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So Ballmer is the ultimate PHB?

This is a great way to build a career, but if you look at his track record at Microsoft, I'm not sure Ballmer is the guy we want to be emulating. He was hard-headed, amazingly risk-averse when it came to Microsoft's core platforms, and was not a great manager (he was unable to control a lot of the culture problems that plagued Microsoft in the early 2000s).

It's fine to make bold moves that fail, but Ballmer's failed moves weren't really all that bold. They were big, but not incredibly bold, and were often doubling down on a failing business inside Microsoft.




People usually don't get credit for what didn't happen, but in the case of CEOs, they deserve it. There are so many choices that could've been made, and would've been made by a worse exec, that would've destroyed MS. It takes effort to maintain the status quo in a competitive world.

Microsoft might not have been as hip as Apple or Google, but they became and remained the most significant software company in the world for decades. They're still the number one desktop OS by a huge margin. Compare Steve Ballmer to Carly Fiorina, Jonathan Schwartz or Stephen Elop and tell me he wasn't a good CEO.

I also think Ballmer deserves credit for .NET. "Developers developers developers" has been MS's saving grace as OS X emerged, and Nadella is essentially banking the company on .NET-as-a-platform via Azure. It's entirely possible that we'd all be using Solaris on SPARC workstations by now if .NET hadn't existed.


Ballmer also served during the toughest time in Microsoft's history. He took the reigns right before the final ruling in a massive antitrust lawsuit that literally almost broke the company apart[0]. The DOJ continued to have oversight over Microsoft until 2012[1]. I'm sure Microsoft would have loved to make much bolder decisions during that decade (particularly when it comes to hardware), but they were hardly in a position to do so legally[2].

A lot of the good things Microsoft has (deservedly) received praise for recently under Nadella were started under Ballmer's tenure. Yes, he is not personally responsible for everything that goes on at the company, but it's important to keep that in mind.

[0] While the decision was reversed on appeal, Microsoft was literally ordered by the courts to split itself into separate companies: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_v._Microsoft_Cor...

[1] http://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2011/04/depart...

[2] Incidentally, the Surface, which now appears to be Microsoft's attempt to clean up the wild west that OEMs have created, was announced right at the end of the DOJ's oversight. I cannot believe that this is a coincidence.


Your comment and the parent comment hits close to home.

The anti trust investigation killed Microsoft's mojo. They never under estimated any one in the past. They were paranoid and always responded to "potential threats" with crappy solution but they responded nonetheless.

In my opinion, Google and the iPhone owe their dominance to time granted them by the anti trust suit.

The same tactics that got Microsoft in trouble is being used my Google and Apple today.

Google services is bundled in Android. There is no alternative browser in chrome OS by design. The default browser can't be changed in IOS(not sure if that's still the case).

It's difficult to take risks when everything you do is under a microscope.


> The default browser can't be changed in IOS(not sure if that's still the case).

Not only can it not be changed, but you can't even ship true alternative browsers at all.

You'll find plenty of "alternative browsers" in the App Store, of course. But they're all just UI wrappers around Apple's UIWebView or WKWebView. Apple doesn't allow anyone to ship an alternative browser engine.

So even if Apple let you change the default, it really wouldn't be all that interesting.


You can install Firefox on Android, and it has proper integration. But the rest of Google Play Services, yeah I see your point.


> You can install Firefox on Android, and it has proper integration.

You can (and I do, because it's the only way to block ads without root on Android).

But that was literally the same claim that was made against Microsoft - while you could install alternative browsers, you couldn't really uninstall IE. And as parts of IE were factored into separate components for reuse by other applications, the concern was that IE was being turned into part of the operating system.

(The difference is that Android's market share, while still dominant, is still not as high as Windows's was back in the 90s[0]. Ditto for iOS, which has a minority market share. But in terms of the software vs. OS components, it's almost exactly the same.)

[0] or even as high as the Windows marketshare is today, for that matter.


It's not the same claim. The claim against Microsoft was that browser and OS dominance had killed competition ("cutting off the oxygen supply" of other browser makers) and was literally distorting the industry.

Browser dominance on its own was not the problem. The problem was that Microsoft's strategy was deliberately anti-competitive and monopolistic, and the browser was one symptom of that - not just because it gave MS massive market share, but because it created a technological chokepoint which limited the commercial potential of everyone working in the PC and Internet industries.

Remember, MS spent a lot of time and money promoting site/browser technologies like ActiveX that only really worked on Windows PCs, and seem to have been an attempt to look out everyone else.

It's hard to argue that iOS or Android are anywhere close to doing the same. Both may be walled gardens, and both have toxic effects. But they're not de facto standards setters, and they can't use their influence to kill competing products at equivalent scale. (They can and have killed or assimilated smaller products - but that's plain unethical behaviour, not clear evidence of monopoly. Taking steps to crush Twitter, WhatsApp, or Facebook would probably count as monopolistic. Killing SmallAppCo is just shady; sad, but true.)

