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Microsoft's Creative Destruction
February 4, 2010 9:22 AM   Subscribe

Microsoft's Creative Destruction is an Op Ed in the New York Times by former Microsoft VP, Dick Brass.

"Unlike other companies, Microsoft never developed a true system for innovation. Some of my former colleagues argue that it actually developed a system to thwart innovation. Despite having one of the largest and best corporate laboratories in the world, and the luxury of not one but three chief technology officers, the company routinely manages to frustrate the efforts of its visionary thinkers."
posted by shmegegge (102 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
By deliberately breaking audio and video functionality, opening up new avenues for debilitating malware, and reversing performance gains in desktop PCs and third-party components, Peter Gutmann argues "the Vista Content Protection specification could very well constitute the longest suicide note in history."

...

``I managed developer teams in Windows for five years, and have only begun to reflect on the experience now that I have recently switched teams. Through a series of conversations with other leaders that have similarly left The Collective, several root causes have emerged as lasting characterizations of what's really wrong in The Empire.'
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:30 AM on February 4, 2010


if a mod cares to, I'd be fine with BP's links, there, being stuck as "previously" links in my fpp.

of course, they're also fine as is.
posted by shmegegge at 9:32 AM on February 4, 2010


If all these things are true, then it sounds like they have had some SERIOUS top level management issues over the years. If I was at the head of a company and we were spending millions on one side of the company to work on something, and someone at the head of Office or whatever started sabotaging it in any way? They would no longer be working for the company. On the other hand, if the point of a corporation is to make money for its shareholders, then Microsoft is still seemingly doing fine.
posted by haveanicesummer at 9:32 AM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is the exact same sort of thing that went on at IBM when it was dominant. I've heard stories from ex-IBM'ers about the large entrenched mainframe storage division (really expensive monster sized platter drives with low failure rates) delaying the success of the first cheap 5.25" drives (with higher failure rates and RAID technology) from a competing division. Instead of dominating the HDD market, they ceded a lot of it to EMC.

This is why monopolists almost always fail, because there's no pressure to innovate and enormous power concentrated in the divisions that control the monopoly technologies. To some extent MS got around this when they had separate home and office OS divisions, but as far as I know they've never had plans to split their office division.
posted by BrotherCaine at 9:34 AM on February 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


What I find amusing is that the stories he relates about the internal sabotage reminded me more of Apple back in the day. Of course that was less inter-office fighting and more Steve Jobs insanity.
posted by cimbrog at 9:40 AM on February 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


it’s a highly repentant, largely accidental monopolist.

"Oops. Sorry, my bad."
posted by Zed at 9:41 AM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


[retreats to minimum safe distance, shields eyes with #12 welder's glass]
posted by CynicalKnight at 9:42 AM on February 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


And to avoid starting a fight here, I'm not claiming any sort of relevance to today's companies. I've just read Accidental Empires too many times.
posted by cimbrog at 9:42 AM on February 4, 2010


Not sure how a company is failing if they have "continued to deliver huge profits." Public perception, quality of advertising, keeping up with Apple, blah, blah--none of that matters. Microsoft is software. Windows is a cash cow, and Microsoft has committed itself to dominating this market, a successful strategy to date. Not MP3 players, not electronic bookreaders, etc. Microsoft doesn't care about the iPad, at least no more than Dell, Cisco, or a lot of other tech companies.

In addition, criticizing Microsoft for getting beat by the iPod and the iPhone is ridiculous. Those are two of the greatest consumer products ever created. In addition, Apple is not like most companies. Most companies eventually slow down as they move into their mature phase of their life cycle.

Criticizing Microsoft for losing to the Apple iPhone is like criticizing Apple for failing to invent PowerPoint before Microsoft did.
posted by stevenstevo at 9:44 AM on February 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


Not sure how a company is failing if they have "continued to deliver huge profits."

well, I think we're not doing anyone any favors if we try to create some strict definition of "failing," that Microsoft either does or does not fall into. I think the article is just trying to point out where Microsoft has trouble, while admitting their bottom line is still stellar, and how where once they were revolutionary they're now reactionary. I think it's a decent point, even if the finer points can be argued over.
posted by shmegegge at 9:47 AM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


From BPs link:

In general, Windows suffers from a proclivity for action control, not results control. Instead of clearly stating desired outcomes, there's a penchant for telling people exactly what steps they must take.

I worked in a company with both ex-IBM and ex-Microsoft management in the late 90s. I can't emphasize enough that almost all of the MS management were more obsessed with time spent working than actual results. There was a brutally stark difference in management capability that was as painful to watch as a bunch of high schoolers trying to keep up with an Olympic marathon. I'd always hoped the MS guys were just a bad bunch, but I'm rethinking that.
posted by BrotherCaine at 9:47 AM on February 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


Seconding what BrotherCain said about IBM but expanding it to any large entrenched corporation with a small number of cash cows driving most of the revenue. It gets almost impossible to anything new done because everyone is so paranoid about doing anything that might damage that revenue stream.

One wonders if breaking up Microsoft ten years ago might have been the best thing for it.
posted by octothorpe at 9:49 AM on February 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


Criticizing Microsoft for losing to the Apple iPhone is like criticizing Apple for failing to invent PowerPoint before Microsoft did.

Hypercard?
posted by BrotherCaine at 9:50 AM on February 4, 2010 [14 favorites]


Isn't this an example of second-rate management only tolerating third-rate underlings, et cetera? I've seen this kind of bullshit go on at a freaking health food store.
posted by dunkadunc at 9:50 AM on February 4, 2010 [8 favorites]


Criticizing Microsoft for losing to the Apple iPhone is like criticizing Apple for failing to invent PowerPoint before Microsoft did.

I don't know if the problem is so much as losing to the iPhone as it is to not showing any ability to expand its horizons or see where technology is heading. Microsoft was blindsided by the internet. It saw the consumer electronics market coming, but stood there with its glove out and its eyes averted while the ball hit the ground a few feet away. Perhaps part of the problem is that people expect too much of Microsoft? They dominated what we know for so long that we expect them to dominate in places where they have no ability to dominate.
posted by cimbrog at 9:52 AM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


This op/ed is getting a lot of pickup today, but I don't understand why. Basically all it says is "Microsoft fails because some people I know lost some internal political battles". Which may well be true, and part of the problem, but Microsoft's troubles are much deeper than that.

I'll take a stab at it: Microsoft is from the pre-Internet desktop computer era. They make very successful desktop software. But they're not very good at making Internet software. This new type of Internet computing is just forming, but it's newer companies like Google and Amazon that are figuring it out, not Microsoft. In this sense Microsoft is much like IBM of the 70s who failed to get out of the mainframe era. And like IBM there may still be a second act for Microsoft, we'll see. Ray Ozzie was brought in to Microsoft to kick them in the ass and figure out the Internet thing, to replace Gates as the visionary. So far we haven't seen a big shift.

The other problem with Microsoft is that their monopolistic business practices got them in trouble. I agree with Dick Brass when he characterizes them as "highly repentant": since the anti-trust settlement Microsoft has been much better about anti-competitive issues. (There's no way I'll buy the "largely accidental monopolist" line, though, and we have plenty of testimony and evidence to the contrary.) Without the crutch of exploiting their existing desktop monopoly to enter the new Internet market, they are lost.
posted by Nelson at 9:53 AM on February 4, 2010 [3 favorites]



Criticizing Microsoft for losing to the Apple iPhone is like criticizing Apple for failing to invent PowerPoint before Microsoft did.


Not so much.

Microsoft had Windows smartphones in the marketplace well before Apple. A few years ago the question was whether MSFT/Nokia/RIM/Palm would win this space.

