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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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  • by gatkinso ( 15975 ) on Friday July 06, 2012 @08:19AM (#40562323)

    They still have a commanding market share in many areas - it will be interesting to see if they can pull of the reinvention that Apple did.

  • by Notlupus ( 1893060 ) on Friday July 06, 2012 @08:45AM (#40562537)
    Why are we even having this discussion about what Microsoft innovated and which company is the best innovator, because frankly none off them innovate anymore. The easiest and most effective way to become the biggest player is to bully everyone else with patent lawsuits. Microsoft, Apple and Google are all exactly the same when it comes to employing dodgy business tactics.
  • Re:Nothing new (Score:4, Interesting)

    by jbolden ( 176878 ) on Friday July 06, 2012 @08:46AM (#40562543) Homepage

    Think about the analogy. You are basically saying the stuff that OS/2 aimed to bring to PCs. Those were the days when the Microsoft/Western Digital/Intel standard crushed every other consumer & small business based system based on the cost / feature set ratio. I agreed with you at the time and used QEMM as my memory manager and Desqview to multitask but still owned Windows and was moving towards Windows applications. So yes that is what they mean. A dynamic company rapidly improving their products and challenging new markets. Windows for Workgroups may very well have been the worst Lan sold, but it was WfW that owned the small business space and made Lans ubiquitous.

    Now Microsoft is in a "shrink slowly but profitably" stage.

  • Re:Courier Tablet (Score:4, Interesting)

    by oakgrove ( 845019 ) on Friday July 06, 2012 @09:13AM (#40562755)
    "Courier" was an idea that made it as far as a CGI drawing. That's as far as it can verifiably be proven to ever exist. Calling that "innovation" is like calling warp drive innovation.
  • Re:Drip, Drip, Drip (Score:5, Interesting)

    by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) on Friday July 06, 2012 @09:16AM (#40562781) Journal

    I thought that vanity fair was some mad magazine clone actually. friggin weird name for a paper.

    It's been around for about 100 years. It's been a good magazine on and off, sort of a proto-Esquire.

    I think it was originally called "Dress and Vanity Fair". I got on some list some years ago and the magazine showed up at my house for a while. There was some decent writing, a lot of fluff, George Clooney always on the cover, shiny, glossy, typical Conde Nast high-toned puke for people you don't want to know. Think Wired magazine without the tech and ads. Lots and lots of ads. You can't tell where the ads end and the articles begin. In fact, if you start from the front, you can flip pages for half an hour without getting to one bit of editorial content. Or maybe I couldn't recognize the editorial content.

    And perfume samples, at least when it was coming to my house. My wife, who picks up the mail usually, used to stack them on my desk so my office smelled like my Aunt Lena's underwear drawer. She'd plop it down and say, "Your Vanity Fair is here, Evelyn" (my name is not Evelyn). Then she's snort with laughter. It was bizarre, hearing a woman with a heavy Eastern European accent try to imitate a high-end London swell.

    They make a good sturdy surface to roll joints on. I imagine.

  • by sribe ( 304414 ) on Friday July 06, 2012 @09:36AM (#40562965)

    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.

    And why was the board so willing? Anybody remember their history?

    No, of course not, this is IT ;-) Everybody talks about the iMac as being what Steve Jobs did to start turning Apple around, but in reality it was secondary. The single most important thing Steve Jobs did was convince the Apple board of directors to resign so that he could replace them with a board of his choosing.

    Press and financial analysts at the time went nuts over this move, because clearly Jobs' ego was out of control, and now having padded the board with people who would not exercise adequate oversight, he was free to run the company into the ground...

    But a fact that was not known to most at the time, was that the prior board had long been convinced that Apple could not survive on its own. Many of the seemingly strange decisions by prior CEOs had been because the board was pushing them to position Apple for sale, thus instead of building the brand, they were pursuing short term strategies to pad the bottom line at any cost--including chipping away at their reputation for superior products.

  • Re:Really? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by kilfarsnar ( 561956 ) on Friday July 06, 2012 @09:38AM (#40562973)

    Mac OS X has had that for a while. It's called Spotlight [].

    And it actually works, unlike the search feature in Windows 7. Overall I like Win 7, but the search feature is literally useless.

  • by F69631 ( 2421974 ) on Friday July 06, 2012 @09:39AM (#40563003)

    A couple of years ago I was quick to promote Linux over Windows due to higher reliability. Now I don't remember when was the last time that my Windows crashed but I've had numerous problems with Linux (On Ubuntu, last two times I allowed the package manager to make a major version update have broken the whole system. I then tried to install Mint, it crashed half a dozen times before I was finally able to get the whole installation through and then enabling two monitors broke X. I've had little interest to go back and find out what's the problem). I used to run Linux and just use Wine and VM when I had to use some windows app, now I run Linux inside a VM on Windows when I need to do programming.

