raising interest rates? Who wins and loses in each case?
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Changes in the Office

Whilst a new version of Windows may make the headlines, it’s not Windows that is the main source of profit for Microsoft: it’s Office, with it’s suite of appplications – Word for word processing, Excel for spreadsheets, PowerPoint for presentations, Access for databases, FrontPage for web pages and Outlook for e-mail. But Office is under threat from two sources.

First, despite that fact that Microsoft’s share of the office applications market has remained fairly constant at around 94%, it is facing increased competition from free alternatives, such as Google docs and Google Apps, and OpenOffice from Oracle (see also).

Second, the demands of users are changing. With the growing use of social networking and file sharing, and with a more mobile and dispersed workforce, Microsoft Office needs to adapt to this new environment.

With the launch of Office 2010, these issues are being addressed. The following articles examine what Microsoft has done and whether it is a good business model

Microsoft Office 2010 takes aim at Google Docs BBC News (11/5/10)
Office 2010: banking on Apps Sydney Morning Herald, David Flynn (11/5/10)
Microsoft’s two-pronged strategy for Office 2010 BBC News, Tim Weber (12/5/10)
Revamped Microsoft Office Will Be Free on the Web New York Times, Ashlee Vance (11/5/10)
Microsoft Predicts Fastest-Ever Adoption of New Office Software Bloomberg Businessweek, Dina Bass (12/5/10)

Questions

  1. Discuss the business logic of giving away products free.
  2. Discuss the likely success of Microsoft’s response to the changing market conditions for office applications software.
  3. Explain what is meant by ‘cloud computing’. What opportunities does this provide to Microsoft and what are the threats?
  4. What is meant by ‘network economies’? How do these benefit Microsoft? How is Sharepoint relevant here?
  5. Are network economies likely to increase or decrease for Microsoft in the future?
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Money out of the windows? Microsoft is fined

The EU has imposed a record £680m fine on Microsoft for imposing unreasonable prices on their rivals for access to the Windows code that they required to be able to build complementary software. The record fine is a drop in the ocean for Microsoft, representing just two weeks cash flow, but they hope that this marks an end to the dispute with the EU. They argue that new working practices will help improve interoperability and that they have already begun to offer better access to code for their competitors.

Microsoft hit by 899m euro fine for failure to comply with EU ruling Times Online (28/2/08)
EU fines Microsoft record £680m ‘to close dark chapter’ in fight against monopoly Guardian (27/2/08)
The EU’s frustration with Microsoft Guardian (27/2/08)
Ten years of legal wrangling between Microsoft and EU Guardian (27/2/08)
Pity the big, bad wolf Guardian (27/2/08)

Questions
1. Explain why the EU Competition Commissioner has ruled that Microsoft has behaved anti-competitively.
2. Describe the role of the EU’s Competition Commissioner in improving the competition in markets.
3. Examine other options available to the EU’s Competition Commissioner to improve the competitive situation in European markets.
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