Today RIM is still doing very well (leading smartphone platform in the US), Nokia is holding on in the EU smartphone space but needs a platform refresh (but has stumbled horribly in the US), and Palm has rebooted (and who knows how that will turn out for them, the first company to release a mass market touchscreen smartphone). Meanwhile, Apple is surging, owing to their choice to completely control the hardware/software stack as opposed to the traditional MSFT strategy of developing software for ODMs/OEMs to use. That strategy has now been adopted by Google with Android.
posted by donovan at 9:54 AM on February 4, 2010


I just came in here to say that "Dick Brass" is one hell of a handle.
posted by dragstroke at 9:55 AM on February 4, 2010 [8 favorites]


Criticizing Microsoft for losing to the Apple iPhone is like criticizing Apple for failing to invent PowerPoint before Microsoft did.

Microsoft did not invent Powerpoint. Did you ever hear of Persuasion? Microsoft has invented very little. Most of its technology was acquired or copied. The only thing they invented as far as I can tell was "Bob," the amazing talking dog, paperclip, etc. operating system that took the computing world by storm, or so they thought it would...
posted by njohnson23 at 10:00 AM on February 4, 2010 [9 favorites]


But they're not very good at making Internet software.

They are actually pretty damn good at Internet software, they're just not as good at getting the revenue stream out of it that they can from office, etc... This is another monopolist problem, it's almost impossible to get the same rate of return in a non-monopoly market niche. So yeah, the VP in charge of Office can kill anything in the company that threatens his revenue stream. I'd say they need to learn brand management from those Proctor & Gamble assholes, but it's probably too late for that.
posted by BrotherCaine at 10:06 AM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


For example, early in my tenure, our group of very clever graphics experts invented a way to display text on screen called ClearType. It worked by using the color dots of liquid crystal displays to make type much more readable on the screen. Although we built it to help sell e-books, it gave Microsoft a huge potential advantage for every device with a screen. But it also annoyed other Microsoft groups that felt threatened by our success.

I don't understand the obsession with cleartype and anti-aliased fonts in general. I think it looks like crap in a lot of situations. Obviously it makes very, very small text legible, and on large text it doesn't matter, because the blur is small compared to the letter.

But on "medium sized" text (like 10-12 point) it does just make things blurry. One of things I hated about Macs is that all the text is blurry. I don't know if it's still the case but I can't stand it.
posted by delmoi at 10:06 AM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


> like criticizing Apple for failing to invent PowerPoint before Microsoft did.

Microsoft didn't. PowerPoint was created as Macintosh software by Forethought, which was bought by Microsoft.
posted by ardgedee at 10:06 AM on February 4, 2010 [6 favorites]


Did Microsoft not invent the emotional responses of rage and frustration?
posted by fire&wings at 10:08 AM on February 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


And by the way, I'm sure microsoft has problems, but this article is just sour grapes about His ideas not being implemented. "If they'd just done things my way!" Well, he has no idea if that's an accurate perception or not. Bleh.
posted by delmoi at 10:09 AM on February 4, 2010


Microsoft did not invent Powerpoint. Did you ever hear of Persuasion?

It was called "Presenter", right? And it was a Mac program...
posted by mr_roboto at 10:09 AM on February 4, 2010


Dick Brass has the balls to match.
posted by mpbx at 10:11 AM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Anyone here use Xbox Live? That's a pretty good demonstration of MS going in and seriously challenging the former market leader (Sony) with an innovative product. Of the three current gen consoles I own, I do the vast majority of my gaming (and now film-watching as well, with Netflix) on the 360, since I find the online experience it offers me is so much better than what I can get on the PS3 or Wii.
posted by longdaysjourney at 10:12 AM on February 4, 2010 [11 favorites]


One of things I hated about Macs is that all the text is blurry. I don't know if it's still the case but I can't stand it.

You may not like Direct2D/DirectWrite, which aims to remove jaggies in font rendering with the GDI kit.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:12 AM on February 4, 2010


I can't emphasize enough that almost all of the MS management were more obsessed with time spent working than actual results.

Yes, Microsoft had a reputation for that in the 90s. But it's certainly not something I've seen since getting hired two years ago. (Of course, there are a *lot* of different product groups here... .)

One wonders if breaking up Microsoft ten years ago might have been the best thing for it.

I've often wondered the same both before and after joining.

Microsoft has invented very little. Most of its technology was acquired or copied.

The same charge can be leveled at nearly any large company. AdSense? Not invented by Google. MP3 players and smart phones? Not invented by Apple. Any successful VC can tell you that execution trumps invention nearly every time.
posted by Slothrup at 10:15 AM on February 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


Anyone here use Xbox Live? That's a pretty good demonstration of MS going in and seriously challenging the former market leader (Sony) with an innovative product.

I think Xbox Live is MS's saving grace, to be honest. unfortunately, it's also problematic because it was promised as the first step in a company wide push to bring live functionality to your entire computing and media world which never really materialized. the windows media center functionality comes closest, in conjunction with the 360, but it's really not there. I wish it were.
posted by shmegegge at 10:16 AM on February 4, 2010


Microsoft has become a clumsy, uncompetitive innovator. Its products are lampooned, often unfairly but sometimes with good reason.

Funny, I could have swore I read the exact same thing 10 years ago...
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:17 AM on February 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Then again, Windows 7 is fantastic. (seriously, I love it.)
posted by oddman at 10:20 AM on February 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Meant to add, the 360 is the product of a separate division w/i MS, so that might have implications for the business culture that produced Live. Comparing it to Sony's PSN, MS just seems to grok the online space a bit better. Makes me wonder what would happen if Apple ever released its own stand-alone console (totally disregarding the fact that the IPhone will probably give Nintendo's DS a run for the money in the handheld segment of the gaming market).
posted by longdaysjourney at 10:20 AM on February 4, 2010


The same charge can be leveled at nearly any large company. AdSense? Not invented by Google. MP3 players and smart phones? Not invented by Apple. Any successful VC can tell you that execution trumps invention nearly every time.

this is true. in a weird way, I kind of think of DOS as being an early version of the kind of thing Apple's done with OS X and the iPad. Take something complicated like Unix or a Unix-like, strip some of the more intense and difficult aspects out of it and deliver a smaller, more manageable user experience focussed on a particular set of activities, reinforced by your own line of killer apps tailored to the system. I mean, DOS had its problems - boy howdy did it ever - but if you were a business user or gamer who didn't need networking functionality it was your best bet.
posted by shmegegge at 10:21 AM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


What I found interesting about Microsoft's investment in Facebook is the Facebook Connect user authentication, a single-sign-on-like service now found on many sites around the Internet, which is to some degree what Microsoft tried to accomplish with Passport. What it fails to build in-house, it ends up buying with those huge cash reserves it has.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:22 AM on February 4, 2010


Anyone here use Xbox Live?

Yeah, IMO, they should put the xbox team in charge of the company, if they want to challenge apple.

Except for whoever is responsible for the RROD.
posted by empath at 10:23 AM on February 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


Makes me wonder what would happen if Apple ever released its own stand-alone console

It would cost 1000, use an old school atari 2600 joystick and have 4 games available for it.
posted by empath at 10:24 AM on February 4, 2010 [11 favorites]


Actually, his complaint that they just didn't work hard enough to integrate his ideas into Office, etc, is stupid. He's trying to make the argument that the iPad vindicates him, but actually it doesn't vindicate him at all. The iPad uses an on screen keyboard, not text recognition. In fact no one seriously uses pen computing as primary input method any more. You can find it on some windows tablets, and those all have physical keyboards for main data input!

So it's not only sour grapes in the "they didn't support my ideas" but in fact his ideas are stupid.

Not to be a Microsoft defender. I want to make it clear that I'm not. Although I do think windows is pretty nice now compared to where it was years ago, and they mostly cleaned up their act over the past decade.

