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How Infighting Hampers Innovation At Microsoft 450

Posted by timothy
from the rather-a-broad-brush dept.
Garabito writes "Dick Brass, former vice-president at Microsoft, published an op-ed in The New York Times, where he states that 'Microsoft has become a clumsy, uncompetitive innovator' and how 'it has lost share in Web browsers, high-end laptops and smartphones.' He attributes this situation to the lack of a true system for innovation at Microsoft. Some former employees argue that Microsoft has a system to thwart innovation. He tells how promising and innovative technologies like ClearType and the original TabletPC concept become crippled and sabotaged internally, by groups and divisions that felt threatened by them."
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How Infighting Hampers Innovation At Microsoft

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  • news flash (Score:5, Insightful)

    by hguorbray (967940) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @06:41PM (#31028108)
    Large institutions hamper creativity, innovation...

    -I'm just sayin'
  • by spun (1352) <loverevolutionaryNO@SPAMyahoo.com> on Thursday February 04, 2010 @06:45PM (#31028146) Journal

    And cooperation would make Microsoft more competitive? This is a clear example of how competition doesn't produce excellence, cooperation does. If competition really DID produce excellence, then all companies would be organized with multiply redundant, competing internal departments. Obviously, that's not the case: internally, companies function cooperatively, and those that foster too much internal competition ultimately fail.

  • Re:news flash (Score:5, Insightful)

    by drachenstern (160456) <drachenstern@gmail.com> on Thursday February 04, 2010 @06:46PM (#31028164) Journal

    I would instead say "unintentional megacorp hindered by purpose-sprawl more than code-stink or feature-creep". Some large organizations inspire creativity. Granted not many.

    Also: first "frist psot" I've seen in a while that was actually OnTopic

  • Why innovate? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Fractal Dice (696349) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @06:48PM (#31028200) Journal
    1. profit 2. ??? 3. innovation
  • by sopssa (1498795) * <sopssa@email.com> on Thursday February 04, 2010 @06:54PM (#31028254) Journal

    Exactly. Cooperation should be kept inside company, and fight with competition with other companies. Work together, but have enemies that push you to work better. Sadly, people are people and mostly care about their own goals.

  • by Grishnakh (216268) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @07:00PM (#31028304)

    Competition does produce excellence when all competitors are engaged in positive activities, like building competing products the best they can to see who's is better.

    Competition falls apart when the competitors resort to sabotage, instead of simply doing their best in a fair competition.

    I'm actually shocked that I'm about to do this, but I'm going to bring up a sports analogy: people like to watch sports games, which are competitions between two (or more sometimes) teams or people. Audiences like fair competitions. But if the competitors start cheating (like with steroids) or using sabotage (like Nancy Kerrigan), audiences don't like that, and if it happens too much, the sport starts losing audiences and falling apart (like baseball). Along these lines, no one's going to watch a sports game that only involves cooperation, instead of competition. Of course, there is one exception to this rule: hockey. Sabotage is perfectly acceptable there: teams frequently get a disposable "bully" player to pick a fight with one of the opposing team's best players to take him out of action for a while.

    The problem with competition inside companies, even if it didn't involve sabotage, is that it consumes a lot of extra resources which could be spent on more profitable activity, such as producing more products for sale. Decently-run companies typically already have all the competition they want, and more, from their competitor companies, and wouldn't dream of creating even more unnecessary competition within. Only a truly stupidly-run company would do this. Unfortunately, some companies have giant unstoppable cash cows that let them waste tons of resources on this kind of idiocy.

  • by FurryOne (618961) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @07:02PM (#31028334)
    Microsoft has become the Company they scorned in the 90's... IBM. I wonder how many IBM'ers are laughing at Microsoft now that the shoe is on the other foot?
  • by ceoyoyo (59147) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @07:04PM (#31028354)

    http://www.betanews.com/joewilcox/article/Apple-has-91-of-market-for-1000-PCs-says-NPD/1248313624 [betanews.com]

    Not just laptops but all high end computers. Sure, some of the blame lies with the hardware manufacturers too but a lot of it is Microsoft.

  • by spun (1352) <loverevolutionaryNO@SPAMyahoo.com> on Thursday February 04, 2010 @07:05PM (#31028368) Journal

    Of course people care about their own goals. But most people's goals are not 'others must lose so I can win.' Recent economic research shows that people seem to be more motivated by notions of fairness and reciprocity than selfish gain.

    Enemies aren't the best push to work harder. Friends that you don't want to let down are a better, more reliable motivator, IMHO.

