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Microsoft Needs a Catch-Up Artist 406 406

The New York Times says that what Microsoft needs now isn't just a CEO, but a catch-up artist, to regain the footing that it had a few years ago as the biggest name in software. There's a lot of catching up, too: An anonymous reader reminds us that a year ago, Vanity Fair gave a scathing review of Steve Ballmer's performance:"Once upon a time, Microsoft dominated the tech industry; indeed, it was the wealthiest corporation in the world. But since 2000, as Apple, Google, and Facebook whizzed by, it has fallen flat in every arena it entered: e-books, music, search, social networking, etc., etc. Talking to former and current Microsoft executives, Kurt Eichenwald finds the fingers pointing at C.E.O. Steve Ballmer, Bill Gates's successor, as the man who led them astray."
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Microsoft Needs a Catch-Up Artist

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  • Why catch-up? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 24, 2013 @07:52PM (#44666421)

    (Ketchup?!)

    No, microsoft doesn't need to catch up because it isn't behind. They have everything, what it doesn't have is something that is different, innovativ and without spyware.

  • by Ed The Meek (3026569) on Saturday August 24, 2013 @07:53PM (#44666423)
    Microsoft needs to learn to lead and stay ahead of the trends. They're continuing to rely on old technology that's past it's time - like Office.
  • by umafuckit (2980809) on Saturday August 24, 2013 @08:04PM (#44666477)
    Yes, perhaps MS have "fallen flat" in search, social networks, etc. What's really unforgivable, however, are the Vista and Win8 debacles; those are cases where MS screwed up on home turf. The perception that they're having trouble getting their OS right must be tainting their efforts in other spheres. I reckon the XBox is relatively isolated from the Windows aura, as it's almost a brand in its own right (you never hear the term "Microsoft XBox"). Other things, such as search and phones, are harder to dissociate from Windows. Microsoft's real problem right now is that they're not "cool." It's that intangible quality that they need to foster in order to hit the upswing with consumers.
  • by bug_hunter (32923) on Saturday August 24, 2013 @08:09PM (#44666499)

    There seems to be a lot of looking at Bill Gates with rose coloured glasses.
    As far as I've been able to tell, Microsoft is still trying to do the same thing as it's always done since it's inception. Wait for others to define a market, then try to buy or muscle your way into it with a "good enough" product.
    Just now with Microsoft's OS monopoly not being an effective control mechanism, and the barrier of entry for other companies not being too high, "good enough" doesn't convince anybody anymore.

    From reading the article the main difference between Bill and Steve on recent issues was that Bill resigned to the fact that they were already too late on things like music players and phones and he wouldn't have even tried getting in.
    Microsoft couldn't be turned around easily, it's too much of a change to its ethos. Could a better CEO really have got them into other markets propely, or would a better CEO just doubled down on OS/Office/Business Services and saved a bit of money but had no other impact? Maybe Balmer-Microsoft needed to try and flail around in every market as a first step in a (long) transition period where Microsoft comes out the other side as a company with a bit more humility, creativity and modern vision.
    Interested to hear opinions.

  • by jfdavis668 (1414919) on Saturday August 24, 2013 @08:15PM (#44666525)
    But somewhere left the developers behind. They started to treat them as people who supported Microsoft, instead of the other way around.
  • by Austerity Empowers (669817) on Saturday August 24, 2013 @08:25PM (#44666565)

    In other words, Ballmer was the symptom, not the problem.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 24, 2013 @08:27PM (#44666579)

    Yeah, no, not even close. Turns out that not being able to change absolutely every little setting to their personal preference is not a deal-breaker for the vast majority of people.

    The reason why Android does so well because it comes on cheap phones that the vast majority of the world (the bits not contained in North America/Europe) can afford to buy. If Apple sold a $99-$199 phone with cheap plastic screens, cheap plastic cases, and cheap components, the rest of the world and poorer parts of North America and Europe would actually have a choice on their hands about what to buy.

    Android's NA/EU sales primarily come from high-end devices that compete directly with Apple's devices while not being Apple. The reason MS wasn't able to copy that success with the same strategy is that they had an unproven device that, by the numbers, wasn't as good as the high-end offerings that were already in their later iterations, with an OS that was still suffering from first-gen problems.

  • by BenJeremy (181303) on Saturday August 24, 2013 @08:30PM (#44666601)

    Microsoft spent millions every year researching things like user interfaces.