But, this article is just self serving sour grapes nonsense.
You may not like Direct2D/DirectWrite, which aims to remove jaggies in font rendering with the GDI kit.
Actually, it seems as though font bluryness is controlled by the font itself. Some fonts show up as anti-aliased even at normal sizes, and others don't. I don't think those fonts will ever become blurry.
posted by delmoi at 10:32 AM on February 4, 2010


PowerPoint 1.0 was released in 1987 for the Apple Macintosh...Later in 1987, Forethought and PowerPoint were purchased by Microsoft/em>
posted by BrotherCaine at 10:32 AM on February 4, 2010


Here's a good response from Paul Thurrott.

"So it's cute to point out places where Apple came in after the fact and did a better job. But Apple doesn't always win or get it right, and the Mac, for all its gains, is still a tiny, tiny fraction of the overall PC market. And while Microsoft is definitely on a downward spiral of sorts, let's not all pretend that everything it did didn't actually make plenty of sense at the time."
posted by blue_beetle at 10:33 AM on February 4, 2010



Today RIM is still doing very well (leading smartphone platform in the US), Nokia is holding on in the EU smartphone space but needs a platform refresh (but has stumbled horribly in the US), and Palm has rebooted (and who knows how that will turn out for them, the first company to release a mass market touchscreen smartphone). Meanwhile, Apple is surging, owing to their choice to completely control the hardware/software stack as opposed to the traditional MSFT strategy of developing software for ODMs/OEMs to use. That strategy has now been adopted by Google with Android.

Not so much. But, no one generates hype like Apple does.

I'm not certain why any discussion of Microsoft's failings have to involve Apple - they don't really compete in the same markets. Apple wants to be the next Kenmore or whatever - they want to sell appliances. Microsoft is more like Honda - they want to sell it all, from big stuff to the little.

MS needs to fire Ballmer, first and foremost. Vista, while not as terrible as the press would have you believe, was an absolute failure for them, and Ballmer was calling the shots on that from start to finish. If I had failed in my job as soundly as he had, I would still be looking for work.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 10:37 AM on February 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


Makes me wonder what would happen if Apple ever released its own stand-alone console

It would be 1996 again.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:39 AM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Apple wants to be the next Kenmore or whatever - they want to sell appliances. Microsoft is more like Honda - they want to sell it all, from big stuff to the little.

I don't know how accurate this really is. I think Apple is making a strong push right now into a market Microsoft has traditionally dominated them in: the media center. they've got little pieces all over the market, from the desktops and laptops to apple tv and the iphone and now the ipad. altogether they're coming to create a networked streamed video delivery experience that Microsoft has every right to worry about. Apple tv is essentially a dud - right now - but there's reason to believe that the synergy between it, the ipad and a mac pro could turn the market for media centers strongly in their favor. and that's definitely more than just "here's an appliance, buy it."
posted by shmegegge at 10:47 AM on February 4, 2010


I'm quite happy with my xbox 360, aside from its hardware issues. The software is very well done, and it's the center of my home entertainment system (lofty title for an xbox hooked up to a TV, but I watch netflix, downloaded movies, etc. on it). Walling off departments from each other seems like the way to go.
posted by craven_morhead at 10:52 AM on February 4, 2010


This is why monopolists almost always fail, because there's no pressure to innovate and enormous power concentrated in the divisions that control the monopoly technologies.

I think there is something to this: You need real will (and power) from someone at the top of a organization to implement changes that affect large divisions.

I'm restating a scenario I've read on this topic (I honestly can't remember if I'm restating a something I've seen here on Mefi or if I've read this elsewhere.)

Think of Excel, a program that is now a tricked out spreadsheet application. Over the years users have been trying to push the limits of using Excel as a database. In a parallel universe you might think that a company would follow the lead of its users and extend or add the database capabilities and turn it into a true database management system.

However this will never happen because of Microsoft Access which is their database management system. Between the Sales division, marketing, etc there is too much invested in keeping these silos. So what are the product managers and developers who work on the Excel team supposed to do when new versions are required? Rather than take the path of resistance they go into contortions coming up with "new features" that do not eat Access' lunch.
posted by jeremias at 10:54 AM on February 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


From the op/ed:
When we were building the tablet PC in 2001, the vice president in charge of Office at the time decided he didn’t like the concept. The tablet required a stylus, and he much preferred keyboards to pens and thought our efforts doomed. To guarantee they were, he refused to modify the popular Office applications to work properly with the tablet.
There's a ton of discussion that could be had, but this is interesting. I know how he's trying to spin it, but the opposing VP just seems to have said "I don't agree with your vision, and I'm not going to adapt my product to your vision." That doesn't seem like a contentious disagreement to me, but an opportunity to prove yourself right.
posted by boo_radley at 10:56 AM on February 4, 2010


Not sure how a company is failing if they have "continued to deliver huge profits."

Because they are failing to grow in any meaningful way. Their core business (Windows and Office) is still the only thing they've succeeded at in a decisive way. The Xbox may be the best overall gaming console but it doesn't have complete market dominance (compared to something like the iPod).

One of the side effects of being a publicly owned company is that profits alone are not enough, stock price needs to increase as well. In the late 90's, Microsoft's stock split almost yearly, because the stock price would double (or more) every year. Follow that up with 10 years of relatively flat stock price and it's hard not to see that as failure. In that same time period most tech company stock hasn't move much either but the exceptions are Apple and Google, Microsoft's two most prominent rivals and the two companies most likely to be compared with MS. The perception that both companies are forward looking companies that get things done and who understand their customers, is what drives their stock price up and make MS look bad in comparison. In the 90's Microsoft looked like a company with a huge potential, by 2005 they looked like they were coasting on past successes with no sense of future direction. That's a huge failure.
posted by doctor_negative at 11:01 AM on February 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


However this will never happen because of Microsoft Access which is their database management system. Between the Sales division, marketing, etc there is too much invested in keeping these silos.

Unfortunately, life is a lot more complicated than this. Access has users, after all. Even if technologically you could merge the two products together, you're effectively going to force those Access users to have to relearn their skills to be more consistent with the way that Excel does things.

Microsoft is successful at selling to IT in large part because of the perceived promise of backwards compatibility. "You won't have to retrain your users with the new version" is a powerful thing to tell those people.

(And yes, I'm familiar with the Office Ribbon.)
posted by Slothrup at 11:02 AM on February 4, 2010


If all these things are true, then it sounds like they have had some SERIOUS top level management issues over the years. If I was at the head of a company and we were spending millions on one side of the company to work on something, and someone at the head of Office or whatever started sabotaging it in any way? They would no longer be working for the company.

It's not so easy to do. How does a leader decide who's right and who's wrong? No one can forecast the future. Any organization the size of Microsoft* (or even bigger than 20 employees) will have different stakeholder groups or factions or whatever; some of these groups will be more effective than the other groups at advancing their agenda. Leadership is no easy thing, and it would be interesting to compare the management strategies of Apple, Google and Microsoft.

*As an economic entity, Microsoft is comparable to its own country.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:02 AM on February 4, 2010


In fact no one seriously uses pen computing as primary input method any more. You can find it on some windows tablets, and those all have physical keyboards for main data input!

Tens of thousands of Wacom/Photoshop artists disagree.
posted by Scoo at 11:05 AM on February 4, 2010 [5 favorites]



I don't know how accurate this really is. I think Apple is making a strong push right now into a market Microsoft has traditionally dominated them in: the media center. they've got little pieces all over the market, from the desktops and laptops to apple tv and the iphone and now the ipad. altogether they're coming to create a networked streamed video delivery experience that Microsoft has every right to worry about.