  • Re:news flash (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 04, 2010 @07:08PM (#31028402)

    I agree 100%. Small companies are agile, large ones falter under their own weight of numbers.

    This same lumbering inefficient behemoth effect can be seen at Dell, Alcatel-Lucent, AT&T, Microsoft, GM, Ford and a thousand other large corporates. Guess all that MBA and Management School stuff just may have been wrong!

    And the prime examples - today's Western governments, the US and UK taking the lead.

    The challenge for civilization in the 21st century is not Global Warming, but constructively rethinking Government and Business.

  • by U8MyData (1281010) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @07:11PM (#31028432)
    And this notion suprises anyone? It's not unlike any large family where one kid stuffs a sock in anothers mouth, someone taddles on Johnny, or another dumps their sister from the wagon. Turf wars exist everywhere; the challenge is to minimize them. But... How do you do that when competition is king? Where wining the battle is put before what is good, just, or honorable? Just asking?
  • by Greg Hullender (621024) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @07:13PM (#31028450) Homepage Journal
    Actually I'd claim that the real problem with Pocket PC and Tablet PC (and I worked on both products) was that they predated cheap, universal wireless communications. The effort to send a text message from a cell phone is much greater than any of the input methods on either of those devices, yet millions of people do it all the time. That wireless network totally changed the value proposition of one of these devices, and before that, they just weren't worth the trouble.

    In plain terms, the isolated Tablet was little more than a crippled laptop, and the isolated Pocket PC was almost completely useless. Attach them to a network, though, and they become something magical. Something none of us working on them was wise enough to foresee.

    --Greg

  • Re:news flash (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 04, 2010 @07:19PM (#31028514)

    There's a kind of poetic justice here, with Microsoft's tactics of stifling competitors (rather than out-performing them) being used internally.

  • Re:rip-offs (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Midnight Thunder (17205) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @07:24PM (#31028550) Homepage Journal

    In many ways whether they are 'rip-offs' doesn't matter in this context. What matters is that infighting at Microsoft prevented them from leveraging these technologies and actually making a product that people want. If Balmer really wanted to change this culture of infighting, then he has everything to do so, the problem he either doesn't care or doesn't want do what is needed.

    Microsoft has plenty of potential, but it needs to put these smart minds in place and tell them that its not the department that counts, but the company. Everyone within the company should take the ideas within the company and use them to do something useful.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 04, 2010 @07:28PM (#31028608)

    To name a couple...
    C#
    MSSQL

    Microsoft produces some amazing and refined technology in key areas especially when the top people (Anders Hejlsberg, Jim Gray) in their field are running these programs with unfettered control.

  • by v(*_*)vvvv (233078) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @07:36PM (#31028708)

    It is my understanding that it is common belief and practice to motivate employees by creating a competitive environment. But a lot of companies take this to mean "within the company". Well, if you create a win lose situation, there will always be losers, and if it is all happening inside the company, you're forcing everyone to concentrate on fighting with one another, and inflicting harm to other parts of the company. In biology, this would be a disease.

    And in any great competition, you will always have your dirty players, your cheaters, and those who thrive at politics and manipulating the minds of those around them. This is a lot of wasted energy that otherwise could be put towards improving something or creating value within the business. Not to mention, true craftsmen thrive on isolation and focus, and are easily slain with swords. That is why you should never pit your sales department (soldiers) with your dev department (architects), because if you've hired the right people your sales department will always win.

    At the end of the day, it is up to the "parent" to know what they are doing, and to put up the walls that help channel energy in all the right directions. Soldiers go outside the company to fight their wars. Developers just sit back and fight deadlines.

    If you do compete, compete with your competitors. If you do have internal competitions, make sure no one loses. You can make it a win-win, or just a single win, situation, like rewards for certain targets. But never leave room for open politics or cat fighting within departments or between employees. Just create a total dictatorship where there is one leader who knows what they are doing, and is responsible for everyone else. Democracies may allow everyone to stand equally, but they are the worst at getting anything done. And no one needs to be equal in the workplace.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 04, 2010 @07:38PM (#31028740)

    COM/Active-X and COM+ were innovative. Sure they borrowed a lot from DCE and CORBA, but then Apple borrowed a lot from Xerox PARC to build the Mac, and from Amazon for the iPad.