    They threw it all away in a short-sighted quest to shove their way into the revenue stream of walled markets.

    I think a return to basics - provide value to their best customers (Corporate IT) - through improving productivity and offering stable development environments to encourage those customers to invest in a Microsoft ecosystem.

    At this very moment, the only thing tying corporations to the "Microsoft Ecosystem" are Windows 7, Windows Server 2008 and pretty much everything pre-2012. Admins don't need "Modern UI" interfaces on their server boxes. Developers don't need monochrome toolbar buttons and screaming menus. Desktop users don't need to gestures to do their daily work. All of those mis-steps has IT departments across the country realizing that while they do not WANT to put the effort into leaving that ecosystem, Microsoft has left them with no choice - So now the decision is to move to something slightly less familiar (Linux and OSX), or move to something WILDLY unfamiliar (Windows 8, Server 2012, etc...) - which makes more sense? so It departments are no longer beholden to Microsoft, thanks to Microsoft's own stupid decisions.

    Get back to what worked. Mobile and Desktop are separate markets, which is why Apple didn't paste the iOS UI onto OSX, and why Android isn't a desktop operating system. Stop trying so hard for convergence in the UI when we aren't even close, technologically, to making that happen. Stop forcing your customers to face painful training budgets and re-writing legacy apps just to fit into your executive's superfluous decisions to bully them into the Metro UI with the idea that it would somehow magically sell millions of mobile devices with "Windows 8" (more like "Tiles 1"). That effort failed spectacularly, by any measure, so step back, lick your wounds, and give the customers what they want, instead of shoving what YOU want down their throats.

  • Catch-up because (Score:4, Insightful)

    by tuppe666 (904118) on Saturday August 24, 2013 @08:31PM (#44666611)

    (Ketchup?!)

    No, microsoft doesn't need to catch up because it isn't behind. They have everything, what it doesn't have is something that is different, innovativ and without spyware.

    Microsoft in the suddenly relevant, consumer, mobile, socially linked, always connected, future now...behind in market share, mindshare, technology both hardware and software with a poisonous brand, a stench of repeated failure, leaving its OEM Slaves and hostages as expendable casualties...even though they suddenly have to compete.

  • Fresh thinking (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Natales (182136) on Saturday August 24, 2013 @09:00PM (#44666773)
    What bothers me is that Microsoft has really good engineers but lacks a clear strategic direction. Their massive amount of legacy code plus some seriously bad "assumptions" about what the users want have sustained their decline in the last 10 years. It's a sad state of affairs, having used their products since Windows 1.0 when they were "the rebels".

    I know it's just my opinion, but given their deep pockets, they should create an incubator unit or a completely separate start-up with huge funding for a re-acquisition later on (similar to what Cisco is doing with Insieme). The purpose of this group should be to go back to their roots, and re-think the way people and companies are expected to interact with computers in the next 10-20 years timeframe, and create a brand new OS with no legacy code, and anticipating the challenges and threats that will evolve overtime as much as possible.

    I've always wondered why airplanes and MRI machines can have "mission critical" OSs and software while we all have to deal with crashes and uncertainty. They have the capability to create and bring to market a practical, usable EAL-7 [wikipedia.org] OS. We know it has been done before [nicta.com.au], but Microsoft has the capability to make it commercially viable for everyone. And this is only ONE of the things they could do.
  • by ruir (2709173) on Saturday August 24, 2013 @09:10PM (#44666809) Homepage
    In my opinion Ballmer is an operational that was promoted in the wrong time. The problems of Microsoft are symptomatic of a larger disease, and Ballmer is just a scapegoat. Truth to be said, the only product I can remember of being their truly innovation, is Microsoft Basic. The rest was a matter of having the right influence, a matter at time on their side, the right partners, sheer luck, buying what they needed at the right time. It is a known fact after all this years, that DOS was bought to seal a business Gates mom got with his influence, power and political cloud. The fact that consumers preferred a cheaper machine 20 years behind its time just because it had a IBM sticker, and the misguided monopoly that ensued for 3 decades, was a pure stroke of luck. that movement is losing momentum IMO. They had also terrible problems of judgment. The worst of all, was basing their business model in the dominance of the Wintel platform. I don't know for how long their Office platform will hold waters - for instance in a couple of years iWork from Apple will be a real competitor (it already is, minus the Pages utility). They failed to see the Internet coming, and had to buy Internet Explorer. The Zune (music player) was a commercial failure. Windows CE based hardware is/was a terrible flop. Windows 8 and Surface, a customer PR disaster. Their phone platform, despite how many billions they throw at it - 2 billions to Nokia alone, product placement in holywood series, is a product nobody want to touch. They killed their excellent TechNet offering which was the staple of many Microsoft houses. Androids are iPhones are the trojans that are showing whole generations they are not depending anymore on WIntel compatibles to handle their data - either work, emails, documents, spreadsheets. Mac is also making inroads in several faculties. Linux has gained corporate acceptance. VMWare is the king of virtualisation platforms, and XEN a close second The cat is out of the bag it is not mandatory to use IBM compatible/Microsoft products, specially in corporate environments, and the terrible news for MS is this a very different world from the 80s, and customer loyalty isnt up what it used to be.
  • by WaywardGeek (1480513) on Saturday August 24, 2013 @09:20PM (#44666849) Journal