Right, a content delivery appliance - like a VCR but better. MS has their Media Center and XBox, and they sort of compete with Apple in this nascent market. But again, Apple wants to deliver an appliance to this market (and yeah AppleTV aint it) and MS isn't real sure what they want to do and are executing that indecision perfectly.

But look up the stack - Enterprise and business computing, and Apple has almost no presence there. The reason for this is that Apple doesn't want to compete there, but MS makes a killing doing it.

There are lots of other markets that Apple does not compete in that Microsoft does. Which is fine - I'm not criticizing Apple... But that fact often gets lots in these discussions.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 11:08 AM on February 4, 2010


I think Apple's iPhone vs Android could be compared to the Mac vs PC market of the late 90's early 00's. Everyone is programming for the iPhone because of the large install base. Android may be more open, but unless they can get it into more people's hands they won't be able to compete. A literal example of this is that they're giving out Android handsets to developers at the GDC to get the ball rolling.

Android's problems are a splintered market, since there are multiple firmware versions out there, and not the handset manufacturers are keen on keeping things updated. This means that as a developer I have to use the outdated Android 1.5 (or 1.6) if I want to reach the most people. Iphone developers don't have to worry about this.

The biggest issue with the iPhone apps are the approval process. But apple's market saturation makes that a moot point. For every developer who gets burned out and moves to android, there are 5 other iphone developers who stick around anyway.

But anyway, back to Microsoft. Windows Mobile feels like an also-ran, OS wise, next to Android and the iPhone. They were there first, and they've managed to become overtaken by 2 competitors in a very small amount of time. Everyone will soon be doing everything with a device that they can cram in their pocket (if they aren't already), if MS doesn't figure out how to make people drop their iPhones they...well they can't.

Anyway, I wasted enough time drafting this comment, what else should I add? Probably that it doesn't matter how big a failure MS is, their install base in businesses is large enough for them to survive for a very long time.
posted by hellojed at 11:12 AM on February 4, 2010


This confirms my suspicions that Microsoft is full of myopic whiny back-stabbing egoists who don't know the meaning of the word "repentant".
posted by tommasz at 11:14 AM on February 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Despite all the negative views of Microsoft's level of innovation, their Courier tablet concept looks to be so far ahead of the iPad as to make it look silly.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 11:16 AM on February 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


> PowerPoint 1.0 was released in 1987 for the Apple Macintosh...Later in 1987, Forethought and PowerPoint were purchased by Microsoft

Yup. And they got Bungie after Halo was demoed for the Mac in '99.

Yes, I'm still bitter.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 11:16 AM on February 4, 2010 [5 favorites]


If all these things are true, then it sounds like they have had some SERIOUS top level management issues over the years.

Have you never seen a video of Ballmer? That man needs to be heavily medicated, and given no more power than your average janitor. I don't know what he did in his past to warrant becoming head of the company today, but he has clearly gone around the bend and out to sea this past decade.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:20 AM on February 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


The tablet required a stylus, and he much preferred keyboards to pens and thought our efforts doomed. To guarantee they were, he refused to modify the popular Office applications to work properly with the tablet.

What is truly hilarious about this is just how awesome OneNote is on a Tablet Laptop for taking notes or sketches. My Gateway Cx210 completely replaced the stack of notebooks and graph paper I was using for notetaking in college.

And really, what I want a tablet to replace is my current tablet - made of paper and run by pencil. It should be lightweight, fast to open, and easy to use while holding my phone on shoulder.

My laptop, as full of promise as it was, failed at that. It big, and bulky (only 6 lbs, but still) and took a minute or more to boot, and had no touch screen - requiring the stylus even when that precision wasn't necessary for the task.

It's unfortunate that the iPad aint it. I'm not sure there is any such device yet... but that would be the tablet I buy. Not some glorified iPod for seniors.

But CEO's and marketing types will never ever deliver such a device, unless entirely by accident - as this article demonstrates.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 11:20 AM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


"As a result, while the company has had a truly amazing past and an enviably prosperous present, unless it regains its creative spark, it’s an open question whether it has much of a future."

Good!
posted by markkraft at 11:22 AM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


donovan Today RIM is still doing very well (leading smartphone platform in the US)

I can't comment on unit sales or contracts, but based on web traffic, this is very very wrong.

One of my recent projects was a website for an American money/business/economy oriented magazine's mobile website. All throughout testing they assured us that "the majority of our readers use Blackberry phones".

In reality, 90% of the 100,000 page views we get from the USA every day come from iPhones. 5% come from Blackberrys and about 3% from Android. The remaining few bits is a free-for-all with Nokia leading.

Sure, phones on the Internet =/= phones in the wild, but it's a long way off RIM being the dominant device the editors thought it was.

In my office the smart money* is on Android having +20% by the end of the year, with RIM down to 2 or 3, and iPhone bearing the rest of the hit.

* for a given value of 'smart'. And a given value of 'money' for that matter
posted by sodium lights the horizon at 11:23 AM on February 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


their Courier tablet concept looks to be so far ahead of the iPad as to make it look silly.

that's classic MS, though. They demo concepts that don't make it to market, the way car companies do for a lark. Apple, to their credit, doesn't demo concepts. they just release products with innovative design.
posted by shmegegge at 11:28 AM on February 4, 2010 [7 favorites]


Criticizing Microsoft for losing to the Apple iPhone is like criticizing Apple for failing to invent PowerPoint before Microsoft did.

Geeze, Louise, have you kids never heard of Harvard Graphics? It was the primere package for DOS back in the day. Powerpoint was a cheap knock-off for Apples, which MS bought and ported to it's newfangled Windows pile-o-crap (2.x in those days), and was for years inferior to HG and Lotus Freelance, who were the #1 and #2 in the marketplace. PowerPoint was very much the weak point in Office.

PowerPont didn't really become dominant until the rest of Office started killing the competition, in the early nineties. It wasn't any good until Office97, the Office that matched with Windows95. Arguably, it's gotten worse since then too.
posted by bonehead at 11:29 AM on February 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


Today RIM is still doing very well (leading smartphone platform in the US)

I can't comment on unit sales or contracts, but based on web traffic, this is very very wrong.


One of the issues here is that RIM doesn't transmit over the regular net at all, it all passes through RIM's own backbone. This is why BBs tend to all stop working at once, RIMs servers are hiccuping. RIM is even doing this for web traffic.

The other reason is that RIM customers' killer app isn't the Web, but Office. This is the reason the browser on BBs sucks so hard; it's secondary to the devices' purpose. You get a BB to talk to your email, your contacts and your calendar, something none of the smartphones, Apple or Android do as well and as seemlessly as RIM phones do.
posted by bonehead at 11:35 AM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


I know how he's trying to spin it, but the opposing VP just seems to have said "I don't agree with your vision, and I'm not going to adapt my product to your vision." That doesn't seem like a contentious disagreement to me, but an opportunity to prove yourself right.

Yeah, an opportunity that this guy totally missed. He was told "Use a pen on your tablet, and you won't get Office". So he took the huff and decided he'd make something that wouldn't really work with the PC's number one attraction.

If he'd gone the other route, and said "right, need Office, but the pen is out. What do we do? We could try an on-screen keyboard. That means users touching the screen. That means a touch interface. Lets try that. Wait, what about those multi-touch demos that are kicking around? Could we buy some of that technology?"

Then, once they've got a multitouch keyboard up and running, the WinCE people come a-calling to see if they can use it for the newest mobile phones, to let them drop the awkward stylus.

End result of actually listening to the guy in charge of Microsoft's major cash cow: Microsoft is in a superb position to beat the iPad and iPhone, years before they even exist.

Result of Dick Brass stubbornly deciding nasty Office team were out to get him: A mostly-dud push into tablets, Windows Mobile a fourth-place joke, more of the same-old same-old Microsoft.