    Meanwhile, ever since Windows 7 came out, I've felt that Windows has better usability than the Linux desktops I've tried and massively better usability than the Mac I have to use at work.

    I know that I've only given some anecdotes and opinions but while I understand that they aren't statistically significant, I use Linux, Mac and Windows nearly daily (iOS development, web-development and entertainment use) and I'm pretty sure that my recent lack-of-hate towards Windows is indicating that something has changed for the better.

    Meanwhile MS is still in charge of the second most popular game console (Wii is the most popular but for somewhat different target audience), have gained some increase in market share on smartphones, are launching tablets and I don't think that the current year of Linux on Desktop is going to threaten MS any more than the previous ones.

    So.. yeah. I'm not usually this "pro-MS", I hate Metro as much as the next geek, I have had to develop for WP7 and don't have much nice things to say about it, don't remember when was the last time I had any interest to try out Internet explorer and so on... but I still think that everything after the flop that was Vista, MS has been improving its act.

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

    by ClaraBow ( 212734 ) on Friday July 06, 2012 @09:43AM (#40563047)
    You are correct! John Sculley nearly destroyed Apple. I remember reading that at the time of Steve's return to Apple, he was actually using a Windows machine. It took new vision and new leadership to turn Apple around --Microsoft needs to do the same and get rid of Steve B -- Why do they keep him around? Can someone please tell me what he has done to advance Microsoft?
  • by bertok ( 226922 ) on Friday July 06, 2012 @09:43AM (#40563053)

    An increasingly common quote I've been hearing from the consultants of technology giants recently is that "product enhancements" are only considered if they can be demonstrated to be critical to closing a sale.

    It's absolutely asinine.

    For example, paraphrasing somewhat, I once found a missing function that made an entire API useless. It was designed for manipulating objects, and there were functions for adding, changing, and deleting objects of several types, except one that could not be deleted. It's a simple mistake that can be quickly rectified with a hotfix. Nope. Sorry. We don't have any sales that would be affected by this. Err...

    Microsoft products are riddled with abandoned, half-complete, and archaic code that nobody will ever improve or fix, because either no customer wants it desperately enough, or no manager within Microsoft cares, so nobody will get any gold stars for fixing it. Code that does boring things -- no matter how important -- gets no love. This is also where all those security vulnerabilities come, from ancient code that hasn't been modernized or even just looked over in a decade.

    Don't believe me? Install Windows 8 Release Preview, and create a new ODBC connection using the control panel. That dialog box hasn't changed in something like 15 years. It's like a museum piece. The "Add new performance counter" window is the same story. You still can't resize it, even though many of the counter names are longer than the available space and can't be read.

    This short-sightedness leads to products that are just layers and layers of ancient cruft that no current employee understands or is willing to even touch any more. Eventually the entire product becomes unsellable and has to be scrapped. With something as enormous as Windows, this could very well lead to the end of Microsoft as we know it. Of course, none of this is relevant to sales this quarter, so it doesn't matter...

  • by Higgs Bosun ( 2676655 ) on Friday July 06, 2012 @10:09AM (#40563383)

    You're absolutely spot on there. This is my pet peeve because my employer is doing the same thing. My employer's product is getting outdated, the competitors are closing in. We know what needs to be done but I'm never given the go-ahead (I'm the s/w dev manager)'d cost money. My employer's company is loaded (for now), so money should not be an issue.

    Unless a customer is paying for a change (like you said, changes need to be paid for in an order) it doesn't get done. Some changes are very important, like making the product truly client/server (running as a Windows service) instead of a desktop app someone has to start. Customers have asked for that because our competition has this, I say "Give me two developers and six months", management say "it'll cost the customer too much in dev time". I'll never know why they imagine our customers will us pay to improve our product. And this isn't developmen bespoke to that customer, this is getting our customers to pay for changes that we'll roll into the main product for all our other customers. It's considered that if the dev's salary isn't being paid for by orders then the developer is losing the company money. HUH? Let's see how much it'll cost once sales start being lost to competitor products.

    Sorry, off-topic rant over! But it's nice to see that my employer is keeping up with the latest business trends, heh.

  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna ( 970587 ) on Friday July 06, 2012 @10:35AM (#40563867) Journal
    One of the most interesting experiments Skinner did with pigeons, is the random reward experiment. Instead of trying the teach the pigeons to peck at red dot or blue dot or ring a bell, he simply randomly rewarded them with food. What the pigeons did was remarkable. They all developed superstitions. One would walk clockwise, and another would cower in a corner, another would lean to the left and yet another would stretch its neck. These pigeons all sincerely believed it is their action that made the food appear magically!

