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Steve Ballmer: We Won't Be Out-Innovated By Apple Anymore 610

Posted by Soulskill
from the innovators-innovators-innovators dept.
An anonymous reader tips an article about comments from Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer regarding Microsoft's attitude toward Apple. It seems Microsoft is tired of being behind the curve in most areas of the tech market, and will be trying very hard to prevent Apple and other companies from beating them to the punch in the future. From the article: "In a recent interview, Ballmer explained that the company had ceded innovations in hardware and software to Apple, but that the-times-they-are-a-'changin. 'We are trying to make absolutely clear we are not going to leave any space uncovered to Apple,' Ballmer explained. 'Not the consumer cloud. Not hardware software innovation. We are not leaving any of that to Apple by itself. Not going to happen. Not on our watch.' ... An admirable goal, but it's fair to argue that attempting to innovate everywhere results in innovation nowhere. A big part of the reason Apple has been so successful is that they devote the bulk of their attention to only a few select market areas. By trying to innovate everywhere, so to speak, Microsoft runs the continued risk of spreading itself too thin and not really having a fundamental impact in any one market."
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Steve Ballmer: We Won't Be Out-Innovated By Apple Anymore

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 10, 2012 @03:52PM (#40606315)

    Oh, crap. Is this the real definition of "innovation", or Apple's definition? Because if this means Microsoft is going to go MORE on the offensive with asserting dodgy patents, we could be in for a rough ride...

  • cool story bro (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 10, 2012 @03:53PM (#40606333)

    "we are not going to leave any space uncovered to Apple"

    all that really says is they will be following Apple into any market even ones that aren't right for Microsoft. it actually sounds to me like they are doubling down on copying Apple.

  • Re:Sorry (Score:5, Insightful)

    by poetmatt (793785) on Tuesday July 10, 2012 @03:54PM (#40606349) Journal

    To me the humor is this: why are they going after apple? Let them, surely - but why do they think it is apple who is out innovating them as opposed to the entire technology industry at large?

  • Translation (Score:5, Insightful)

    by zrbyte (1666979) on Tuesday July 10, 2012 @03:54PM (#40606353)

    Ballmer to MS board: "Please let stay as the CEO"

  • Hmmm ... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gstoddart (321705) on Tuesday July 10, 2012 @03:55PM (#40606369) Homepage

    Why am I reminded of this [dilbert.com] Dilbert cartoon from last week?

    A decree from the CEO to be more innovative largely means nothing if they can't actually make the change in a meaningful way and bring out products.

    If Microsoft has been innovating and not creating products, they're idiots. If they haven't been innovating, well, that's the fundamental problem, isn't it?

    Microsoft has been so mired in the "copy someone else's product badly" mentality for so long, I question if Balmer understand what needs to be done to fix this. Certainly not just a speech.

  • by Kergan (780543) on Tuesday July 10, 2012 @03:56PM (#40606381)

    Ballmer seems to be citing the ongoing (prior?) battles as areas where MS intends to fight... That's great and all, assuming MS delivers, but they should instead be focussing on the next battles.

  • So... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by dciman (106457) on Tuesday July 10, 2012 @03:57PM (#40606407) Journal

    they're going to do something that is completely against/opposite any and all products or direction they have ever made or gone? I'll believe it when I see it!

    They don't have the best track record on original products :)

  • Re:cool story bro (Score:5, Insightful)

    by postbigbang (761081) on Tuesday July 10, 2012 @03:59PM (#40606439)

    Phones yielded to Apple and Android.

    Desktop operating systems yielded to MacOSX (and maybe Ubuntu)

    Tablets tossed with the Hail Mary of RT.

    Servers yielded to several versions of Linux (and here, Apple croaked).

    Cloud to dozens of IaaS and PaaS providers.

    Virtual machines handed on a platter to VMware, Citrix, RedHat, and varying others.