Agreed on OneNote though; that is a great app.
posted by bonaldi at 11:38 AM on February 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


Office dude was right about pen interfaces sucking.

Other than that, this certainly sounds consistent with my experience of contracting there.
posted by Artw at 11:43 AM on February 4, 2010


Just seconding Scoo's observation that pen computing rules the roost in a lot of creative disciplines. I'm the only artist in my office who doesn't have a Wacom tablet, and I get a lot of really weird looks.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 11:43 AM on February 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


The only thing they invented as far as I can tell was "Bob"...

They most certainly did not invent "Bob"!
posted by vibrotronica at 11:46 AM on February 4, 2010


Hypercard?

Weeps for the lost app.
posted by Artw at 11:47 AM on February 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


[rant]
From the article: 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. It employs thousands of the smartest, most capable engineers in the world.

As a web programmer, I'm very much in the "good riddance if it fails" camp. Microsoft deliberately used bad software and lies to try to destroy the cross-platform internet, crippling it for many years. In other words, when smart, capable engineers who didn't work for Microsoft threatened its monopoly, it didn't just try to compete -- it used its own engineers and marketers to reach out and crush their work. That wasted dozens of hours of my personal time, and set the progress of computing as a whole back by years -- which, if you think computers matter to human productivity and enjoyment, translates to an awful lot of sin.

(This is old beef, but if you're interested: "The more widely used variation, 'embrace, extend and extinguish,' was first introduced in the United States v. Microsoft antitrust trial when the vice president of Intel, Steven McGeady, testified that Microsoft vice president Paul Maritz used the phrase in a 1995 meeting with Intel to describe Microsoft's strategy toward Netscape, Java, and the Internet.")

So, I don't have a lot to contribute to this conversation, except a smoldering pile of rage. I'm not optimistic that Microsoft is going under, and it won't be for the right reasons if it happens, but lord do they deserve it. Smart, capable engineers who have respect for their profession should work somewhere else.
[/rant]
posted by jhc at 11:52 AM on February 4, 2010 [8 favorites]


blue_beetle: "Here's a good response from Paul Thurrott.

"So it's cute to point out places where Apple came in after the fact and did a better job. But Apple doesn't always win or get it right, and the Mac, for all its gains, is still a tiny, tiny fraction of the overall PC market. And while Microsoft is definitely on a downward spiral of sorts, let's not all pretend that everything it did didn't actually make plenty of sense at the time."
"

I would take anything Thurrott says about Microsoft with a giant grain of salt. The man's entire existence and income depend on Microsoft and having continued privileged access to its upper-level engineers and execs. Listen to a couple of his Windows podcasts and read a few of his articles and you will discover a consistent pattern--each will have a few mild, familiar criticisms of Microsoft to maintain credibility, the sort of criticisms that the entire world (outside of MS) would instantly agree with. The bulk of his content parrots the official Microsoft line.

Incidentally but not coincidentally, the two other shows on that podcast network that focus on specific companies--Macbreak Weekly and This Week in Google--suffer from the same sort of fealty and fanboyism.
posted by aerotive at 11:56 AM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


At worst, you can say it’s a highly repentant, largely accidental monopolist.

I'm incredibly amazed at how this man's mouth has the anatomical ability to spew horseshit.

There's just no way Microsoft is "accidentally" where it is. They have teams dedicated to undermining their competition. Their APIs intentionally malleable by way of reserved parameters for the sole purpose to keeping the competition from besting their work.
posted by spiderskull at 12:09 PM on February 4, 2010 [4 favorites]




From bonehead's link:

More history: the first time you launched Lotus 1-2-3 in Windows with the new DOS, the dialog box said "This program has violated system integrity. You should reboot to ensure proper operation of the system. If it happens again, consult with your application vendor."

Many products at that time used technology called a "DOS Extender" to allow them to operate efficiently with more than 640K of memory. Lotus 1-2-3 and Borland Paradox (to name two examples) used a DOS Extender which followed a standard called VCPI. This standard allowed these programs to work together in a primitive kind of multitasking.

When Windows 3.0 was released, it was based on an incompatible standard called DPMI that Microsoft had invented. I seem to recall that this was somewhat controversial at the time. In any event, when a program based on a VCPI DOS Extender tried to run in Windows 3, it wouldn't recognize that the processor was already in protected mode, so it would execute certain processor instructions which were actually invalid if already in protected mode. And that's why 1-2-3 failed in that fashion -- not due to deliberate effort on Microsoft's part.

DPMI was documented and announced probably a year or so before Windows 3 actually shipped. As previous versions of Windows hadn't seen any kind of success, vendors like Lotus didn't have a strong motivation to change their software to accomodate it. They were probably also occupied with OS/2 ports.

VCPI wasn't quite an industry standard at that point, but Microsoft's development of DPMI can certainly be viewed as a symptom of "not invented here".
posted by Slothrup at 12:47 PM on February 4, 2010


One last thing, and then I'm done: Microsoft has a response. Pretty uninspiring, if you ask me.
posted by Slothrup at 1:03 PM on February 4, 2010


spiderskull: "There's just no way Microsoft is "accidentally" where it is."

You could call it an accident of history. They got lucky when Kindall wasn't available to talk to IBM. I believe the founders even recognize it was a lucky break.

But this sentence does deserve the Iraq Minister of Information award for it's distance from reality. They found themselves in an accidental monopoly, and their business has been a parade of attempts to capitalize on this deathgrip on the PC desktop. Whether MS-DOS was an accidental empire or not, it lives on today through well documented deliberate actions.

Nor has the company shown any repentance. Sure, the engineers are all sorry, in roughly the same manner the members of the Manhattan project are sorry. But decision makers insist there has been no wrongdoing and that shareholders should expect repeat performances.
posted by pwnguin at 1:13 PM on February 4, 2010


I definitely see some trouble for Microsoft in the years to come. Windows and Office will still rule the roost for years to come but it seems in the next 10-20 years we will see more an more users migrating from doing their work on a traditional PC to some sort of device that runs an office-style app from the cloud.

It might be a smartphone/digital office assistant type device, it might be a set-top console, it might be some as yet undeveloped wonder device but it seems that more and more people will be doing their computing on a device other than a windows based pc. Combine that with the likelihood that someone will develop a consumer oriented low cost alternative to windows (OS X is tied to Apple hardware; linux is still too "techy") and I can definitely see the profits on windows (at least consumer oriented windows) being slashed.

Further if someday I can go up to any PC and open a browser and get 95% of the functionality of office through the browser I don't see any reason why consumers would continue to purchase office in the way they've been purchasing it over the past 20+ years.

I think long-term Microsoft will continue to entrench itself in the business market. After all the adage of nobody ever gets fired for buying Microsoft seems to dominate many businesses. Further the business market is definitely where a huge percent of those outsize profits tend to come from. However it already seems like businesses are becoming more an more reluctant to switch to a new version of windows or office just because Microsoft releases one. Many businesses seem to need to cut costs and if that old PC running XP and Office 2007 will scrap along for another year or two there is limited reasons to move to windows 7 and office 2010. This reluctance to move on from proven technologies will also hamper the ability to sell new technologies bundled into the officesuite/os because there will be concerns they won't work with whatever IE 6 based intranet the company has developed. Need to maintaining backwards compatibility for those business users seems to limit the rate of adoption of new tech.