    Some time in the 1980s the corporations realized the efficiencies of using office computers. But it was an esoteric and complex device and it required lots of training to use, and the top managers did not fully understand how easy/difficult it would be. I have seen highly intelligent relatives of mine who were totally flummoxed by the PC. So they were desperately looking for ways to reduce training costs and to get some kind of predictability. They wanted interoperability and portable skills for their work force. They picked on Microsoft as the common thing. Once enough corporations picked Microsoft, probably because of strong recommendations by IBM and its association with IBM, Microsoft became the de-facto monopoly. Food will appear magically. Not at random but at predictable intervels in a torrent.

    Microsoft managers, like the pigeons in the random reward Skinner's box, started believing it is their action that had resulted in this huge torrent of cash. This torrent cash masked the incompetence of managers, the mediocrity of the products, the lack of innovation, the corrosive work culture, abusive customer relations, etc etc.

  • Re:Eh? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by hairyfeet ( 841228 ) <bassbeast1968 AT gmail DOT com> on Friday July 06, 2012 @10:49AM (#40564051) Journal

    Meh I'll get hate for saying this but fuck it, truth is truth. Ya wanna know what is REALLY sad? All the Win 8 apologists have damned near copypasta'd their apologies word for word from the more militant members of the FOSS community. You get the classics like "You don't need that" (except if we didn't we wouldn't be asking for it ass), "Our way is better" (without any concrete reasons WHY of course), "Flash is proprietary crap, all must embrace HTML V5" (while ignoring the creation tools aren't there and it still is used by millions daily), its a hit parade of excuses.

    In the end while I have no doubt some will like Win 8, after all i know a couple of old folks that actually liked WinME, I'd say that the way to spot either a batshit softie or a paid shill is anybody that defends Ballmer. I mean look at his track record folks, he has blown, what? 20 BILLION on bad deals that have gotten MSFT exactly nowhere? Hell what has he done that wasn't at least a partial failure? you can't even count the X360 because he rushed that out with a fatal flaw that cost them 2 billion bucks! When you look at the man's track record, Zune, Kin, killing playsforsure which had actually given them an inroad into the media market, the X360 flaw, Vista, blowing shitloads on companies that he knew fuck all what to do with, if you would have taken a chimp and left it to fling its own poo at the stock page and then bought major amounts of any stock whose listing was heavily covered in monkey shit I have NO doubt you would have made more money for MSFT than the man who has led the company for the last decade!

    So lets make this dupe into something worthwhile, how about it? lets here from all the guys inside MSFT, are you as fucking frustrated at this lame "Me too!" half ass Apple ripping off by your employer? Is the culture there so filled with PHBs and bullshit you wanna puke? What about Ballmer? Does his direction in any way inspire you, or are you like the rest of us and just wishing he'd go away?

  • by microTodd ( 240390 ) on Friday July 06, 2012 @11:00AM (#40564175) Homepage Journal

    I think you make a great point but I think a lot of ./ers aren't going to pick up on what you are saying.

    I do all enterprise-level work. I'm talking organizations with petabytes of data and thousands of servers. And you know what? I'm seeing more and more Windows 2008R2 server. Linux got popular for a while when Solaris and big iron started to disappear, but now with VMs and the improved stability in Windows, people are more comfortable with hosting their apps on Windows instead, especially because .NET web apps are easier to write.

    So yeah, maybe Apple and even Linux are taking over the tablet/smartphone/consumer market. But MS pwns in the biz world.

    (this is kind of sad to me...back in the day I was a Unix/Linux admin and I remember when Unix ran the world, sendmail, bind/dns, etc. Ever since active directory came about it and Exchange seems to be replacing the lan/wan-level infrastructure. Backbones might still use unix though, I'm not really in touch with that level)

  • Re:Really? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by IICV ( 652597 ) on Friday July 06, 2012 @11:27AM (#40564563)

    When I interned at Microsoft, I talked to some guys at MSR once for my project. They'd developed a dataset that was slightly better than current state of the art in the field. I distinctly remember saying "Oh that would be useful to have, are you going to publish the data?", to which they responded "Well you know, it's just data, takes a lot of effort to publish, who has the time?" while looking guilty.

    So yeah, MSR is a gilded cage for people who might otherwise be out there starting competitors, or publishing papers thatwould lead to competitors. It's really only in the tools and programming languages divisions that MS lets MSR's freak flag fly (the next version of the .net languages are going to natively support continuation passing style, for goodness sakes, and they're essentially releasing the C# parser as a library)

  • One problem which (only) partially accounts for it is that there are probably valuable customers with mission-critical in-house applications which depend on the half-completed, archaic, abandoned code.

How many NASA managers does it take to screw in a lightbulb? "That's a known problem... don't worry about it."