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Former Microsoft Exec: Microsoft Has "Become the Thing They Despised" 488

zacharye writes "Microsoft has a long and storied history of leadership in the tech industry, and the company has driven innovation for decades. In recent years, however, Microsoft has fallen behind the times in several key industries; the company's mobile position has deteriorated and left it with a low single-digit market share, and Microsoft won't launch Windows RT, its response to Apple's three-year-old iPad, until later this year. In a recent piece titled 'Microsoft’s Lost Decade,' Vanity Fair contributor Kurt Eichenwald analyzes the company’s 'astonishingly foolish management decisions' and picks apart moves made during the Steve Ballmer era."
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Former Microsoft Exec: Microsoft Has "Become the Thing They Despised"

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  • Really? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by trewornan ( 608722 ) on Friday July 06, 2012 @08:15AM (#40562281)

    Microsoft has a long and storied history of leadership in the tech industry, and the company has driven innovation for decades


  • That's nothing (Score:5, Insightful)

    by GameboyRMH ( 1153867 ) <> on Friday July 06, 2012 @08:20AM (#40562325) Journal

    Elop did to Nokia in a matter of months what Ballmer took over a decade to do to Microsoft.

  • The Problem (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 06, 2012 @08:21AM (#40562333)

    Executives, Executives, EXECUTIVES

  • by captainpanic ( 1173915 ) on Friday July 06, 2012 @08:24AM (#40562357)

    That's the problem with management with KPIs: they have to report results every 3 months. Cutting some long term projects looks great in the beginning: less overhead and fewer costs, and if you move your researchers to production, you even get a bigger income.

    The damage only becomes visible 2-5 years later. And then it's too late.

    Too bad the whole world is focussed on those dan

  • Former exec (Score:4, Insightful)

    by js3 ( 319268 ) on Friday July 06, 2012 @08:29AM (#40562391)

    A former exec disgruntled with his previous company? you don't say...

  • Re:Really? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by GameboyRMH ( 1153867 ) <> on Friday July 06, 2012 @08:30AM (#40562403) Journal

    Well they copied at least as many features for those products in return...the only innovation I can think of recently is the searchable start menu, and that's if you don't count the searchable run menu many Linux DEs have. Office is dragging the rest of the office suites around by the hair - the competition has to emulate them to gain market share (until the ribbons came around, then the legacy interface became a strong point), but their OSes haven't been innovative for a long time. Technically their OSes have been playing catch-up with Linux since the mid/late 90s.

  • Courier Tablet (Score:5, Insightful)

    by aapold ( 753705 ) on Friday July 06, 2012 @08:31AM (#40562407) Homepage Journal
    That thing was way ahead of its time. But Gates and Balmer killed it. and now Allard is off doing something else...
  • Re:Really? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by StripedCow ( 776465 ) on Friday July 06, 2012 @08:31AM (#40562411)

    This is downmodded, but where for example do we find the website for "Apple Research"?

  • by CrazyBusError ( 530694 ) on Friday July 06, 2012 @08:31AM (#40562413) Homepage

    They still have a commanding market share in many areas...

    And that's the exact reason you're unlikely to see them reinvent themselves the way Apple did. Apple did it because they had no choice - they were getting their asses handed to them in every sector they were in, they were haemorrhaging money and were on the verge of bankruptcy. It was a do-or-die move.

    Microsoft have no need to copy them. They may not be raising the roof on the stock indexes, but they're still making money and because of that, inertia will mean that they'll never look at the kind of radical solutions that Apple did; it's easier to play the safe game and make smaller profits for less risk.

  • by UnknowingFool ( 672806 ) on Friday July 06, 2012 @08:36AM (#40562453)

    In many ways Apple had it easier. The state they were in, the board was willing to try anything and Jobs had free reign to make major changes. If what Jobs did didn't work, there wasn't much loss.

    MS is still profitable and making major changes that affects their profitability will face resistance. MS needs new leadership and Ballmer is not likely to lead the reinvention. Over the last several years, it seems the leaders that were willing to change how MS did things have left: Ozzie, Allard, Bach. Everything must be Windows or Office has been a major problem to their innovation.

  • Re:Nothing new (Score:5, Insightful)

    by donscarletti ( 569232 ) on Friday July 06, 2012 @08:37AM (#40562469)

    Remember back in the days that Windows didn't have basic operating system features like memory protection and used to crash thrice daily?