Splitting up the company would probably net the shareholders some short term profits but I also think an alternative model would be turn microsoft into a holding company that instead of divisions actually has fully formed subsidiaries. The biggest subsidiaries would be the OS/Office one, then the consumer products (Xbox, Zune, Mobile devices), content delivery, other apps, etc. This would formalize the competition between divisions but would also free up the secondary divisions to look at alternatives to windows/office if the market demanded it. The heads of the OS company would also have to be fair brokers to these subsidiaries as they could always take their money elsewhere.
posted by vuron at 1:48 PM on February 4, 2010


Accidental monopolist my ass: AARD Code Article:
The rationale for the AARD code came to light when internal memos were released during the United States Microsoft antitrust case. Internal memos released by Microsoft revealed that the specific focus of these tests was DR-DOS. ... Microsoft Senior Vice President Brad Silverberg later sent another memo, stating: "What the [user] is supposed to do is feel uncomfortable, and when he has bugs, suspect that the problem is DR-DOS and then go out to buy MS-DOS."[3]
The code was present (but disabled) in windows 3.1- and apparently was only disabled following discovery by Dr. Dobb's Journal. Microsoft's long and obnoxious history of anti-competitive behavior is clearly what motivated Google's "Don't Be Evil" slogan. Ask Netscape, ask Stacker, ask Gary Killdall if any of the ways that Microsoft fucked them over were accidental.
posted by jenkinsEar at 2:01 PM on February 4, 2010 [6 favorites]


Kildall, not Kindall or Killdall. Sorry to pick nits, but when there's two misspellings of the guys name in one thread I can't help myself.
posted by BrotherCaine at 2:09 PM on February 4, 2010


I don't understand the obsession with cleartype and anti-aliased fonts in general.

And I don't understand why some people hate it. For me, it makes fonts at all sizes look better, all the time. I also like Apple's font rendering better, since it results in more natural-looking letterforms. I want to forget that I'm looking at pixels. I don't understand why people describe it as being "blurry." It looks plenty crisp and sharp to me, and I have excellent vision. Someone should do a study on why antialiased font rendering is so polarizing.

Oh well, most of this will be moot once 300DPI displays are commonplace. And that will be coming soon.
posted by zsazsa at 2:14 PM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


INTERESTING STUFF
posted by turgid dahlia at 2:21 PM on February 4, 2010


Makes me wonder what would happen if Apple ever released its own stand-alone console

It would cost 1000, use an old school atari 2600 joystick and have 4 games available for it.
[cough cough]
posted by verb at 2:23 PM on February 4, 2010


I think ClearType performs differently depending on what kind of LCD display you have. There is a ClearType tuner app from MS that allows you to tweak it for oddball displays like BGR. I know the shimmery colored edges to fonts on some systems gave me quite a bit of a headache at first.
posted by BrotherCaine at 2:24 PM on February 4, 2010


Largely an aside:

delmoi: One of things I hated about Macs is that all the text is blurry.

Macs have a different philosophy of text rendering. Windows renders fonts primarily for the screen; it will change the shape of fonts, sometimes by a fair bit, to align them on the screen's pixel grid. This means that 'print preview' really isn't.... if you print out a document, and hold it up next to the screen, you will see definite differences in letter shapes and spacing. It's not usually dramatic, but it's there.

Macs render everything as it's intended to print out; this comes from their strong roots in desktop publishing. It means that the screen will match very, very closely to a printed document, but the letters will be blurrier, because they weren't reshaped to fit the screen pixel grid.

Macs, in other words, get the shapes right, and Microsoft makes the edges sharp.

I suspect that, for most of us, the Microsoft approach is probably better, since we spend so much time purely on-screen these days. If the letters are slightly deformed but more readable, that's a good tradeoff if you're not a publishing professional.

I'm not sure what's up with your complaint about Cleartype being blurry, though. I can see the color fringing myself, but it doesn't look at all blurry to me. It looks much sharper than regular anti-aliasing.
posted by Malor at 2:26 PM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Microsoft had Windows smartphones in the marketplace well before Apple.

Microsoft doesn't make smartphones (or computers). That's part of their problem, having to support endless numbers of different hardware configurations and in trying to please everyone failing to please anyone.

I wonder why Dick is a former VP? There seems to be a hint of sour grape in the air.
posted by MikeMc at 2:34 PM on February 4, 2010


ARGH, again I get to the thread way too late.

I'll take a stab at it: Microsoft is from the pre-Internet desktop computer era. They make very successful desktop software. But they're not very good at making Internet software.

Apple is almost as old as Microsoft and they're not doing too badly so far with the Internet, provided you don't need Flash.

Microsoft got its start making versions of BASIC for the Altar 8800 computer, a computer without a monitor. Obviously this explains why it took them so long to develop DirectX.
posted by JHarris at 3:11 PM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Because they are failing to grow in any meaningful way. Their core business (Windows and Office) is still the only thing they've succeeded at in a decisive way. The Xbox may be the best overall gaming console but it doesn't have complete market dominance (compared to something like the iPod).
Why does a company need to grow forever? Microsoft has already switched from a "growth" model to a "payout" model where they pay dividends every year rather then trying to grow. That's the end state of a corporation, ideally. Companies can't keep growing until they eat up the whole world. There's a limit. Microsoft was the fourth largest corporation by market capitalization in the world in 2009. How big do you think they need to get?
One of the side effects of being a publicly owned company is that profits alone are not enough, stock price needs to increase as well.
Companies don't need to grow to boost their share price. They can do what's called "stock buybacks" where they take their profits and buy their own shares, annihilating them. That happens a lot, and it's a way of returning profits to share holders. Also, companies can pay dividends, which I think is more common. Microsoft pays dividends.
If all these things are true, then it sounds like they have had some SERIOUS top level management issues over the years. If I was at the head of a company and we were spending millions on one side of the company to work on something, and someone at the head of Office or whatever started sabotaging it in any way? They would no longer be working for the company.
Again I want to point out, this guy's ideas didn't get used because they're stupid. No one wants pen computing. Apple doesn't use pen computing, the iPad has an on screen keyboard. Apple tried pen computing with the Newton, and no one liked it. No one has ever liked pen computing and it would have been stupid for Microsoft to blow resources getting Office to well with a technology no one cares about.
Tens of thousands of Wacom/Photoshop artists disagree.
What does that have to do with Office? I'm talking about pen computing where you use a pen to input text. No one uses it, and that's what he wanted for office. Obviously you can use a pen for drawing just about anywhere.
Android's problems are a splintered market, since there are multiple firmware versions out there, and not the handset manufacturers are keen on keeping things updated. This means that as a developer I have to use the outdated Android 1.5 (or 1.6) if I want to reach the most people. Iphone developers don't have to worry about this.
You don't have to worry about supporting older iPhones, iPod touches and iPads? They all have different features. Obviously there's a lot more diversity in the android space, though.
I want to forget that I'm looking at pixels. I don't understand why people describe it as being "blurry." It looks plenty crisp and sharp to me, and I have excellent vision.
The better your vision, the blurrier it looks compared to other things on the screen. How can you 'forget' you're looking at pixels when you can see individual ones? Smearing letter boundaries across multiple pixels does, in fact, make them blurry. They letters look blurry because they are.

I'm not saying it always bothers me; maybe it's just a preference. And if we had screens with high enough DPI it wouldn't matter. But the letters are blurry, and that's a fact.

I'm not saying I'm totally against it. Just when I'm writing or reading web pages, it would be distracting. for looking at things that don't require a lot of reading it does look nicer. If I'm reading a PDF or something I'll sometimes boost the font size really huge and sit farther back from the monitor, in which case the 'blurryness' isn't as much of a problem.
posted by delmoi at 3:38 PM on February 4, 2010


i like pen computing, darnit. fitalystamp 4EVER!
posted by Zed at 3:45 PM on February 4, 2010


Microsoft deliberately used bad software and lies to try to destroy the cross-platform internet, crippling it for many years.