    OH! But Games! Microsoft has XBOX and Zune^H^H^H^H

    Steve: remember, it was you that mixed the kool aid.

  • by c0c (2037104) on Tuesday July 10, 2012 @04:00PM (#40606445) Homepage
    Why? Because Jobs is dead?
  • by gman003 (1693318) on Tuesday July 10, 2012 @04:01PM (#40606471)

    "Innovation." You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

    You want to out-innovate Apple? Don't make a goal of going head-to-head with them everywhere - that's copying, the exact opposite of innovating. Compete where you actually have a newer, better product than they have. Compete where they have no product. Let them win where you cannot create a better or more innovative product. I'm sure Sun Tzu had something I could quote here, but I can't remember anything offhand.

  • by bsy-1 (169906) on Tuesday July 10, 2012 @04:02PM (#40606485) Journal

    So if a team of 20 build a new widget, which rockets into fame (yes this is a work of fiction), then the 2 people will get all the credit, 16 will get credit for being there, and the other 2 will be blow standards. I don't think we have to worry about Microsoft changing.

  • by v1 (525388) on Tuesday July 10, 2012 @04:03PM (#40606495) Homepage Journal

    "then they laugh at you"
    "then they fight you"
    "and then you win."

    It looks like Ballmer has decided to proceed from stage 2 to stage 3. This is really the first time I recall him doing anything to admit there's a problem. Usually the MS stage puppets just keep up the brainwashing with how MS is doing so well and owns the market and is the leader in everything and how the new blablabla is going to be such a smashing success. You know the gloves have come off when Ballmer admits they're behind.

  • by Anarchitect (9282) on Tuesday July 10, 2012 @04:05PM (#40606525) Journal

    A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.
    -- Wayne Gretzky

  • by realmolo (574068) on Tuesday July 10, 2012 @04:06PM (#40606531)

    We're at a stage in the computer industry where innovation is the LAST thing we need.

    What we need is bug fixes and "refinement". Microsoft didn't need to force Metro on us...they just needed to perfect Windows 7. Apple isn't redesigning OS X every 2 years. They're tweaking it an making it better.

    The endless push for NEW products is what screws up the computer industry. Nothing is ever actually *finished*.

  • Re:Hmmm ... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MickyTheIdiot (1032226) on Tuesday July 10, 2012 @04:09PM (#40606559) Homepage Journal

    It's already fun in tech as long as you're not a microsoft-centric person.

    Quite frankly the farther I get from Microsoft-groupthink-land the better I feel. Since I'm a gamer there is nothing I can't do on my Ubuntu laptop that I can't do on any other O.S., plus I don't waste gbs on a huge Office install.

  • by Weaselmancer (533834) on Tuesday July 10, 2012 @04:09PM (#40606581)

    It is. It's an easy thing to say. And very soothing to stockholders I'm sure. But how are you going to do it? It's sort of like saying "I'm going to have an innovative idea by 3pm tomorrow!" Ok, that's great. How exactly do you do that?

    Innovation isn't something you simply decide you're going to have, and then you have it.

    What you can do is to change your culture, foster ideas, hire people and don't abuse them. Make your environment a place where innovation can happen. I'm looking at you forced curve. [glassdoor.com] People who think "outside the box" do not like being put in one. If you set up your environment to where only drones do well, then drones are what you'll have. Any real rogue thinkers in the Microsoft structure would get crushed like ants. Need I remind you Einstein did some of his best work while he was getting poor reviews as a patent clerk?

    And innovation isn't something you can really buy, either. Although MS tries. The current MS policy of borg-like assimilation of any outside company that might have a good idea isn't really working, is it? It's a wonderful tribute to the amount of money you have, but it hasn't produced any sort of good results I can think of in a decade. Hell, you guys couldn't even keep Hotmail working. They were the #1 gold standard, and Google waltzed right into that space with Gmail and it's a done deal now.

    In short, if you want to lead you better change. Your culture is all wrong for innovation.