    Remember back in the days where using the latest version of IE would assure you that nothing but the most quirky IE only pages would render correctly?

    Remember back in the days where Apple had a usable GUI for half a decade and MS users were stuck on a really shitty command line?

    I do, it wasn't that long ago, pretty much it was the entire company's history before the "lost decade". But Windows doesn't crash so much any more since the later service packs of Windows 2000 and is fairly usable these days. It seems that Microsoft should have become IBM a long time ago.

  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna ( 970587 ) on Friday July 06, 2012 @08:42AM (#40562507) Journal
    The article is way off base. The most fundamental reason for their success is not anything they have done or not done. It is the whole corporate sector conflating "Microsoft compatibility" with "interoperability". Otherwise they have always been the same. Lackluster products and copying/buying innovation done elsewhere has been its mainstay. The low quality of its products was masked by the ever increasing speed and decreasing cost of hardware. Their monopoly masked the incompetence of their managers. All that is happening now is people inside and outside Microsoft, waking up and smelling the coffee.
  • Re:That's nothing (Score:4, Insightful)

    by GameboyRMH ( 1153867 ) <> on Friday July 06, 2012 @08:43AM (#40562521) Journal

    Yeah they had problems before, but they were nothing compared to the new ones Elop made. All they had to do before was make their smartphones a little more noob-friendly to gain mass-market appeal. Even if they'd just kept on making cheapo phones for the 3rd world and high-end open phones for uber-geeks they would have been much better off.

  • s/driven/killed/ (Score:5, Insightful)

    by McDutchie ( 151611 ) on Friday July 06, 2012 @08:48AM (#40562559) Homepage

    and the company has driven innovation for decades

    Uh... geez. Where to even start?

    The first and last real MS innovation was the Microsoft BASIC interpreter which became ubiquitous in 1980s home computers. Everything else they ever did was shamelessly stolen and/or bought and/or badly copied from others. Even MS-DOS started out as a bought-out CP/M imitation.

    They disparaged GUIs and the whole idea of user-friendly computing until the Mac proved them wrong. It took them a decade to come up with a usable competitor (Windows 95). Then it took them years to recognize the importance of the Internet, so they killed the competition by illegally leveraging their monopoly on Windows desktops. With the competition dead, they stalled IE development and set back web innovation by a decade until Firefox broke the market back open.

    Now you can see them screw up the same way with mobile devices. It took even Bill Gates until last week to admit that the PC-centric model may be "changing". Thankfully, with Gates gone and that dancing sweatmonkey in charge, they don't seem to be capable of their past level of predation anymore.

    MS has always been a follower at best. It has frequently been a predatory abuser of its monopoly. It has usually parasitized on the innovations of others. Embrace, extend, extinguish was always how they operated. It has never been an innovation leader.

  • by jbolden ( 176878 ) on Friday July 06, 2012 @08:54AM (#40562605) Homepage

    I don't know about that. Where Microsoft has really been dynamic this decade is at the enterprise level. For example Microsoft Dynamics (which I understand was an acquisition) ties very tightly to office. But accountants and sales people know office. CRM, ERP, Accounting... all tied together with an office interface relatively easy to configure/setup and use. That's rather impressive. Now tie that in with the enhancements to Sharepoint and Universal Communicator and you really have a fully formed office based total communication system. So they have been innovative on a windows / office paradigm.

    Their problem is in consumer / internet and to a certain extent not developing there was strategic. It bought them an entire extra decade of dominance. Now Balmer / Microsoft is fighting for consumer market share we'll see what they do. But I don't think its fair to say there has been a lack of innovation. Perhaps not innovations you are about though.

  • by Sponge Bath ( 413667 ) on Friday July 06, 2012 @08:56AM (#40562615)
    After opening with a false premise like "storied history of leadership", do you really want to read more?
  • Re:Really? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Eponymous Coward ( 6097 ) on Friday July 06, 2012 @09:02AM (#40562641)

    Microsoft Research is the most depressing part of that whole company. There have so many great researchers and computer scientists working there and you hear very little from them. People who used to publish papers every year join up with MR and are never heard from again. It's a roach motel of computer scientists.

  • Re:Former exec (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Xest ( 935314 ) on Friday July 06, 2012 @09:06AM (#40562673)

    I left an employer once because it was shit and was disgruntled with it as my previous company.

    But just because I was disgruntled with it, doesn't mean it wasn't shit.

    It's bankrupt now.