    That example perhaps also shows why Microsoft's senior management team is so cautious - when you invent an entire infrastructure in your development labs, there are many things that you won't get right the first or second time, and you'll be stuck supporting your mistakes for backwards compatibility. There will be embarrassing moments, as when the Quicken CEO called a press conference telling people not to use Active-X for security reasons. You might end up with an architecture where "you can't get there from here". It's much easier to learn from a competitor's good ideas and mistakes, as Microsoft did with the successor to COM.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 04, 2010 @07:56PM (#31028958)

    Other than Xerox PARC (that gave us the GUI, Ethernet, laser printing, etc), name any other company that hasn't done the same? Apple is as guilty, if not more so than Microsoft. They didn't invent the GUI, or the Mouse. They didn't invent the MP3 player, or the Smart phone. They didn't invent the touch screen. They didn't invent the Laptop or the Tablet form-factor, etc, etc, the list goes on and on. They did, however invent Firewire - I'll give them that.

  • by ErichTheRed (39327) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @08:16PM (#31029116)

    This happens a lot with any large company where revenue is dependent on keeping a few cash cow products generating income. First, you don't want to do anything to upset what's making you money, so you start really playing it safe. Vista was a horrible flop, but Microsoft spent a ton of time and money polishing it up and rolling out Windows 7. But imagine Microsoft throwing out all the 20 years of Windows backward compatibility and totally starting over. It won't happen until the product absolutely cannot be supported anymore. Windows 7 including "XP mode" is a really good example - they desparately want to avoid angering enterprise customers who are still running custom software that relies on Windows 98's quirks 12 years later. Heck, there's still a couple of places I know running the core of their business using a 16-bit screen scraper app and an equally-old terminal emulator!

    Second, you have the organizational problem. Microsoft is huge, so huge that enterprise customers need a Technical Account Manager just to handle their support calls and make sure they can find resources. I know they have a Research arm, but I can't see how an individual developer's idea might possibly make it high enough up the food chain to make much difference. To make things worse, the management structure is probably so deep within product lines that multiple product VPs are clamoring for Ballmer's attention. These guys are fighting for their jobs, so I imagine there's tons of poltics involved. I would bet that early-90's Microsoft was a lot more collaborative.

    I definitely see Microsoft progressing towards IBM and Oracle territory as far as products go. They'll deliver nice safe products for business, but the consumer will be left out. XBox is another story...but just look at the mess that is Zune!

    I've actually worked for large organizations, both IT and non-IT. (I haven't worked for a software company.) I can tell you that smaller organizations are better, up to a point. Once you get too small, say in the medium business category, you have to deal personally with a potentially psychopathic owner or CEO. If they're benevolent, it's great, but most entrepreneur-y types are nuts to begin with, and tend to treat employees like "the help." But once you grow too big, such that communication becomes a problem and politics start entering into every decision, the situation can be just as bad.

    But yeah, I can't see Microsoft creating another "category-killer" product with their current structure. My dealings with them as a Premier Support customer have been interesting....it takes them several days to admit that a problem exists, log it, and "officially" tell me that they're working on a hotfix.

    I got to see this first-hand in my last job. The place started off like a startup, got big, and all of a sudden people were doing the CYA thing that I've seen all over the large-business world. Everyone was way too panicked about getting chewed out by our crazy CIO to be focused on doing good work.

  • by Blakey Rat (99501) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @08:18PM (#31029138)

    Everyone seems to agree that Microsoft isn't an innovator, so who is?

    You're not going to get a fair answer to that question on Slashdot.

    I mean, Apple completely stole Time Machine from Microsoft's already-implemented Shadow Copy feature, were they derided as copy-cats? No. But Microsoft uses a transparency effect in Aero just similar to a transparency effect in OS X, and suddenly there's huge posters accusing Microsoft of being nothing but a copy machine.

    To actually answer the question, Microsoft hasn't innovated anything truly new in decades? I'd say the Office 2007 Ribbon interface is certainly something truly new*. I'd say that the fact that Firefox 4's UI looks a hell of a lot like Internet Explorer 8's UI probably means something. (To be fair, it might just mean both of them cribbed from Google. But that's still something. :) Fast user switching was in Windows before OS X or Linux had it. (If Linux has it now?)

    In the Enterprise, there's Sharepoint, which isn't a completely new idea, but combines several existing ideas in a very useful fashion. There's Microsoft's dominance in data processing technologies with their OLAP tools. (Actually, I just Googled that and it looks like they bought that from another company-- oops.)

    Looking at a different area... I'd certainly say Xbox Live was innovative in many ways. I'd say putting a HD inside a game console was a pretty innovative idea, as was the entire concept of Xbox Live Arcade (especially since all the competitors in that space have ripped it off.) And what about the Arc Mouse for laptops? That thing's pretty damned slick and innovative. There's the Surface table/technology.