  • by hoggoth (414195) on Tuesday July 10, 2012 @04:11PM (#40606595) Journal

    Yes, he is using the same strategy as the TSA. Focus on yesterday's problem, not tomorrow's.

  • by oh_my_080980980 (773867) on Tuesday July 10, 2012 @04:11PM (#40606597)
    When their key UI insight is to remove the Start button from their next OS release, you know they have problems......
  • Talk is cheap... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dtjohnson (102237) on Tuesday July 10, 2012 @04:12PM (#40606611)

    Microsoft is always talking about what they're gonna do. They need to just shut up and actually DO something. Their last innovative product was when they created the GUI version of the spreadsheet and called it 'Excel.' Since then, the innovation has been a little slow. The problem starts with Ballmer. He is not thinking about cool stuff that can be done with tech. No, he's thinking about how he can make money doing cool stuff that others are doing. As they say in Texas, Microsoft is all hat and no cattle.

  • by oh_my_080980980 (773867) on Tuesday July 10, 2012 @04:12PM (#40606619)
    Microsoft has NEVER been innovators. Microsoft has always been adopters. They buy and adopt other companies technology.
  • by sneakyimp (1161443) on Tuesday July 10, 2012 @04:13PM (#40606635)

    I was thinking more about the five stages of grief (Kübler-Ross model [wikipedia.org]), the first of which is denial:

    1) Denial
    2) Anger
    3) Bargaining
    4) Depression
    5) Acceptance

    I'd put old Steve Balls somewhere between #1 and #2.

  • by JDG1980 (2438906) on Tuesday July 10, 2012 @04:14PM (#40606643)

    Frankly, I don't even want Microsoft to be "innovative." At this point, they're pretty much like a public utility – I prefer when they're doing their work in the background, and I mostly only notice if they screw something up.

    The fundamental problem is that Microsoft should be transitioning from a high-growth company to a stable, mature company – from a financial perspective, less emphasis on stock appreciation and more on dividends. People – and more importantly, businesses – rely on Microsoft for un-sexy features like backwards compatibility, familiarity, installed base, and stability (some of the older Slashdotters may laugh, but Windows 7 really is a rock-stable OS, and even a fully patched XP isn't bad.) The fact is that Windows became "good enough" for most users years ago, and everything since then has been either incremental improvements or actual degradation. There hasn't been any major positive "paradigm shift" on the desktop and there won't be. Some users will find that they don't need a full-fledged PC and will transition to tablets, but many, perhaps a majority, still need the power and/or flexibility that only a complete desktop OS can offer. This is Microsoft's niche. They need to focus on it and stop chasing phantoms.

  • Re:Hmmm ... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by PRMan (959735) on Tuesday July 10, 2012 @04:14PM (#40606645)
    Look at their Kinect. Microsoft did everything they could to keep it from becoming a mass-market device. Why? They could have written a PC driver in 1 day and sold thousands overnight, so why not? Makes you wonder. But in a nutshell, this is what happens when you try to drive the market instead of responding to it. It has to be a 2-way street between the consumer and the producer.
  • by SirGarlon (845873) on Tuesday July 10, 2012 @04:14PM (#40606647)
    As to Sun Tzu quotes, how about this one:

    ... there are five essentials for victory: (1) He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight. (2) He will win who knows how to handle both superior and inferior forces. (3) He will win whose army is animated by the same spirit throughout all its ranks. (4) He will win who, prepared himself, waits to take the enemy unprepared. (5) He will win who has military capacity and is not interfered with by the sovereign.

  • Re:Sorry (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ackthpt (218170) on Tuesday July 10, 2012 @04:26PM (#40606825) Homepage Journal

    Sorry, Apple has a patent on innovation.

    Why stop at Apple? Everyone is out-innovating MSFT. They got lazy, back in the 90's and have to root out the rot in their company before they will be nimble enough to do anything. Best bet would be to spin off a tightly focused innovation group and pull in resources as needed from where ever they come from.

