I would like to reflect a little on Ballmer’s departure. And to go agains Paul Thurrott’s argument that the Ballmer years weren’t all that bad after all. Paul, I love your blog and generally have a lot of respect for your opinions, but this time around, really, how can you say that “The results of Ballmer’s decade-plus time running Microsoft were inevitable” ???
Let me develop my point.
1. Comparing Apple’s and Microsoft’s success is a fair comparison. But justifying Ballmer’s failures by saying that he was protecting successful businesses, is wrong.
The truth is plain, simple, and inevitable: Ballmer had no vision. He was blind to his own industry, in the consumer market. I agree with the fact the was very successful in the enterprise market, no one contests that. And that is good for Microsoft. But I can’t count the number of blogs out there who list the number of failures they had in the consumer industry. It’s amazing. It’s incredible. There are so many you can’t event count them. Just to name a few: kin, zune, windows mobile 6.5 (and wp7.0 if you ask me), surface, vista, ie 6 and 7, live.com, etc… You name them. I mean, even so.cl is a complete waste of effort no one knows about. All the Bing features that were alive for like 6 months.
No that man has no vision. His reaction about the iphone is so ridiculous and so telling. The iphone was so bad that Microsoft had to copy it 3 years later, hiding behind an “innovative” interface, with “live” tiles, where actually none of them tiles actually does anything useful. To his credit on this issue, I will say that when compared to Blackberry, Microsoft actually reacted quite fast. Just the time to realize they were not selling anything anymore, and there was the new OS. 3 years later is late, but count one year of development. That means Ballmer decided to create Windows Phone 2 years after the iphone, which seems huge, but still not that awful.
But, then, why name the product “Windows Phone 7.0″? That is also extremely telling. Pretend that this is a 7th version, when it’s a brand new one. Come on! Use the Windows brand because people around the world love it? Come on! People don’t like Windows, they use Windows, and that’s it. How many people out there actually cursed Windows because their PC was taking like 10 minutes to boot? And failed? Had to restart? Blue screens? Etc… Steve, did you ever realize that people out there don’t all have super computers as you guys at Microsoft do? And that Windows can be slow?
No, they have given the product an appealing name, not that. Same goes for so many Microsoft products.
And releasing an unfinished product like that, just to get it to market, is bad for the company’s image. Just remember the no copy/paste issue. It was all around the press. And it’s a terrible habit that Microsoft has developed for almost all their products. Let me ask a question: how do you feel when you are requested to buy a product that is not finished? I’ll answer: disrespected.
And that’s my main point about Ballmer and his Microsoft: they never made consumers feel respected with their products. Compare with Apple. Everybody knows that Steve Jobs was a dictator/maniac about quality. And consumers loved to know that, because then they knew and felt that he took care of them. That he made his employees work hard for them. And that in the end, they (consumers) would get a perfectly finished product. And that is the main reason why so many people turned to Steve Jobs in an almost religious way.
And as a side point, the main thing that Jim Cook is missing: consumers aren’t sure that he’s as obsessed about quality as S. Jobs was. Cook is probably talking too much about shareholders, and not enough about consumers. And consumers don’t like that. He should understand that in consumers’ minds, shareholders are often the enemy. They’re the ones looking for short term profit, and polishing details too much often goes against short term. Of course, long term, just look at Apple’s stock price since 1997…
Anyway, so that’s what Ballmer did with consumers, he consistently sent them this message, that he was willing to sell them half baked products. He never took care of them the way Jobs did. And that is the main difference. And that has nothing to do with the Microsoft’s enterprise businesses or with Ballmer protecting those businesses. I can’t see how protecting Office actually can cause the Kin.
About his lack of vision, there’s also the Surface. I own one and love it. But the store is hopelessly empty. Why? The ads on TV weren’t good. Consumers didn’t bite. Same problem, no feeling of being taken care of. Everyone saw the Surface for what it was: Microsoft’s desperate answer to the IPad. Not for the expression of an inspired CEO’s vision. Not for the expression of his love for beauty. Because Ballmer has no such things.
I would add about Ballmer that his communication was terrible, that the whole Microsoft communication was uncontrolled, and that in the end, Microsoft’s image suffered from both himself as a person, and his lack of control of or will to control that image.
Another problem if you ask me, that is supposedly going to be solved with the reorg. I own an xbox. And Windows 8. Both Microsoft products. Now, I am always amazed at how little integration these devices show. Why is that? Lack of vision. Missed opportunity. No one to copy maybe?
Take IE. Why do nothing for IE6 during all those years? Why only react? Why only copy? No vision. No inspiration. These are the answers. Is it because when you own a market, even for a free product, then you must stop working on that product? Well it depends. But for IE, how could he not see the importance of it?
MSN search, become live.com, and finally bing.com. How much time did he finally need to understand the importance of search? The first two versions were insanely bad. Crap results all the way, results in chinese, outdated pages, you name it. Better to have no product than that. Then Bing. Ok, I like the effort. But the whole thing feels somehow… disorganized.
Many Microsoft products share that terrible common thing, which is that “me too” feeling. That had to stop. And Ballmer needed out.
And about that outing itself, to me it’s another failure. Why open the door to speculation like that? Why announce it so early? Why not announce it when the new CEO is chosen? Because I feel this announcement generates so much uncertainty, among employees in particular (which I am not). But Microsoft’s internal culture under Ballmer is also a full and interesting topic. I’ve read so many testimonies of employees unhappy about the new evaluation systems, about how things changed badly when managers became entitled to fire someone, etc.
Well, one thing is cerain: the next CEO can’t be worse for consumers.