    Since I graduated from college in 1986, Microsoft has been a place where great minds go to die. They were the hottest employer, and it sickens me to see how little Microsoft has allowed their amazing talent to produce. They had, and continue to have, essentially a monopoly on the desktop OS market. They don't need innovation to remain on top, and could even be damaged by it, so it's no wonder that they wouldn't let their great minds produce much of consequence. If Windows Me didn't convince you that Microsoft is anti-innovation, certainly Windows Vista and Windows 8 should make it clear.

    That said, I have no problem with companies being the best company in their field. Microsoft's market is shrinking, and it's not their fault. They remain the dominant PC OS, even with crappy Windows 8. Few would argue with my claim that Sun Microsystems was the best workstation vendor ever, but when cheap x86 CPUs began to have enough power for most users, Sun's market went away.

    Most people think it's stupidity for companies to remain the best in their market while their market shrinks, but I don't feel that way. There's always another company ready to take over a new market, and a company without the PC OS baggage is going to do a lot better. That's the way it should be.

  • by FuzzNugget (2840687) on Saturday August 24, 2013 @09:26PM (#44666873)
    Only iPhone users would be dumb enough to (a) keep their keys and phone in the same pocket and (b) not use a screen protector.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 24, 2013 @09:45PM (#44666921)

    yes. exactly. microsoft has always been shit. nothing they ever did was ever the most secure, the most cost effective,
    the more usable, the highest performance, the most attractive.

    they never excelled at anything, but somehow managed to become the defacto standard for computing, and
    distorted generations of young minds.

    so now that the market has finally lurched forward and no one wants to buy that useless crap anymore
    we are supposed to cry?

    they could take all that money and do a thousand interesting things, but they are so inbred and willfully ignorant
    they are just going to spend it down until the scrap is at market value.

  • by hairyfeet (841228) <bassbeast1968@gmai[ ]om ['l.c' in gap]> on Saturday August 24, 2013 @09:47PM (#44666931) Journal

    Oh bullshit, put somebody with a brain in the big chair and they could slaughter, all the tools are there, its just Ballmer has his one track mind locked so hard on Cupertino it was a miracle he could walk in a straight line!

    Hell put ME in the big chair and i could double the stock price just using good old fashioned common sense. First people hate metro or are afraid to buy a new unit because what if they hate Metro too? I'd tell them "Not a problem, anybody that buys ANY copy of Win 8, OEM, upgrade, whatever, if you try it and don't like it? We'll trade your key for the equivalent Windows 7 key so you have nothing to lose"...BAM! You just fixed the windows 8 problem right there. Fuck win 8.1, roll it into a service pack and call it a day, this ain't 93 and .1s look douchey, instead OS releases will be once every 3 for consumer (and they have the option of going back up to 2 releases, just swap the key) and 6 for business who will have the option of going back one release. Metro will NOT be default, it will be OPTIONAL and we'll buy out ModernMix and integrate it so if you want to use metro apps on the desktop? then do so, its YOUR PC and YOU get to choose what and how it runs.

