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back to article Microsoft's Ballmer and Ozzie tag-team on mediocrity

Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer and chief software architect Ray Ozzie put on a poor performance when quizzed by Walt Mossberg at the All Things Digital conference, judging from the live blogs of the event. What was wrong? They allowed the conversation to be focused mainly on competing products: Apple iPad, Google …

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FAIL

Scared

"Ballmer “disputes the notion that everything is moving to the cloud"

This is the typical defensive statement of a clueless PHB, who is scared about his current business evaporating. Microsoft products are (essentially) still centered around the concept of an MSDOS "file", neatly placed in "folders", stored on the "C:\" harddrive.

Even though they managed to integrate some indexing into Windows, they are still thinking in the way of the MSDOS PC.

If they had any clue, they would embrace, extend and extinguish their "cloud" competitors. But that would require a mental change and that kind of thing is too difficult to demand from a "sales guy" (as King Steve J called him). Sales guys need ideas spoon-feed and then they will repeat that like a parrot.

Problem is that the spoon-feeder has gone into retirement.

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Ballmer, Ballmer, Ballmer...what a to do!

"Microsoft does have problems but it also has strong assets. However, it is doing an exceptionally poor job of communicating its strengths"

Yep, 'cos they let Monkey-Boy do all the PR! Big-Gob doesn't equate to great PR mouthpiece!

Do you think Steve B even reads the PR guff the MS PR people give him? He never seems to be on the same wave-length as everyone else.

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Anonymous Coward

Too right on leadership!

I agree that Ballmer and Ozzie are not in the same class as Jobs, Ellison, or even Schmidt at present. They really miss Gates' gravitas and ought to get a new CEO quickly.

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I agree, but is it gravitas?

I'm not sure it's just gravitas. The missing two ingredients are the ability to shape a vision and to inspire others towards it. Ballmer has always been second class. He can only FOLLOW a script (with some effort), he cannot write it.

Personally, I see Ballmer's performance as the best evidence that Gates is indeed no longer influencing the company (having said that, Gates was seriously flagging too, he's had his day).

As for how much MS means - I realised today that setting up a Windows VM was a complete waste of time. I don't need it at all :-).

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Short Microsoft

...but I don't want to buy apple or Google.

Come on Redhat, buy Novell and make us proud...

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Microsoft's one & only strength.

Near ubiquity. That is it. Sadly, that's been it, for the last decade and a half.

It's not faster, slimmer, prettier, more useful, more secure, easier to use, or easier to program for, than any of the competition.

And the punters are beginning to notice ...

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Anonymous Coward

@jake

Well stated, and spot on.

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Paris Hilton

are they really noticing?

from what I've seen, there is a complete lack of noticing that Microsoft has failed at and loses billions every quarter on everything not tied to their PC Windows OS.

It sure looks to me like Ballmer is obsessed with Apple and Google and all he can think about is how to "kill f***'n Google" and same goes for Apple. Ozzie is just a geek who did some good work for Lotus but seems lost at Microsoft where they seem to be better at keeping innovators from producing anything innovative while the rest of Microsoft is out trying to copy what's new and make it work on Windows.

It's great that Ballmer is now in control of directing Windows CE. I'm sure that'll make it much better. ha

Paris because she doesn't care what other think.

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Go

Mediocrity is the word

Lets look at basics :- if you want to sell to individuals in huge numbers, you need fantastic design and brilliant marketing. Apple get it. If you want to sell to business, you need rock solid products, with very slow evolution not huge leaps. Sun and Linux get it. If you try and do both, or switch between the two, you eventually just end up looking stupid and fall between the cracks. MS should have stuck to what they were good at - simple desktop single user OS, not secure, not suitable for continuous use, but easy to use for your average Mick. Windows mobile and other distractions? Big fail.

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Anonymous Coward

strengths

"Microsoft does have problems but it also has strong assets. However, it is doing an exceptionally poor job of communicating its strengths."

Microsoft's assets are lethargy, inertia and monopoly rent. Would you really want to communicate those strengths?

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Beancounter mentality

Ballmer is nothing. No ideas, no drive, and let's not even think about vision.

Heck, I could do his job.

By the way, I'm on the market . . .

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Microsoft has strong assets?

>Microsoft does have problems but it also has strong assets. However, it is doing an exceptionally poor job of communicating its strengths.

You can't begin to solve the problem until you first admit to yourself there is a problem. Look at the latest mini-msft post. This guy nails it every time. Steve Ballmer has at least today finally admitted that they have a problem: "we missed an entire cycle in mobile." Without focusing on the fact that it took 2 years to come to this stunning revelation - this is only the first step of many to find the solution.