    In short, Microsoft might not be the most innovative company in the world (although who is?) But don't pretend they aren't doing anything, either-- you're only deluding yourself.

    * Of course at this point the Slashdotter chimes in with "the Ribbon sucks! I hate the Ribbon! It takes 46 years to figure out how to save a file now! etc!" That misses the point that the Ribbon is, in fact, new.

  • by Grishnakh (216268) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @08:19PM (#31029142)

    You know, the problem you ascribe to competition inside companies is one of the prblems that exist with competition between companies: duplication of effort, and consumption of extra resources.

    That's only in theory. In practice, it works quite well, as we can see from history. Can you point to any society where companies never compete with each other, and the society is successful? The Soviet Union worked like that (there were lots of companies, managed by the State, and prohibited from competing with each other). It was a disaster; things were rationed, and quality was crap. Market-based economies have always worked well (just look how much it's done for China; they were all starving under a command economy and now they own America), and they're intrinsically based on competition.

    If you don't have competition, you have no way of 1) determining who does the best job, and 2) preventing shoddiness and poor performance from becoming commonplace. In a command economy, the upper government tells one company to make widget A, and they do. If it sucks, it's too bad, because there's no alternatives. You could try to fire the managers of the company, but that won't get your widget made properly any faster, plus the problems may be endemic, and simply replacing the managers won't fix it. In a competitive economy, different companies are free to try different approaches, and the best one wins. It's not perfect (like when marketing gets involved and gets people to buy shoddy products), but it's a lot better than the alternative.

    Competition also destroys intrinsic motivations: if you are doing something to beat others, you aren't doing it because you love it.

    Love? With most jobs, it's called "work" because it isn't fun. Suppose your job is to clean toilets. Someone has to do it, but no one really likes it. Most people do work because they want money, not because they love it. I don't even like my job very much, and I went to college to do this (software engineering). If I didn't have to work, I'm sure I'd have fun writing my own software, but doing it for someone else (and dealing with their dumb requirements and rules, and having to drive in traffic to work every morning, and sit in a bullpen, etc. etc.) isn't much fun. But it's a better job than cleaning toilets or flipping burgers, and pays a lot better too, so I stick with it.

    And companies that compete don't do it to "beat others", but to survive and make more money. More money = more success and means being that much closer to retirement or whatever your goals are. If you can do a better job than your competitors, you get more business and more money.

    Your example doesn't really show that competition produces excellence, if anything, it outlines the motivations competitors have for cheating.

    No, business competition is like a big game. And like any other normal game, there's rules, or else the biggest thug will win by brute force. Sure, businesses cheat sometimes, and that's why we have a government and laws to deter this kind of behavior. Unfortunately, sometimes we have governments (like in the USA) which don't want to enforce laws or have lax regulation, and then you get things like massive mortgage bubbles. Just like in any sports competition (here I go again, a guy who normally hates sports), you have to have rules and referees to make sure competition is fair, or else the whole thing collapses. Notice how no one watches baseball any more because all the players are taking steroids.

    Even in places where you'd think people would avoid competition, they still do. Look at the F/OSS world; there's lots of cooperation (like the thousands of developers working together on the Linux kernel, or on KDE, etc.), but there's also lots of competition (KDE vs. GNOME, Linux vs. *BSD, XFree86 vs. X.org, etc.). It actually works a little better than companies because developers are more free to choose which project ("team") they want to join, based on how interested they are in the project

  • Re:news flash (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dogtanian (588974) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @08:26PM (#31029206) Homepage

    There's a kind of poetic justice here, with Microsoft's tactics of stifling competitors (rather than out-performing them) being used internally.

    Indeed. I note that the article states

    Some people take joy in Microsoft's struggles, as the popular view in recent years paints the company as an unrepentant intentional monopolist. Good riddance if it fails. But those of us who worked there know it differently. At worst, you can say it's a highly repentant, largely accidental monopolist.

    My understanding was- yeah, Bill Gates may have been in the right place at the right time, and had the right connections- but so did a lot of people who run companies that are long gone and mostly forgotten.

    And the reason that Microsoft isn't being that Gates and MS *did* always have their future planned out rather than just small ambitions and being there at the dawn of a new industry for the fun of it. The article asserts otherwise, but doesn't back this up.

    I also don't like the vague air of revisionism (in the media generally) about MS now that they're no longer seen as the invulnerable monopolist of a few years back, with Google looking more "big bad" with every day, and Gates disposing of his billions.

