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NY Times all but says it: Ballmer must go (fakesteve.net)
53 points by Flemlord on Oct 19, 2009 | hide | past | web | favorite | 25 comments

Clayton Christianson (of The Innovator's Dilemma) has a story about Digital, the minicomputer manufacturer that was the second largest computer company in the late 80's:

Their management used to be the darling of the tech press and they could do no wrong. In fact, they were excellent management. Then, when Sun workstations, and PCs appeared, customers switched to them, and Digital didn't make the transition. The press blamed management. But management was the same; it was doing just as good a job as before. The problem was the disruptive innovations are almost always fatal to incumbents.

So that's what's happening here. Microsoft rode a disruptive innovation, the PC, and now it's over. Can't really blame management for that.

It's worthwhile noting that Google has only been successful in one business (search+ads) - great though it is, they don't rake in comparable revenue with gmail (or other products).

Apple is an extraordinary exception in their success with PC's, then with iPods, and now with iPhones.

I would call Apple an exception. But not an extraordinary one. E.g. IBM is also still around, and was there for even longer.

I wouldn't, not in that way at least.

Apple's been really good about jumping onto up-and-coming trends, particularly recently.

IBM's adaptation was the opposite: do nothing. The mainframe market hasn't changed much; the only real change has been that making mainframes costs more now, so IBM's main profit now is in consulting... for mainframe work :)

Although IBM started in mechanical office automation - e.g. cash registers and type writers.

True... and so did one of their biggest competitors in the mainframe market (National Cash Register).... :)

I think Tom DeMarco would argue, that you can blame the management for that. In Slack a part of the book is dedicated to change and growth and he tackles the timing of change and the responsibility for it among other things. DeMarco believes, that change (reinvention) must be driven by middle management.

I guess it's driven by `sociopaths', to use the terminology of another recent essay.

Someone linked to this post in the comments, which I'd never seen before. It's by the guy who wrote the Vista shutdown menu, and it's pretty depressing reading:


That deserves it's own submission...

I remember reading it during one of my Microsoft internships and thinking "Wow, this was definitely a pathological case. My team executes way better than this." However, I was on a small, isolated team. I've recently realized that at Microsoft, the better the team performs, the more demand for their skills, the more strategic their efforts, the more people stick their fingers in the pie, and the worse the end result becomes.

So yeah, this was a pathological case, but only in the respect that it is such an un-strategic feature. Typically, a feature would have to be far higher profile for it to be so severely botched.

Microsoft's failings are of leadership and focus. I don't work in Windows, but following Windows 7 closely, it seems like Sinofsky is doing a great job empowering the right decision makers. Often, the right decision maker is the one closest to the implementation. Some teams get it, others are learning it, and still others may never get it.

Unbelievable. Well, believable, I worked a short stint for a bank as a programmer and it reminds me of what happened back then.

Too many chiefs and very few indians.

> very few indians

Not at MS

Man, reading that I can imagine Microsoft doesn't just price their OS so high to make loads of money but just to break even.

Maybe that was a joke, I can't tell. But just for some perspective: Microsoft has an annual gross profit of $46 billion [1]. The only companies in the world with larger profit are Oil companies [2]. That is a far cry from break even.

[1] http://www.google.com/finance?q=NASDAQ:MSFT&fstype=ii

[2] http://money.cnn.com/magazines/fortune/global500/2009/perfor...

It's not fair to compare pre-antitrust Microsoft to post-antitrust Microsoft. They will never be allowed to be what they once were. What we're seeing now is the real Microsoft competing without most of their monopolistic advantages. That is a company producing mostly mediocre products & services that don't interoperate with non-Microsoft products & services all that well. When you're a monopoly that's a great business model. When you're just another player it's a disadvantage.

I also don't think it's fair to lay it all on Ballmer. Most of the current Microsoft flops were projects in development while Gates was CEO. I'm not sure they've ever really caught up after completely missing the boat on the Internet in the mid-90s. I envision most of the management structure at Microsoft as being comprised of a bunch of people who never really had to compete with outside forces other than deciding which company to buy and kill.