  • by Anubis IV (1279820) on Tuesday July 10, 2012 @04:26PM (#40606829)

    There's an oft-quoted line of Wayne Gretsky about skating to where the puck is going, rather than skating to where it is now. Steve Jobs quoted it a number of years ago regarding their strategy of looking towards whatever was coming next, rather than what consumers were using and wanting now.

    Microsoft has been a "skate to where the puck is" company for quite a few years now, which is why everything they've been putting out feels just a bit off and a bit behind. They've made indications in the last few months that they want to get away from that and actually start to be pushing boundaries, rather than filling in behind the people that push the boundaries. And I sincerely hope they do, since more innovation (and competition!) in the tech space is always a good thing. They certainly have an awesome R&D department that routinely puts out awesome stuff, but it's unfortunately very rarely realized in its full potential. I'd love to see them using the stuff they develop internally in big ways.

  • by ganjadude (952775) on Tuesday July 10, 2012 @04:43PM (#40607039) Homepage
    Honestly regardless ones feelings on apple or microsoft, this is a good thing for the consumer. The more the giants battle, to be number one, the better the outcome usually.

    standard car analogy, look at the stagnant small cars in the 80s, the imports came in and swooped up. Due to that, the domestics hard to reinvent themselves, and slowly but surely we have way better small cars now than we did then.
  • Re:cool story bro (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jfengel (409917) on Tuesday July 10, 2012 @05:00PM (#40607257) Homepage Journal

    Its Office suite is still pretty much mandatory in a lot of offices, and any place else where you have to exchange editable documents.

    This is due in part to the abysmal nature of those formats: nobody from outside can get them working with 100% fidelity. If you hand me a Word doc, and I edit it or fill it out with anything other than Genuine Microsoft(tm)-brand Word, there's a good chance it's going to look like crap when you get it back. Job security through incompetence.

    That's diminishing as people find other ways of sharing stuff, but there's still a large place for the Big File Full Of Carefully Formatted Words And Pictures that needs to be edited on both ends.

  • by realmolo (574068) on Tuesday July 10, 2012 @05:02PM (#40607277)

    RIM isn't dying because they couldn't innovate, they are dying because BlackberryOS sucks, and they refused to fix it in a reasonable amount of time.

    Like I said, it's not innovation that most companies need, it's quality products.

  • by Jeremiah Cornelius (137) on Tuesday July 10, 2012 @05:06PM (#40607331) Homepage Journal

    With regard to Apple, Microsoft will ALWAYS fail at this contest.

    Microsoft is built around and "Enterprise Sales Division". The existence of such a monstrosity is the death-knell for any company of tech-innovators.

    Apple has no such - and they are overturning MS in the "home turf" of corporate business customers. They do so without creating a separate business line of devices, "Enterprise" software or the RFQ-response configuration choices, beloved by hardware vendors selling to corporations.

    Microsoft sold out to ideas about business and capital very early - and were always based out of a Harvard Business School background - without the real hacker DNA. Ballmer never sold Billy's blue boxes, to start their enterprise... :-)

    Since 2001 MS spent a couple dozen BILLION on R&D. Yet they capitalized on nothing - despite ensconcing the best and brightest in world-class labs and facilities. Every "innovation" from MS has been an acquisition (TellMe, Kinect) or a "Me too" (.net, Windows imaging model, Silverlight, HyperV...)

    Ballmer's bruised ego is not enough of a motivating force to make any difference here. I look forward with relish to Microsoft's continued, punishing humiliation. There is really no other company so deserving of becoming the next RIM.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 10, 2012 @05:48PM (#40607827)

    Your use of "decisive" is probably the best word I've heard to describe Apple. What set them apart as far back as the gumdrop iMac wasn't their ability to say "no" to things or to innovate so much as their ability to say YES to things without qualification.