    It's easy to forget, but around five or so years ago there used to be a *very* fanboyish and indulgent attitude towards Google on Slashdot. That's very much changed now, though some have said of MS that at least they were blatant and upfront about their desire to dominate the market, in comparison with Google.

    Still, that doesn't make them any better or more likeable, and as the parent says, it's quite fittingly ironic if they've suffered due to abusive internal competition.

    Article: why Microsoft, America's most famous and prosperous technology company, no longer brings us the future

    Well... I probably don't need to explain why this is stupid to your average Slashdot reader, but since when did MS *ever* bring us the future? They were *never* major on innovation; even if they managed to get a technology accepted into the mainstream- one that was normally innovated elsewhere- it was mainly due to their market dominance and everyone ending up using it anyway.

    MS-DOS? Not remotely innovative. The well-known story is that Gates snuck in under the radar to grab the contract for the IBM PC's operating system from Digital Research (developers of the then-dominant CP/M OS, and probable favourites for the job).

    Of course, Gates didn't actually have an OS, and then had to go out and buy one from a small software company [wikipedia.org]. Which was basically just an unremarkable workalike/blatant-ripoff (delete according to opinion) of CP/M anyway. That became PC-DOS/MS-DOS 1, of course, but you'll note that the interest here is in how Gates grabbed the contract, not in that totally unremarkable and uninnovative (rip)off-the-shelf OS.

    Or what about pre-emptive multitasking... ten years after the Amiga did it. Brilliant innovation.

    Though the article does a good job of explaining why MS seems to have (or have had) a lot of talented people working for them with relatively little to show for it.

    But the fundamental issue is that MS never got where they were through being innovators. They got where they were through aggressive business practices; the software was never that hot.

  • by Blakey Rat (99501) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @08:27PM (#31029216)

    Microsoft has become the Company they scorned in the 90's... IBM. I wonder how many IBM'ers are laughing at Microsoft now that the shoe is on the other foot?

    Considering how bloated IBM is, and how poor some of their flagship products are (Domino/Notes, specifically), I'd say in this case that the shoe is on *both* feet.

  • Re:rip-offs (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Blakey Rat (99501) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @08:32PM (#31029254)

    ClearType had plenty of prior art, so I don't think it counts as significant innovation.

    Like what?

    Font smoothing had been done before, but nothing that made use of subpixel rendering. At least, not to the best of my knowledge... please correct me with a citation. (Or, alternatively, stop spreading bullcrap when you have no citation. Thank you.)

  • Re:news flash (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SerpentMage (13390) <ChristianHGross.yahoo@ca> on Thursday February 04, 2010 @08:45PM (#31029380)

    Bullcrap!

    Let's look at companies like Mercedes, Nintendo, Research in Motion, Volkswagen, Walmart, and 3M. These companies are in fact very large and very innovative. The list goes on... Microsoft is a dysfunctional company, point blank! What is killing Microsoft is what the guy in the article said it was.

  • by LibertineR (591918) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @08:46PM (#31029390)
    Every single disgruntled former Microsoftie who's pet project got canned, writes this same fucked up article. The same false 'innovation' premise, bla bla fuckin bla.....

    First, lets establish that Microsoft (I am a former Microsoft employee myself) couldn't give a crap about innovating, its an exercise best left to those unconcerned about profits. Those of us who succeeded at Microsoft understood that our job was how to create/copy/simulate/obfuscate in the name of market leadership.

    Its so tiring to see so many still willing to attach these lofty goals like 'innovation' to what is a really simple business challenge. Nobody (well a few, but they always leave to write these crappy articles) takes their Microsoft check to the bank feeling guilty and with less self-esteem because their high-marketshare product line isnt innovating the fuck out of technology.

    Remember the line about the bear: "I dont have to outrun the bear, I just have to outrun you"?

    That is how it is at Microsoft. I worked in the Exchange group, and later Visual Studio. Our job was NOT to come up with mind-blowing shit that glowed in the dark, it was to build products that give people reason to buy ours instead of THEIR's. Exchange never had to be slick, it just had to be better than Lotus Notes. SIMPLE.

    Was Exchange innovative? Fuck no. Was it better than NOTES? Fuck yes.

    That is the software business. We were never about design awards, and "oh we are so forward thinking", and all that shit.

    Microsoft is, was, and always will be about profit for shareholders, bitches. Nothing more, nothing less.

  • by al3 (1285708) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @09:04PM (#31029576)

    Microsoft is, was, and always will be about profit for shareholders...

    I think that's the definition of a corporation.