Ah, United States v. Microsoft. Those were the days. Microsoft's claim that removing Internet Explorer would cripple Windows was a lie, and they filed a fake video in court supporting their claim. On June 7, 2000, US District Court Judge Jackson ordered Microsoft to be broken into two companies, they appealed, and the Bush Department of Justice dropped the quest for a breakup of Microsoft on September 6, 2001.
posted by kirkaracha at 3:49 PM on February 4, 2010


stevenstevo: “Not sure how a company is failing if they have "continued to deliver huge profits." Public perception, quality of advertising, keeping up with Apple, blah, blah--none of that matters. Microsoft is software. Windows is a cash cow, and Microsoft has committed itself to dominating this market, a successful strategy to date. Not MP3 players, not electronic bookreaders, etc. Microsoft doesn't care about the iPad, at least no more than Dell, Cisco, or a lot of other tech companies.”

Exactly. This article is inane – it's sour grapes from a former VP who worked in the trenches with the drones and has apparently no idea whatsoever about MS's overall corporate strategy. On the long view, Microsoft is extraordinarily successful, and is setting itself up to remain successful. The fact that Brass doesn't mention even a single one of the ways that Microsoft has arranged itself to win – patent restriction, for example, or document format manipulation – is a strong indication that he has no real idea about where the company's headed.

He goes on and on about innovation, about development, about talent and usability and public perception. None of those things matter. They might form part of a successful business model on some planet far away somewhere, but they don't here. Microsoft knows very well that developing thoughtful, intelligent, usable software, software that makes the world a better place and helps people everywhere use computers, is not the major moneymaker - at least not for them, in the position they're in. So they've been very practical about the whole thing, pursuing exactly the avenues of capital that they probably should to keep the company profitable. They've arguably received more patents than any company in history ever has - I don't know what it is now, but I know it's in the eight or nine thousands - many of them patenting ridiculous or frivolous aspects of software in a stopgap effort to retain strong control over the legal aspects of software. And they've meddled internationally in the XML document formats, ensuring that their fairly twisted pseudo-'open' document format remains king of the hill - and therefore that Office retains its market share. The last ten years at Microsoft have represented a very sober and practical realization that doing business is really not about being a major innovator - innovators always fail. It's about being the market leader, and that sometimes means being against innovation.

Of course, as a software organization, Microsoft will always be crap. They will always produce substandard stuff, and that makes sense - the whole point of being the market leader is to make sure that you can churn out any old nonsense and people will pay you for it. On the level of software, Microsoft will always suck. But they'll always make more money than anybody else.
posted by koeselitz at 3:52 PM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


This discussion reminds me of a book written by the then-President of PepsiCo, The Other Guy Blinked: How Pepsi Won the Cola Wars. Fascinating read. Compelling. A great piece of PR.

Point of fact:
Most popular soft drink in the world, prior to "The Cola Wars": Coca Cola.
Most popular soft drink in the world, at publication of the book: Coca Cola.
Most popular soft drink in the world, today: Coca Cola.

Anyone see a trend? If #1 in the world, undisputed, is "blinking", well, then, yes: Microsoft is failing dramatically. But until its market share takes second place, and shares plummet in price, it don't mean squat.
posted by IAmBroom at 3:55 PM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'll take a stab at it: Microsoft is from the pre-Internet desktop computer era. They make very successful desktop software. But they're not very good at making Internet software.

I disagree.

I would argue that they've adapted to the internet era quite well (and quickly) since the time Bill Gates called it a passing fad in 1994. Xbox Live has already been noted above, but Xbox Live is part of a larger experience.

Furthermore, much of their business isn't so much the desktop software anymore, but rather services like Exchange and Office. Office, for most of us, is just the most common productivity suite on the planet. However, how many have actually gone over and checked out Office Live? Log in with your Xbox Live account; it'll work, because it's really a Live account.

People like to comment on Google's very public efforts at web productivity and how they're really pushing the envelope. Maybe. But it doesn't mean others are not doing the same. MS quietly working on their own beta while continuing to dominate the business sector (the OS is sold to consumers, but I don't think it's hard to conceive that MS' profit is largely due to the prevalence of Office and Exchange -- seriously, how many Mac and iPhone users kept clamoring for compatibility with Word docs and Exchange/EAS). This gives them an in that Google does not: their desktop-based but server-centralized productivity suite is already entrenched.

In the meantime, Xbox Live pushes the family entertainment aspect and is doing quite a good job of it.

Windows Live, Xbox Live, Office Live. Whatever. It's Microsoft Live. It's internet era connectivity and productivity, and it's already here.

So yeah. Disagree on that.

As for Creative Destruction... dunno. They've been doing a lot of neat stuff recently.

posted by linux at 4:58 PM on February 4, 2010


I forgot to mention that I'm basically talking about Sharepoint.
posted by linux at 5:08 PM on February 4, 2010


They've arguably received more patents than any company in history ever has - I don't know what it is now, but I know it's in the eight or nine thousands

I understand it to be about 18,000. But that's nothing compared to IBM.
posted by Slothrup at 5:12 PM on February 4, 2010


Sorry, wrong link. IBM's worldwide patent portfolio exceeds 40,000 active patents.
posted by Slothrup at 5:14 PM on February 4, 2010


Windows Live, Xbox Live, Office Live. Whatever. It's Microsoft Live. It's internet era connectivity and productivity, and it's already here.
...
posted by linux at 6:58 PM on February 4 [+] [!]


Eponysterical.
posted by delmoi at 6:04 PM on February 4, 2010


linux: “I forgot to mention that I'm basically talking about Sharepoint.”

Yeah, I could tell. And wanted to say: holy god, are you serious? It sounds like you've never actually worked with the infernal tool of Satan known as Sharepoint. You're describing what ought to be, in principle, the simplest and most ridiculously easy-to-implement idea ever imagined - coordinated document serving. It ought to be a very, very easy thing to do - seriously, the capabilities to do this were around in fucking 1968, for heaven's sake, and we were pretty much doing it then, anyway, just because of the way servers work. It's like a definition of the core function of a server, in fact.

Whereas Sharepoint makes this process ridiculously complicated, perversely so, requiring all sorts of odd logins and a level of corporate connection to Microsoft itself that would seem perverse if most of the people using Sharepoint understood the basic simplicity of the things they want to do.

But actually Sharepoint is an excellent example of what we're talking about - it's one of the reasons Microsoft is playing it smart and continuing to be the market leader. Sharepoint is an extension of the neat trick they've managed with Office: they've introduced cruft and ridiculously silly wastefulness into Office in such a careful way that their market share has been preserved, because Office is the only program which can open documents in its particularly senseless way - no open-source program could ever come close to repeating all of those bugs and errors and display sillinesses. And since they already have the larger share, their share just grows, since business people don't pick software based on whether it works; they pick software based on what everybody else is using, and based on whether they can see what everyone else is seeing. (Microsoft tried to do the same thing with Internet Explorer, with less than stellar results.) Sharepoint is wonky and ridiculous, but it's wonky and ridiculous in a peculiar way, and it preserves the necessity of using Office and having Office installed to do anything useful. (The thing about being able to log in to Office Live with an Xbox Live account is cute, but it means nothing if you don't have an expensive license to use Office in the first place.) That's not power; that's paying money to give Microsoft a monopoly. But Sharepoint is hugely successful because people in business don't really want power; they want basic compatibility, and they'll put up with buggy trash if it means compatibility. Sharepoint is that buggy trash.

Believe me. I've had to set up the servers before. And I presented options for doing it more cleanly and more directly over a VPN a dozen times during the process; but I was told, over and over: "everybody's using Sharepoint, so we're going to use Sharepoint."