If it was found that Apple and Google were colluding, that would be a serious problem - just as both had problems when it was proved they'd made secret agreements about employee mobility and salary negotiations.


He said you can't install anything else on ChromeOS, not Android.


Right, but Microsoft completely mis-identified their core platform. Windows is not the core platform - Office is. They should have gotten a consistent Office interface on any device with a screen back in 2010.

Instead, they embargoed Office on every platform but Windows and a shitty, incompatible and infrequently updated Mac port. They tried to leverage Office to make their other platforms (Windows, Windows Phone, Azure) successful, rather than focus on making sure Office runs on everything and the licensing works.


The Mac was always an original platform for Office dating back to Word and Excel in 1985.

It also was never incompatible. Better than Windows at times (circa 2003 when they had a big team in the Bay Area) and Entourage was better than Outlook's usability. Shitty at times, especially the last several years until Office 2016.

With Office 365, they basically get your point. Unfortunately the new generation mostly uses Google Docs and Pages now, but most over 30 still use Office.


Mojo? Or they had to start playing by the rules a little more, and stop cheating the game.


I was with you up until "It's entirely possible that we'd all be using Solaris on SPARC workstations by now if .NET hadn't existed."

I admit I don't follow the Windows world very closely, and I'm no developer, but Wikipedia says .NET got started in 2002, by which time Solaris was already on its way out.

I'm not sure what you see in .NET that you think killed Solaris/SPARC, or where you see the overlap (where a lack of .NET could have presented an opportunity for Solaris), but from my point of view Solaris was an also-ran by 2002, even though I continued to administer it until after the Oracle acquisition.


Without .NET, Java would've been the undisputed champ of enterprise programming, meaning Sun would've had a lot more clout than they did, and the need for metal that "runs Java better" (as SPARC/Solaris would've been sold) might've been much more influential.

Once .NET came out, a lot of companies used that instead of Java since they were already familiar with Windows and the x86 hardware that ran Windows was much cheaper than SPARC hardware that ran Solaris. All this massively diminished Sun and Java's influence in enterprise systems, and caused the sales of expensive specialized hardware like SPARC to plunge.


Ballmer's greatest failure was betting on Sinofsky. Elevating him forced a number of other great execs to eventually leave the company. It was bold and it was wrong.


Out of interest, which execs left? Also, under Sinofsky Windows 7 was shipped. That's significantly better than Vista, and still clasped to many-a-person's bossom in a cherished embrace as they refuse to upgrade to Windows 8 or 10.


allard, muglia, mundie, and lots at the baby VP level. The path windows 7 was on was largely sets before him. Windows 8, which was his baby led to him leaving the company.


I agree. The only major success from Ballmer's career that the article highlights is his capturing of that eight percent stake early on. A better title might have been "How to Be Like 1980 Steve Ballmer".


Being risk-averse is typically a good way to keep your job. If he was riskier, there's a greater chance he'd have been fired faster or reduced his earnings.


It is also a very good way to stagnate under fear of trying something new


out of all of ballmer's blunders, this one is my favorite:

http://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2007/04/ballme...

... he says, about the product that is about to do to his company's phone division (and arguably the entire industry) what microsoft did to ibm, a few decades earlier.

but the article you are commenting on is not about that. it's about how you can use your less-than-stellar god-given gifts to propel yourself to the top, just like ballmer did.


The most interesting part here is the second quote where he describes that a modern iPhone is as compared to what the iPhone was then:

> "We wouldn't define our phone experience just by music. A phone is really a general purpose device. You want to make telephone calls, you want to get and receive messages, text, e-mail, whatever your preference is."

edit: Turns out he was dead on. Problem was that the iPhone combined two devices people already had AND eventually gave you all of this.


People had been trying to make devices very much like the iPhone for decades before Jobs pushed through a mass-market-acceptable iteration. MS had a tablet and natural voice UI projects as major priorities around the turn of the century while Apple was working on the click-wheel of the original iPod.

It takes a lot of iteration before something becomes mass-marketable, and there's almost always a long, multi-competitor heritage in devices that seem to appear overnight, like the iPhone.


I suppose it is also a skill to make it seem fashionable and desirable, in the way that Apple did. Compare that to PocketPC and Palm Pilots etc. that came before the iPhone, and remember that you wouldn't see a teenager using one.

I suppose it also helps that mobile phones have become widely acceptable. I remember when it was rare to see someone with one (can't even imagine how bad the coverage was with so few masts around), and people would label them as "posers" for having one or using it in public. Perhaps the earlier Windows devices (which were very capable, and allowed apps to be installed, albeit not from a central repository like the App Store) were just too early in the market, and by the time people accepted them they wanted something different and new. Android and iPhone rode this wave.


> So Ballmer is the ultimate PHB?

Yes, for values of "H" equal to "head". The first Ballmer Peak is the one his skull comes to.




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