    Next we need more income coming in and to fix the mobile problem, okay not a big deal. For the income we start rolling out services Joe and Jane can actually use and give a fuck about, leave the appstore crapstore junk for mobile. Instead imagine getting a CC sized key, pops into any USB, and lets you have a secure remote session with your home PC from work or vice versa? Not a problem when using MSFT servers for the middle man and we'd make that shit more simple to use than your average ATM. For the home users we peer with groups like Akamai (cut down on latency and the risk you'll hit your cap) and we start cutting deals with networks and movie houses, you'll be able to buy bundles or ala cart Internet entertainment with the goal to be to get everything anybody could possibly want available as a stream and if you want to buy it? Just click the button and its yours, and it'll all integrate with Windows Media Center so ANY desktop or laptop with an HDMI out is now an instant HTPC, no setting up or hassles, just plug and go.

    Finally as for mobile too long as the mobile division been crippled by Ballmer and Gates, first trying to jam a teeny tiny desktop onto phones and then trying to jam phones onto desktops, that shit WILL end under me. Instead we spin off WinPhone who will now be called ModernOS, it will have the ability to run BOTH Android AND WinPhone apps, and the ONLY connection with the desktop is a "it must work simply" mantra. which means if you choose WinPhone over Android you WILL see the benefits, everything from being able to remote access and even track your phone from your desktop to streaming from your PC to your ModernPhone to even using it as a remote for your desktop or laptop, thus making the HTPC idea even nicer. Your SO wants to watch that twilight crap while the game is on? Slap on some phones connected to your ModernPhone and screen the game from one of our channels to your phone!

    See how fricking easy it would be to make money with MSFT if they didn't have a CEO with his head up his ass? And this is just what I could come up with off the top of my head, if I gave it any real thought I could come up with dozens more...ohh, get ready for some gold....how about an innovation bounty? Instead of the employees backstabbing each other with that stack crap instead we offer a bounty on innovation, you come up with a great product YOU get a cut of every sale, be that in software or hardware, give the employees a reason to really bust ass for the company again. i could go on all day as the raw materials ARE there, its the leadership that has been throwing everything away trying to be Cupertino North.

  • by Opportunist (166417) on Saturday August 24, 2013 @09:53PM (#44666947)

    And that it doesn't work anymore.

    Their creed was "embrace - extend - extinguish". It worked like a charm with open source technologies and technologies developed by small companies. They noticed something caught on, they hopped on the train, claimed it, blew a shitload of money into it, "added" to it so it was no longer compatible with the original stuff, turned their broken design into the de-facto standard by virtue of their market position and finally everyone was "inferior" because they were "incompatible".

    And that doesn't work with companies like Apple and Google who themselves play that game, and they really excel at it. AND on top of that, they needn't wait for someone to come up with a new technology people actually want: They can create it themselves, because they also know something about design.

    And marketing, of course, but marketing has never been the weak spot of MS. But here's the other reason why they are falling behind more and more: Design. And their lack of it. When "the masses" started to join the IT world, design suddenly became important. While we might not care about rounded corners and whether our boxes blend nicely into our living room, the average Joe out there does. Yes, their crap doesn't have any better specs than MS' stuff does, but it LOOKS better and it WORKS easier.

    And MS may be much, but designers, they are not. Neither designers of nifty looking gadgets nor designers of intuitive interfaces.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 24, 2013 @09:57PM (#44666969)

    Bill Gates was paranoid as fuck. The whole reason they had Windows CE and Windows Mobile was "to prevent someone doing to us what we did to IBM."

    If Gates was running the company, they would have started cloning the iPhone the day after Apple announced it. Instead Fat Ballmer dismissed the whole idea and sat around doing nothing for 2 years. He also did the exact same thing with Google and internet advertising, costing MSFT multi-billions.

  • by 0123456 (636235) on Saturday August 24, 2013 @10:00PM (#44666985)

    Has Xbox turned net positive yet? I know it's finally making money, but has it reached ROI point yet?

    Not as far as I'm aware.

    And the 'innovation' would mostly appear to be locking in users and spying on them.

  • by Goody (23843) on Saturday August 24, 2013 @10:04PM (#44667003) Journal

    They're continuing to rely on old technology that's past it's time - like Office.

    Please tell us what new technology replaces a spreadsheet program, a word processor, a presentation tool, and a personal/workgroup relational database.

  • by Livius (318358) on Saturday August 24, 2013 @10:10PM (#44667035)

    Insecure dictators have a history of making sure there's no-one available to replace them, as part of their strategy to avoid being replaced.

  • by Goody (23843) on Saturday August 24, 2013 @10:41PM (#44667145) Journal

    Show me a three year old PC that holds the same percent value that a three year old Mac does, or a three year old smartphone versus an iPhone.