  • Re:news flash (Score:5, Insightful)

    by R3d M3rcury (871886) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @09:20PM (#31029748) Journal

    That was my thought, too.

    Before Jobs returned, Apple was a collection of little fiefdoms who were working on their own "next big thing": QuickDraw GX, QuickDraw3D, Publish/Subscribe, OpenDoc, Open Collaborative Environment, OpenTransport, etc. Each of these little fiefdoms were shouting at the wind trying to get interest within Apple and with developers outside. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't.

    Some groups were working on similar things, some groups didn't like the idea, or the people who were involved with the idea. Mac OS started becoming a collection of neat technologies with no real rhyme or reason behind any of it.

    The most notable thing Jobs did when he came back was chop up hardware. No more Performa 6600s competing with PowerMac 7500s, etc. But he also chopped a bunch of software projects (pretty much everything on the list above went away or was barely supported for compatibility purposes only) in going forward with Carbon.

    Microsoft is in a similar boat. You seem to have lots of engineers running around and some of them are doing interesting stuff. The problem is getting others in the company to go along. There isn't a "Steve Jobs" at the highest level to say, "We're all going to go along with this and, if you don't agree, there's a door over there with your name on it."

  • Yes, I did say "Microsoft Research has been doing interesting stuff in the past decade or so, but that's more a sign of *increasing* innovation at Microsoft, if anything." TFA was complaining that Microsoft had *become* mired down in infighting. Implying it had been better in some golden age I can't quite remember.

    And most of what Microsoft Research does never gets from the "car show" to the "showroom floor".

  • by BlueStraggler (765543) * on Thursday February 04, 2010 @09:27PM (#31029818)

    I don't think there's a such thing as a "sport" that doesn't involve competition.

    Hunting.

    You can draw your own parallels with how Microsoft competes.

  • by jejones (115979) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @09:40PM (#31029912) Journal

    "...when the competition becomes uncontrolled and destructive." --TFA

    TFA gives examples such as the head of the Office team expressing his dislike of tablet computers by refusing to integrate Office with the tablet UI, or the fellow who would support ClearType, but only if the personnel who developed it were put under his management.

    I find this insight highly ironic. Hey, they were only emulating MS's behavior with respect to its competition, right?

  • by MrCrassic (994046) <deprecated@emaELIOT.il minus poet> on Thursday February 04, 2010 @10:16PM (#31030174) Journal

    So...

    But the much more important question is why Microsoft, America’s most famous and prosperous technology company, no longer brings us the future

    Microsoft never really innovated per se; they mostly marketed and promoted lesser-known technologies (CP/M as DOS, OS/2 as Windows) and tweaked them heavily to make them business-friendly. Gates, Ballmer and crew got ridiculously lucky too, but that's another story (which predates me anyway).

    Good riddance if it fails.

    Not quite. Imagine if Apple came to the forefront. We'd all have to be running THEIR hardware and be completely subservient to their business model, which is secretive and limiting at best. Perhaps Apple would be even more draconian with competition out of the picture. At least I can install Windows on any PC and expect it to work; can't say the same for OS X (and don't count Hackintoshes either; they aren't supported!).

    It employs thousands of the smartest, most capable engineers in the world. More than any other firm, it made using computers both ubiquitous and affordable...Microsoft has become a clumsy, uncompetitive innovator. Its products are lampooned, often unfairly but sometimes with good reason.

    Same story for IBM, Intel et al. They each have a market which they completely dominate in (IBM in the mainframe and support space; Intel in the microprocessor space). At that point, they don't need to innovate unless they really want to...and if times get really tough and enough loopholes exist, those companies can buy out their competition (Microsoft/IBM) or steamroll them (Intel vs AMD).

    While Apple continues to gain market share in many products, Microsoft has lost share in Web browsers, high-end laptops and smartphones.

    But the key thing to keep in mind is that Microsoft's bread and butter isn't in the consumer space. Like IBM, Microsoft stays afloat by marketing mostly to the business sector, who not only has (much) more money to give, but is also much more resistant to change. In fact, Microsoft spends TONS and TONS of money figuring out how to best cater their business customers by running all sorts of research, field tests and such. (A good example of this is the Ribbon interface in Office 2007, which was the result of an academic study looking to figure out how people doing work interface with GUIs best.)

    Special attention should also be placed on Apple's main consumers. Where is one more likely to see iPhones and Macbooks: at a posh cafe in New York City or in a farm in Tulsa, OK? I'll make the postulation that the core of Apple's audience is young folk who want something simple, svelte and integral to their lifestyles. While there are certainly diehards and fanboys, many of those folks will jump to the "next big thing" just like they did from PCs to Macs (or regular smartphones to iPhones or whatever) just because it's big and happening. Sure, there are lots of youths in the US, but their buying power is unmatched to even a few of the top (or middle) companies on the Fortune 100.