Um, Gates stepped down as CEO in 2000. Most current Microsoft flops such as Vista started development after that. You're probably confusing his stepping down as chair in 2006 with his stepping down as CEO in 2000.

Also I can assure you that Microsoft temporarily caught up after missing the boat. Just review the history. Until partway through 1995 they didn't think about the web. But by early 1998 they had the dominant browser, successfully destroyed Netscape, and had a strategy for taking over the server side of the web that people were genuinely concerned about.

Then the lawsuit hit. Microsoft's plan to use the browser monopoly to leverage a server monopoly had to be put on hold. In the next 2 months several major competitors (Informix, Oracle and IBM) jumped on the open source bandwagon. The dot com era exploded. And Microsoft lost control.

Post lawsuit they tried several things to get control back, with no success. Nothing they tried there had any traction. (Remember Hailstorm?) They poured energy into trying to get control of DRM, which customers didn't want in the end. They got sued again, more painfully, in Europe. They are being sued again over antitrust issues by Novell.

So the question is this. Has the lackluster performance of Microsoft since Ballmer took office been because of the lawsuit, or because Ballmer is a worse CEO than Gates? I'm inclined to say "lawsuit + accumulated ill will". But it is hard to separate the two.

I think you're being quite charitable there. A lawsuit locking you out of a market like that is only as tough as having a big competitor beating you in that market. At this level you need a CEO to (a) anticipate then work around some of these things, and (b) break through despite them. Take Nintendo; they lost their market position for years because of Sony's playstation then came back with the Wii. They did it by wrong footing the competition and moving away from realism and performance.

Microsoft could have wrong footed Google by buying Facebook or Twitter. Or built the App Store for Windows Mobile. Or built MS Office completely in Silverlight years before Chrome, V8 and HTML5 arrived. They didn't want for resources, just vision and drive.

Or shipped the Internet Explorer with a built-in adblocker. (Though they would have needed to block all advertisements, and not just Google's, so that they'd stand a chance in court.)

I'm kind of happy with Ballmer actually. He seems to be a fairly crazy person, which is the best that could happen for the rest of us.

The last thing you want is competent management at Microsoft.

This video says it all:


I don't know what he's trying to prove but it sure didn't work for me.

I suspect that people who voted you down are people under 30 who don't remember what life was like when Microsoft truly dominated everything.

pg commented on the phenomena in http://www.paulgraham.com/microsoft.html.

Downvotes are not going to stop me from speaking my mind. It's almost as if people think that by downvoting someones opinion they can make that opinion less real or so. Not sure what is going on in their heads.

If they would engage in debate and downvote that would be the ideal I guess :)

On /. because people can choose to post 'anonymously' and only randomly get allotted mod points instead of having an infinite supply such frustration tends to be vented by some anonymous ad-hominem attack, here it's the downmod button.

Interesting how the technical facilities change peoples behaviour.

As for the subject, I wasn't joking either. Ballmers 'reign' has been a trainwreck, so far he has consistently failed to produce anything that has caused microsoft to gain lost terrain. Vista, the Zune, MSN Search (which three months after launch is stuck in the 3% reach territory).

And I'm fine with that. Now for someone to get up and give google a run for their money.

I nearly downvoted because it reads like the standard anti-MS "troll" comment. But considering the original submission it fits the theme - so I didnt :)

10,000 million dollars on R&D next year alone is not an insignificant amount and an awful lot of fertilizer for a voracious tree that yields a lot of fruit other than apples.

the ability to snatch data anywhere off of the Web — so-called cloud computing

Interesting definition of cloud computing...


>What I meant [by saying Microsoft is dead] was not that Microsoft is suddenly going to stop making money, but that people at the leading edge of the software business no longer have to think about them.


I agree.

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