    Sometimes ex-employees are exactly the people you should be listening to, sometimes, they're ex-employees by their own choosing and for good reason.

  • by kilfarsnar ( 561956 ) on Friday July 06, 2012 @09:29AM (#40562897)

    After opening with a false premise like "storied history of leadership", do you really want to read more?

    Yeah, that was a good one. I also liked "...and the company has driven innovation for decades." That made me chuckle.

  • Re:Really? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Alioth ( 221270 ) <no@spam> on Friday July 06, 2012 @09:32AM (#40562919) Journal

    I think Microsoft Research is basically a place where they can keep innovators out of the hands of their competitors, rather than research innovative new stuff that Microsoft will make - allowing Microsoft to rest on their Windows/Office laurels for longer.

  • Re:Really? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by serviscope_minor ( 664417 ) on Friday July 06, 2012 @09:40AM (#40563017) Journal

    Having a research center is negatively correlated with innovation

    100% utter bullshit.

    Where do you think unix, C and C++ came from?

    Where do you think the Kinect body tracking came from?

    The really, really innovative stuff, rather than fancy repackaging of existing ideas generally comes from university spinouts (i.e. research labs) and research labs.

  • Re:Really? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Gr8Apes ( 679165 ) on Friday July 06, 2012 @10:18AM (#40563541)

    Not to mention that XP, Vista and 7, Office, etc all had features that were copied by competitors. Just because the final product isn't OMFGAMAZING!!! doesn't mean it didn't contain some good innovations.

    Name them. Heck, name just two, since you claim plurality.

    There is not a single item I can think of that wasn't copied or outright stolen from someone else.

  • Re:Really? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by SerpentMage ( 13390 ) <[ ] ['' in gap]> on Friday July 06, 2012 @10:26AM (#40563691)

    Microsoft did show some innovation. Namely Microsoft made it possible for generic applications to utilize specific hardware without having to know about the hardware details. This abstraction was attempted by others like Desqview, and OS/2, but it was Microsoft that made it work extremely well. Go back to the original Mac days. You had to buy Apple specific crap, and that was very easy to do. Sun did that approach, so did DEC. I personally feel that little piece of historical credit is underplayed. It is not sexy as a desktop, or as exciting, but it is damm near amazing as it facilitated the desktops we have today.

    Office was very innovative as well. Back in the original days you had wordperfect, and you had lotus. Both of these apps could not share any data. Microsoft created a unified vision of desktop app integration. They used OLE, and the result were a bunch of competitors who tried to copy them. OLE while initially badly designed was actually quite amazing. You could embed documents within documents and create a work. What did OLE in was the fact that they tried it, and then tried to write it off. Though I would argue they actually mastered the idea of copy and paste. Yes yes others tried it, but Windows copy and paste did work across the board unlike the others. I remember trying to get copy and paste to work on Linux or a generic Unix, royal pain in the ass. Even to this day OSX copy and paste has little issues. For example when I copy from TextWrangler to WebStorm I will have moments where things just will not transfer.

    After that yeah I agree not so much innovation...

  • Re:Really? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 06, 2012 @10:29AM (#40563769)

    Your last paragraph is the exact reason innovation is tanking in the USA.

  • Re:Really? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by spire3661 ( 1038968 ) on Friday July 06, 2012 @10:35AM (#40563871) Journal
    Im sorry, but i need to point out that 'provides an appealing user experience' is pretty much the CORE of ubiquitous computing. Its far more important then you are making it out to be. Implementation is just as important as vision
  • Re:Really? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by arikol ( 728226 ) on Friday July 06, 2012 @10:44AM (#40563983) Journal

    Well, to be fair the Win7 version almost works. It comes SO close to working properly. But Spotlight on the Mac is an actual killer feature, and I won't even consider another OS as my daily system unless it has at least as good a search, preview, and document opening/application starting system as Spotlight. It's not a COOL feature, but unbelievably useful. I work with a lot of documents, Spotlight is indispensable.

    Windows is trying, Linux is trying (Ubuntu's Lenses), and that is excellent. But they both have far to go.

  • Re:Former exec (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Jim Hall ( 2985 ) on Friday July 06, 2012 @11:15AM (#40564405) Homepage

    Been there. In 1995 or 1996, I was working in my first job, as a systems administrator for a small geographics company. Our main business was in generating custom maps for large businesses that needed to visualize the geophysical data for a certain area. For example, one typical customer was a large local bank that needed us to generate custom maps to show all the residential addresses they loaned money to in the metro area over the previous year, so they could show there was no discrimination in who they loaned to.