  • by Xiaran (836924) on Saturday August 24, 2013 @10:42PM (#44667147)
    I am the head of a US TV network and you are in your first meeting with me. You want to offer ala cart TV content to just anyone? Are you mad? I already have agreements about exclusivity with regional TV stations. And there is just no fucking way I am going to let you allow that shit out of the US... do you have any *fucking* idea about the agreements we have with overseas networks? Your fucking dreaming! Get the fuck out of my office and come back when you are prepared to be more reasonable like netflix, apple and google!
  • by Ed The Meek (3026569) on Saturday August 24, 2013 @10:50PM (#44667191)
    You think a good business strategy is to rely on making minuscule changes to spreadsheets and word processors - expecting - consumers to buy the new version?? Why would anyone want Office 2010 when Office 2007 is capable of doing more than 99% of existing users care about? All this while OpenOffice (completely free) is capable of meeting the needs of 99% of spreadsheet and word processing users. Seriously? You think there's a big $$$ future in the continued development and deployment of Office 2011, 2012....2024? Seriously? Okay, now I've told you. And that's free from me to you... ;)
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 24, 2013 @10:56PM (#44667221)

    what makes you think Andy Rubin wants to work for MS?

    Money.

  • No, Let Them Die (Score:4, Insightful)

    by utkonos (2104836) on Sunday August 25, 2013 @12:08AM (#44667487)
    I'm not sure why people here want M$ to change their act and get back in the game. I for one am quite happy with M$ being irrelevant and staying that way. Do any of you really want M$ to catch up and become dominant again?
  • by Telvin_3d (855514) on Sunday August 25, 2013 @01:32AM (#44667781)

    Looks like someone never tried an iOS upgrade on an older iDevice...

    Older than what? Apple has industry leading backwards compatibility on their mobile devices. Hell, plenty of android devices are effectively end-of-life six months after they come out. The latest iOS build is backwards compatible back to the 3GS, which launched just over 4 years ago. Try to find ANY 4 year old android that supports Jelly Bean.

  • by Animats (122034) on Sunday August 25, 2013 @03:15AM (#44668033) Homepage

    Microsoft's big problem is simply that Windows 7 is quite good. Business desktops use it, they work fine, they crash rarely, and they get the job done. Microsoft conquered the driver quality problem by forcing drivers to pass the Static Driver Verifier, a proof of correctness system which looks at source code to see if it can buffer-overflow, make improper calls, or otherwise crash the kernel. That took care of about half of crashes. The other half, from Microsoft's own code, were handled by a system which classifies core dumps by commonality, so they can collect core dumps with the same cause, then find and fix the problem. So Microsoft conquered the big problem that business cares about - Making It Work.

    Businesses see no need to "upgrade". Certainly not to Windows 8. Or Office N+1. It won't help the business.

    Microsoft struggles with being "cool". Apple does well with "cool", but nobody else does. It's not clear it will help in the post-Jobs era. (Olivetti once made beautiful office machines. It didn't help them. Most major museums of modern art have some Olivetti products, but few offices did.)

    What really made the iPod work was deals with the music industry. Something that many people miss is why Jobs was able to pull that off. Jobs was also CEO of Pixar, and thus, as a major film studio head, at the top of the Hollywood hierarchy. So he was able to deal with the music industry from a position of superiority. That's what made iTunes. (The hierarchy in Hollywood is very real, and very rigid. Ask anybody in the industry.) That's what re-launched Apple. The Mac was below 10% market share, and was stuck there for years, even after Jobs took over again.

    There's room for a breakthrough in user interfaces. The rectangular grid of single-purpose icons is lame. We can be sure that breakthrough will not come from the open source community.

  • by jsepeta (412566) on Sunday August 25, 2013 @08:52AM (#44668813) Homepage

    or, Gates & Ballmer understood that web apps could destroy the need for a Windows operating system. which, in many cases, it finally has. GMail vs. Outlook, Google Docs vs. MS Office, Spotify vs. iTunes, Salesforce vs. a zillion proprietary non-web-based products... the examples are too many to mention.

  • by kelemvor4 (1980226) on Sunday August 25, 2013 @09:20AM (#44668897)

    what makes you think Andy Rubin wants to work for MS?

    Money.

    Funny that this concise and most likely accurate post got down voted.

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