    That's Apple's unique strength. While everyone else is hedging their bets and keeping pokers in the fire, Apple bets the farm over and over again. They never doubt. They never second-guess themselves. A decision is made and that's that. They put every . last . resource . into the things that they run with, and as a result, those things carry the weight (the embodied human knowledge, labor, energy, research, refinement, etc.) of the entire organization within them.

    So often in the tech industry you get the feeling that every other company is watching the stats about every product in their lineup, just waiting to kill them at the first hint of weakness and loathe to invest in them further once they're out the door. They keep thirty or fifty or a hundred product lines just barely alive but perpetually on the chopping block, none of them ever named "do or die" for the company, which makes consumers hesitate to use them in "do or die" situations in real life.

    The only other product line that ever seemed even close to as "committed" as the iDevices was IBM's ThinkPad series back in the day, but even then it wasn't at the same level.

    Every time Apple launches a new family of anything (OS, computing device, consumer device, service) there is a vast geography of scoffing from all of the other industry players, and a lot of critics saying they've got it wrong.

    But Apple doesn't care whether they've got it "right" or "wrong," they care that they execute and perfect whatever it happens to be that they've got. In the end, that focus on execution and perfection tends to make it "right" within a product cycle or two.

  • by eepok (545733) on Tuesday July 10, 2012 @05:51PM (#40607861) Homepage

    I don't know why, but I get the distinct feeling that what Ballmer means is that he wants Microsoft to make competing products better than Apple does. That means faster, more reliable, prettier, and able to do more stuff at once. That requires that Microsoft plays the same game

    But that's not innovation. That's improvement.

    Innovation is doing things differently. If Microsoft wants to do things differently than Apple, then they can create competing products that actually offer different services and options.

    Let's take MP3/Media players for example. The MS Zune bombed because it tried to be an iPod with different styling and different proprietary programs. What Microsoft should do instead is create an MP3/Media player that sheds the playpen style of the iPod. Instead of competing for the same "I just want something pretty that I don't have to think about" audience, Microsoft should target the "I want to make it look exactly how I want it... and then customize how battery power is prioritized... and then share those settings with a bunch of other people" crowd.

    Most people who stick to Windows machines do so because of the greater immediate control over the system that the OS offers as compared to MacOS. Fight for that population. Fight for those that want to have it their way. Offer developer tools with the launch of a new device to, at the very least, modify user interface and file handling. "Oh, the player didn't ship with an equalizer? Let me see if I can make one!"

    Innovate for something different. Stop chasing the same audience. Target those who want to do a little work on their own (or just use other peoples' work!) to make a product vastly superior to what iOS offers.

  • by richard.york (829554) on Tuesday July 10, 2012 @06:33PM (#40608287) Homepage
    And yet, if the iPod was just another music player, it wouldn't have been so successful would it? And if the iPhone was just another phone with a music player function, it wouldn't have completely redefined the smart phone industry. If there were no iPad, there would be no tablet market. And I'm sorry to be the one to tell you, but the iPad is much more than a big iPod Touch. There's more to it than shiny and pretty and fucking marketing. Yes, there is more involved than a reality distortion field. If it were really that simple Apple would have been another me too company putting out the same old shit as everyone else, for their marketing prowess would be so great they'd be able to sell anything. Yes, many of these ideas were there before Apple came along, but no one put them together in meaningful, usable, or appealing ways. Such that anyone at all can pick one up and immediately userstand how to use it. It means fuckall if the average person isn't able to easily use these things without a BS in computer science. And falling victim to malware. And having reasonable battery life. And having fast, responsive hardware. And having tiny lightweight form factors. And not chewing through your data plan. All areas where Apple has innovated. Not just UI. If that isn't innovation, I don't know what is. If those who had come before had made anything close to any of these, we'd be talking about those companies instead of Apple, and yet we aren't, are we? Because they didn't. Turns out making a touch screen worth a damn takes a hell of a lot of engineering or you end up with a jerky, unresponsive pile of dung much like the early Android touchscreens or Blackberries. You may not like Apple, you may prefer something else, more power to you. But give credit where credit is due. I'm willing to bet you couldn't engineer Apple's products having only those products that came before them, the ones that you beleive equal or superior, available to you even if given your entire lifetime. Big companies with deep war cheats can barely compete. But somehow I think you'll still be on with saying they did nothing different or innovative than anyone else. Somehow I think that the very fact that they have become the world's most valuable tech company easily discredits you.
  • Courier? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by vell0cet (1055494) on Tuesday July 10, 2012 @07:18PM (#40608697)
    The problem with Microsoft (and other companies) that Apple didn't have is that they are slaves to market research. Apple did what they thought the consumer wanted, instead of researching the consumer and then making the same crap that they were already buying.