    The article is an interesting read, but I think the author misses the business motive behind today's Microsoft. Back when Microsoft started (which, again, predates me), computers were constantly innovating. I'd even argue that computers were still innovations at that point, since Microsoft gained popularity at a time when computers were just starting to move from the mainframe room to the security's desk. I think the biggest mistake that Microsoft made was not paying enough attention to the importance of the Internet over the last few years. Sure, they'll be coming out with Office 2010 and Office web apps, and they already came out with Bing, but they are still playing catch up when they could've taken this space by storm years ago...

  • Re:Top Down (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rtb61 (674572) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @11:00PM (#31030416) Homepage

    There biggest problem seems to be the management method used when new ideas are presented. They apparently aggressively challenge any new idea and force the presenter to actively defend their stance and provide fiscal justifications. This of course immediately cuts off a lot of the more creative less combative types who simply more to another company with those ideas. The creates an environment where it isn't the best ideas that win simply an environment where the best liars win, only to see those lies fail as actual products.

    The most adamant proof of M$'s failure in the nurturing and promotion of creativity, the abject failure of MSN to generate a profit, a content portal that is totally dependent on creativity and the ability of staff to effectively express themselves. All they seem to be able to do is let Ballmer come up with some new whacked idea from rebranding the search component of a web portal, whilst the portal continues to bleed capital ('BING' seriously WTF).

  • by flanders123 (871781) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @11:03PM (#31030438)
    From the Response:

    And in response to Dick’s comment about Tablets and Office, I’ll simply point to this product called OneNote that was essentially created for the Tablet and is a key part of Office today

    Tablet Team: Wow, Office Team, thanks. OneNote! Wow! What say you toss in Works and Clippy and we'll get out of your hair. What do you think?

    Office Team: Enjoy the OneNote. And wash my car.

  • by Geotopia (692701) on Friday February 05, 2010 @12:10AM (#31030890) Homepage Journal

    Telus is the land line company that offers voice, internet, television. Telus MOBILE are the cell phone creeps. I'm not even on their network and had to fight $600 in failed data charges. Yes, Telus MOBILE sucks, but the land line telco seems okay!

  • by Tablizer (95088) on Friday February 05, 2010 @12:48AM (#31031176) Homepage Journal

    More than any other firm, it made using computers both ubiquitous and affordable.

    I doubt that. I would credit Commodore far more; they brought computing to the masses. MS's only real semi-claim to fame is integrating the products in the Office suite for better info sharing. Whether sufficient integration would have happened without MS is hard to say.

    No one in his right mind should wish Microsoft failure.

    Author is obviously not a slashdotter.

    But [ClearType] also annoyed other Microsoft groups that felt threatened by our success....The head of Office products said it was fuzzy and gave him headaches.

    Same with me. Perhaps I could grow used to it, but it would take a while. Aliased (stair-stepped) fonts are ugly, but at least their edges are sharp. The slightly fuzzy rainbowy edges of ClearType can be hard on the eyes. It also makes copy-and-pasting of images across computers problematic. As a personal choice, fine; but many wouldn't miss it.

  • Re:news flash (Score:3, Insightful)

    by drsmithy (35869) <drsmithy@@@gmail...com> on Friday February 05, 2010 @12:58AM (#31031262)

    That wasn't due to innovation. That was plain old software piracy: they hired David Cutler from DEC, one of the authors of VMS, and stole its internals like a pirate robbing Spanish galleons.

    So hiring someone who has ever worked anywhere else on any software is "software piracy" ? Guess that makes any remotely modern piece of software "pirated".

    The resulting lawsuits are one of the reasons NT ran so well on Alphas: its internals had frankly been writen for Alphas originally by Cutler and the personal he hired away from DEC.

    Except NT didn't run especially well on Alphas. Heck, they never even released a 64-bit version.

    The result was the fundamentally crippled, by comparison, NT on Pentium.

    "Crippled" how ?

  • Solid as a sponge (Score:3, Insightful)

    by SuperKendall (25149) on Friday February 05, 2010 @02:13AM (#31031786)

    Zune is a good example. They came up with a solid product pretty quickly when they put their minds to it.

    Wouldn't a much more "solid" product have been a device that wasn't aimed right at a rapidly collapsing market and instead was ahead of the game?