    Back to the point: we could make custom maps. One day, my supervisor and I were talking about "The Web" and all the cool things you could find there. We had the great idea to use "The Web" to advertise our business. So we pitched an idea to our vice president: Let's set up a server that lets people type in their address in a "Web Browser", then we can pass that to our mapping system and create a simple "line drawing" map of their immediate area. Just stuff our server could complete in about 5 seconds or so. We figured the "Web Page" could also tell the visitor about the other things we do. Basically, give away a few small maps in exchange for getting more customers for our big stuff.

    The vice president considered, then rejected the idea, saying that free maps on the Internet wasn't our business.

    Only a year later, companies like MapQuest arrived on the scene, offering free maps supported by advertising. It was the start of a new business model. I don't want to say that our little company could have become MapQuest ... but yeah, we really could have. I'll note that the first versions of these mapping "Web Sites" provided little more than a line-drawing of a location, and a route to get from point A to point B.

    I believe that company went out of business a few years after I left. Surprisingly, they weren't able to adapt to this new model where people could get free maps on the Internet.

  • Re:Really? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 06, 2012 @11:59AM (#40564931)

    Microsoft research and its R&D department SUCKS wind. In stock investing terms R&D is supposed to increase your revenue and cash flow. Thus if I invest 10 USD in R&D I should get at least a return of 10 USD. Anything below that means that the company is throwing money out the window. Microsoft is such a company. It's R&D generates very little that adds to the bottom line of Microsoft. It does not mean that Microsoft Research is useless. It means that something in Microsoft is causing not to make more money from its research department.

    MS Research is a place where MS parks people who would otherwise be doing usefull stuff for their competition.

  • by c ( 8461 ) <> on Friday July 06, 2012 @12:12PM (#40565107)

    > my office smelled like my Aunt Lena's underwear drawer.

    That's a disturbingly specific choice over the usual "smelled like a whorehouse".

  • Re:Really? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by excelsior_gr ( 969383 ) on Friday July 06, 2012 @01:10PM (#40565843)

    In stock investing terms R&D is supposed to increase your revenue and cash flow. Thus if I invest 10 USD in R&D I should get at least a return of 10 USD. Anything below that means that the company is throwing money out the window.

    Uh, no. In fact, your "stock investing terms" are quite sickening.

    R&D is pretty much a black hole when it comes to money, but it is still an investment. Your are actually investing in the company's long-term future. You are investing in the possibility of being the leader in a product or market that doesn't exist yet (it eludes me how you expect R&D to pay for itself if there is no product and/or market). In the R&D you are looking for the product that will be your cash-cow in 10-20 years time. It may also be that you are trying to enter a market by making a product cheaper and/or better, but it will still not pay back for itself, just because even if your R&D is 100% successful, once they hit a home-run the product will be passed on to the engineering department and the R&D will get busy with the next thing. You will never see any money coming back from the R&D. Your revenue and cash flow have nothing to do with R&D. Disclaimer: some very large companies have "engineering R&D" departments that do aim in increasing your revenue, but this is no real R&D, because they occupy themselves with the improvement of your e.g. manufacturing line and their research is not that low-level.

    I am not familiar with Microsoft's R&D, but the worst thing that can happen to an R&D is when the company's leaders lack vision. Then you actually do have a bunch of people in the R&D department playing around with this and that without concentrating their efforts. And, of course, it is improbable that something big will come out of this, even in the long term.

  • by Tough Love ( 215404 ) on Friday July 06, 2012 @02:16PM (#40566937)

    why would regular users (not OS junkies) want to upgrade at all?

    Few do, however that is not Microsoft's meal ticket. Microsoft's big meal ticket is now, as it always was, illegal market control of PC OEMs. Microsoft's second biggest meal ticket is illegal tying of servers to client operating system.

  • Re:Nothing new (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Tough Love ( 215404 ) on Friday July 06, 2012 @02:27PM (#40567109)

    ...clearly as a founder he's part of the old boy's club and not going anywhere soon unless Microsoft's board finally says enough z'nough.

    Ballmer's position is secure because he excels at the one thing that actually counts: complete, unquestioning obedience to Bill Gates, who as the largest shareholder still controls the company.

"How many teamsters does it take to screw in a light bulb?" "FIFTEEN!! YOU GOT A PROBLEM WITH THAT?"