    This is the thinking that lead to the cancellation of the Courier (google it, it was awesome).

    By chasing trends, you will never be leading. I think this quote is quite apt:
    "There go my people. I must find out where they are going so I can lead them."
                              - Alexandre Auguste Ledru-Rollin
  • Re:Sorry (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Eponymous Coward (6097) on Tuesday July 10, 2012 @08:21PM (#40609221)

    watch what Apple does... then implement whatever that is in Windows

    And the one time they try to predict where Apple is going and beat them there, we end up with Windows 8 + Metro. I'm convinced that back in 2008 or 2009, Microsoft predicted that iOS and OSX would be merged. I really can't understand any other reason for their current strategy.

  • by sg_oneill (159032) on Tuesday July 10, 2012 @10:32PM (#40610173)

    Right but IBM is apt. IBM has always innovated (The PC itself, for instance) but the creativity of its techs was stifled by a general old-world business model that left it vunerable to getting its throat torn out by the new-world practices of microsoft in the 80s. But microsoft is now in that same boat. The apple it crushed in the 90s bears no resemblance to the apple of today, and apple has learned and studied its mistakes. And apple has studied microsoft learning its successes too. Apple now has the raw capital to beat microsoft in an endurance game and it has the smarts to beat microsoft at being desirable and attractive to non techie punters.

    Microsoft will always have a market for its PC stuff, as long as it doesnt completely blow it with this metro guff, but apple is redefining the market, and I'm not convinced that whatever innovations Win8 brings to the tablet space have arived in time to make a difference.

    Frankly I suspect the only thing that will make MS's tablets work is if it fogets the home market and makes an aggressive pitch at the enterprise. It might succeed in that.

  • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Wednesday July 11, 2012 @05:08AM (#40612139) Journal

    I am currently doing an internship at Microsoft Research. There are a huge number of very innovative things on the horizon

    There always are at MSR.

    (which, sadly, I can't talk about),

    You probably can. Most of the stuff they do gets published in conferences, journals, and so on. The problem Microsoft has always had (at least, from the early '90s onwards) is that they spend a vast amount on MSR and then only take a tiny fraction of the output and produce products. Apple, in contrast, spends nothing at all on pure research, but is very good at identifying interesting research from elsewhere and turning it into shipping products.

    Don't be deceived into thinking that the shiny stuff you see at MSR is somehow new. Pick a random issue of a random computing journal from the last 20 years and you'll probably see at least one interesting paper by someone at MSR, or someone in collaboration with MSR, but you almost certainly won't see any MS products based on it. Given that MS invests about $5bn/year in MSR, I'd be shocked if they didn't produce interesting research, but that's only the first stage in creating a compelling product. The next stages are at least as important.

    Oh, and I couldn't let this one pass:

    (basically ML, also developed by MSR)

    ML comes from Edinburgh in 1973, long before MSR existed. Ocaml, the most commonly used dialect comes from INRIA, in 1996. MSR does a lot more work on Haskell (Simon Peyton-Jones and friends) than ML-family languages.

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