Microsoft stays on top because they know that staying on top is not about making functional software. It's about getting people to accept shit like Sharepoint, Excel, Word, and all the rest. And they've succeeded tremendously at it.
posted by koeselitz at 7:37 PM on February 4, 2010 [8 favorites]


linux, you make a persuasive case, but I don't know anyone who likes those Microsoft Internet products. They don't seem to work very well, and they don't respect that the Web is a new place, a new medium. Not just something to shoehorn a 20 year old computing model in to. I'm deliberately hand-waving here, and I could be wrong, but..

On the flip side, it's important to realize that no one at Microsoft is deliberately writing bad software. No MS engineer sits down and says "I'm gonna make Word suck a bit more today when writing files, to make it harder for OpenOffice to read our format". There may be malicious neglect at the managerial level, not devoting resources to interop (particularly vis-a-vis the disastrous XML formats like .docx), but in general MS engineers are competent, optimistic programmers just like you and me.
posted by Nelson at 7:50 PM on February 4, 2010


No MS engineer sits down and says "I'm gonna make Word suck a bit more today when writing files, to make it harder for OpenOffice to read our format".

No, engineers don't make that call. Neither would test, usability, UX, UE, legal or other production staff. Instead, PMs, PUMs, architects, and managers make that call, because an engineer wouldn't ship it unless it was right.

Normally, the decision is rationalized by the old "if we waited until it was perfect, we wouldn't get to market in time to be profitable, so we have to balance pragmatism with idealism" saw. At one time, that rationalization was used sparingly, to ensure that devs didn't go too far down the rabbit hole to solve nigh-intractable issues and destroy a schedule. Now, it's been reversed - schedule pressure is the scorpion with which those who produce are scourged, and the floggings have lasted for years. The folks who could innovate have left, unwilling to lose any more skin to bean-counters and bureaucrats. The folks that are left are flogged increasingly, told to work faster, harder, smarter, and for less money & benefits.

(Disclaimer: I've worked at Microsoft, on and off, as both FTE and "dash-trash", for a decade now.)
posted by FormlessOne at 8:24 PM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


WTF?

10 years ago we were trying to figure out if MSFT was going to be successful in the enterprise versus UNIX. Now SUN is part of Oracle. Windows has a strong position in the enterprise IT space. Exchange, Sharepoint, on and on. Explorer has 80+ share, whatever. Bill Gates is giving away a gajillion dollars, and is literally the richest dude in the world. What a wanker. Office? Buggy trash. Word? Excel? Fail.

A huge failure, not pleasing anyone.

Hilarious.
posted by sfts2 at 8:33 PM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Nelson: “On the flip side, it's important to realize that no one at Microsoft is deliberately writing bad software. No MS engineer sits down and says "I'm gonna make Word suck a bit more today when writing files, to make it harder for OpenOffice to read our format". There may be malicious neglect at the managerial level, not devoting resources to interop (particularly vis-a-vis the disastrous XML formats like .docx), but in general MS engineers are competent, optimistic programmers just like you and me.”

'Important to realize'? Why would it be 'important to realize' something that isn't true? It is documented - it is demonstrably true - that there are fundamental errors in Microsoft products which stand to significantly increase its market share. Either they are the luckiest bumbling fools that have ever existed - this is the equivalent of stumbling over a pile of gold here - or they're doing this strategically. The key point to remember here is: software developers and engineers do not run Microsoft; businesspeople run Microsoft, and they make sure it makes the right decisions to keep them on top. For some examples, see the blatant and obviously artificially-introduced design flaws in OOXML described here (you can skip the 'digital nazis' screed in the first paragraph if you want.)

Or take the well-known and much-trumpeted moment during the antitrust litigation some years back when Microsoft's unofficial business motto was revealed: embrace, extend, extinguish. I get the feeling you haven't internalized what this is supposed to mean. It means: embrace a format; extend it in every strange and silly way imaginable, until the other programs can't handle said format; and extinguish the competition with a barrage of cruft they can't keep up with. It's a scandalous software credo because it means intentionally breaking things. But it keeps MS on top, and if you say "embrace, extend, extinguish" isn't intentional but merely accidental, you're saying that Microsoft has only accidentally done so well.

I don't doubt that every developer at Microsoft labors day in and day out under the impression that she or he is working to make a fine, workable, usable product. But those developers don't run the company, they are (of necessity) not privy to the corporate strategy, and, no disrespect to them, but they sometimes seem oblivious to the way the suits are intent on running things. They, like Mr Brass here, seem to be under the impression that Microsoft is in the business of trying to build quality software. It's not. It's in the business of making money. And at Microsoft's level, those two things are quite often mutually exclusive. Most of all, the suits know that paying developers is a costly thing, when they've already got the market share and don't need to do much developing to keep it.

FormlessOne: “The folks who could innovate have left, unwilling to lose any more skin to bean-counters and bureaucrats. The folks that are left are flogged increasingly, told to work faster, harder, smarter, and for less money & benefits. (Disclaimer: I've worked at Microsoft, on and off, as both FTE and "dash-trash", for a decade now.)”

I wish I could force everybody who talks about Microsoft to read this comment. Thanks, FormlessOne, for a fair inside perspective.

sfts2: “WTF? 10 years ago we were trying to figure out if MSFT was going to be successful in the enterprise versus UNIX. Now SUN is part of Oracle. Windows has a strong position in the enterprise IT space. Exchange, Sharepoint, on and on. Explorer has 80+ share, whatever. Bill Gates is giving away a gajillion dollars, and is literally the richest dude in the world. What a wanker. Office? Buggy trash. Word? Excel? Fail. A huge failure, not pleasing anyone. Hilarious.”

I've been saying this all along - Microsoft has done what it takes to succeed. That means leaving software quality behind and focusing on marketing. You aren't saying anything to indicate otherwise. Yeah, it's buggy crap. And Coke tastes like carbonated battery acid. You know how much that matters, when Coke has the greatest marketing machine the world has ever known? Acting as though Microsoft's market-leader status has anything whatsoever to do with software quality is like acting as though Coke's fantastic success has to do with them 'perfecting the taste.'
posted by koeselitz at 11:11 PM on February 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


The point I was trying to make is you don't need malice on the part of Microsoft's engineers to get where they are today. Schedule pressure, a cloistered worldview, a bit of sloppy testing is enough to produce tools that don't play well with third parties. Windows and Office are fantastically complicated products; the sad reality is it doesn't require special effort to screw up some XLS files produced by OpenOffice, it's going to happen on its own unless Microsoft makes significant effort otherwise. Which they have little incentive to do.

I'm trying to draw a distinction between the usual entropy of complex software vs. deliberate and malicious decisions like breaking DR-DOS or choking off Netscape's air supply. I believe Microsoft these days is not deliberately abusing their monopoly position like they used to, but that doesn't mean they don't still enjoy the benefit of mediocrity because their software is "the standard". The only way out of this legacy trap is a clean break to a new paradigm. The Internet is that new paradigm and Microsoft is not doing well there.
posted by Nelson at 8:03 AM on February 5, 2010


Yeah, I could tell. And wanted to say: holy god, are you serious? It sounds like you've never actually worked with the infernal tool of Satan known as Sharepoint.

I was arguing that MS is successful in the internet era of network-based productivity in the enterprise space, not that the software they use for this success is an elegant, superior example that should be held as a shining software standard of our time.

But to digress, Sharepoint is an older, more stodgy view of things. I would look more at how things are going with Office Live and all other Live-branded spaces. Just today, MS announced, finally, that Xbox v1 games will be removed from Live multiplayer on April 15. That means Xbox Live can finally move on to accounts having more than 100 friends and enabling mobile connects, something that was limited by the first iteration of Xbox Live and its continued support with the 360. This may even point to, gasp now, the continued viability of the Zune.
posted by linux at 12:06 PM on February 5, 2010




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