    A zPhone around the time the Zune came out, using XNA to program it - that might have been something. It could have leveraged stuff they had on hand very quickly to at least stave off the iPhone. Instead they have a tiny fraction of a shrinking standalone media player market, and years later no answer to the phone space, at all.

  • Ribbon is not new (Score:3, Insightful)

    by westyvw (653833) on Friday February 05, 2010 @02:38AM (#31031928)

    Look at the screenshots of Bluefish from 2004: http://web.archive.org/web/20040715074025/bluefish.openoffice.nl/screenshots.html [archive.org]

    The bluefish editor has been using contextual tabs since 2000 or so. Ribbon is new for office, but contextual layout with a tabbing interface is not new at all.

  • Re:news flash (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mcrbids (148650) on Friday February 05, 2010 @02:49AM (#31031972) Journal

    Yes, it's true - large organizations thwart innovation. And when you think about it socially, it's a good survival mechanism.

    Young guy does something successful. It works, and he ends up leader of the clan. Because it worked, it's a good idea to keep doing it. So a bit of arrogance on the part of the successful person is often warranted, even if it's not popular. Unfortunately, times have changed enough that change itself is much more highly prized than 30,000 years ago, but the evolved mechanisms are still present. It takes a very, very long time to evolve anything significant, but it takes just years to change behavior thanks to a new idea!

    Sad that Microsoft has lost its innovative edge. So far, Google's kept it, and HP lost it long ago.

  • Re:news flash (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Rexdude (747457) on Friday February 05, 2010 @04:23AM (#31032316)

    One response to this would be that Microsoft needs s/Ballmer/Jobs/g. But if you think about it, they actually need a Lou Gerstner [wikimedia.org].
    IBM was more or less the same way as they are now during the PC/desktop times of the early 90s- stifled by bureaucracy and personal fiefdoms, increasingly irrelevant in the market, to the extent that there was talk of it being broken up. Gerstner transitioned it to focus on software and services as well, changed the corporate culture, and wrote a great book on pirouetting pachyderms [amazon.com] about it afterwards.

    They (Microsoft) do have talent, as mentioned in the article, but no one will stick on much longer if these issues are not sorted out.

  • Re:news flash (Score:3, Insightful)

    by hairyfeet (841228) <bassbeast1968@@@gmail...com> on Friday February 05, 2010 @04:25AM (#31032322) Journal

    Why not? I would say they already [wikipedia.org] have [wikipedia.org] with Vista/7 due to the amount of changes they have done under the hood. While there was some growing pains with Vista (lets face it, it sucked) they seem to have "gotten it right" with Windows 7, from better security to better integration between apps like WMP 12 and Devices and printers and the Internet.

    And I wouldn't be surprised if XP Mode isn't a "trial run" to work out the bugs so that the required backwards compatibility can be delivered via VM integrated into the OS so they can change the core without breaking existing apps. Now that we are finally moving away from IA32 to X64 I personally can't wait to see what they cook up next. Now if we could just fire that damned Ballmer monkey who keeps shooting the company in the foot (raising prices on Windows 7 HP and the family packs was monumentally stupid, when they need to get folks off of XP. I personally know a dozen people that were ready to buy family packs after Xmas that now will be staying on XP, and I'm betting that is typical) we might actually see things progress over at MSFT.

    Just as I'm hoping that cheap ARM netbooks will finally become more than vaporware and give Linux developers a real kick in the pants to start innovating more. With the SFF and lower RAM they will need to really optimize their code to give the most "bang for the buck" without slowing the RAM starved netbooks down. Any way you slice it the next couple of years should be really interesting.

  • by seaton carew (593626) on Friday February 05, 2010 @09:43AM (#31033812)

    And that, my friend, is the most eloquent argument I've read in a while for avoiding anything from Microsoft at all costs.
    Thank you for your honesty.

    No matter how much they might pretend otherwise, when a company's core value becomes "It's all about the shareholders; fuck the customers!" then there is very little incentive to purchase anything from them. Doesn't matter if it's cheap. Heck, doesn't matter if it's good.

    If your sole aim is to screw me, why would I even consider talking to you?

  • Re:Walmart (Score:3, Insightful)

    by quanticle (843097) on Friday February 05, 2010 @12:54PM (#31035898) Homepage

    At the same time, you have to admit that Wal*Mart is posting the highest retail growth numbers in the country, despite having annual sales that are greater than next four companies combined. The fact that they've been able to maintain this growth for such a long time means that they're doing something right.

Nobody's gonna believe that computers are intelligent until they start coming in late and lying about it.

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