Program managers and above at Microsoft have goals. Their goal is almost required by company tradition to be "make my product the industry standard". It's not about making a great product that pulls the world to them. It's about putting a spike in all opposition. This had worked for a long time, but it's completely broken and the innate failure of it is now revealed. People are starting to realise it now. These goals don't deliver innovation - they drive stagnation.

In this context the mission seems to be: Mind bend the hardware people to believe all the value is in your software, and they will kill each other (rather than you) to deliver the lowest margin hardware possible. Because in this world your software is an essential component, it's assumed that they must give you utter control of the user experience no matter how badly you screw it up.

Apple has figured most (but not all) of this out. It's not about these widgets. It's not about control of the market (though Jobs does seem to be a bit of a control freak). To apple it's about providing an experience that users find attractive enough to draw a huge mass of developers. This is the keystone that drives the rest of it, and so the point of this needle is enabling people to do stuff they couldn't do before, and enabling to do these things in a way that's easy for them, and gets out of their way the rest of the time. Jobs thinks holistically though - it's about money and once the tip of the needle is in you have to drive it home to get all of the money.

So Jobs' vision includes letting third parties develop an ecosystem where third parties compete to enable customers in new ways - knowing that this gives him millions of new features he couldn't afford to develop even with his teeming billions and at the same time absolves him of guilt for somewhat poor features bought from third parties - but he still gets a cut. Apple isn't at all interested in gaining control of the PC market - they're only interested in gaining control of the profitabe 10% of it. For all of them HP and Dell can kill each other over the 0% margin desktops, laptops and servers hoping to get their money on services.

Media, social networking and ads are important features Steve Jobs is pulling together well. Believe it or not, people do want advertisements. People just want advertisements which are laser-focused on the specific thing they want - even if it's "Happy hours at taverns within one mile of my current location" (a topic of recent conversation and iPhone app demonstration). They just want advertisements interspersed with unbiased and credible information like reviews. This empowers people in that it allows them to find the vendors who care to advertise easily, in a way that doesn't threaten their freedom of choice, in a contextually relevant way. If you 're in Boston, Happy Hours that end 20 minutes from now in Tampa Bay are not relevant, but ads mixed with reviews of establishments within 1/4 mile of you that have a happy hour that extends into the next hour are relevant.

The Apple iLife is not for everybody. Steve Jobs is opposed to porn apps for example, so you can't get them on your iPad or iPhone unless its jailbroken. Anybody who thinks this is a moral issue for Steve Jobs is just a fool. As far as I know Steve Jobs is a grownup, and most adults know that "The Internet is for porn". It's about money, about being presentable. These Apple products still feature a browser and codec, and that's all an adult needs to find any type of content they desire. But you can't be seen to deliberately facilitate porn to be a credible vendor for the larger market that includes corporates and government agencies that can't be seen to support porn. It's somewhat like the celebrities who make sex videos to rescue their careers and place them with distributors so they can sue & settle for a cut. It's a sham. Porn's not the only example here though.

In the end your iProduct is about getting to pay more for it that it costs to make by a certain percentage (some say 40%). Jobs extends this a little bit, adding that it must also enable you to buy things after the fact that provide contiuing profits at near zero cost by being a broker rather than a seller. Your iProduct becomes a store where you can purchase the objects of your desire (advertised or searched) when YOU want to, any hour of the day or night. This is a great deal for Apple, for the advertiser, and for you. It's still not quite the ideal answer.

And then there's Android. The thing Android is about is that the Googlers want to play in this game. They don't have to make money on it right away because they're doing fine in search and advertising for that so they give it away - unless you want the Google apps too, and then there's a fee. But giving people choice enamors them to you. Apple made exclusive deals with AT&T for wireless and data plans, and that created a vacuum because other vendor OS products suck. But other cellular providers and handset makers that service them need a credible platform to sell if they can't get the iPhone. Windows Mobile 7 ain't it - it was promised 18 months ago and isn't delivering. In Cellular, that's forever. The other providers MUST have product that's shippable and showable, or they're toast - and that creates a vacuum when they can't get the hot new iPhone. It's not Google's fault they were sucked into this hole: nature abhors a vacuum.

But the Android developer market is open to everybody, even if they sell porn. It's a wide open field that attempts no control over the developer. People write apps and sell them, and if they sell them so be it. If they can't get clearance for the app store, they can offer their app from any website because Google allows that in their Android OS.

I hope eventually that Android wins. To me it's not about the widget, but about what I can do with it. If I plunk down my hard-earned cash for a hardware platform I want to OWN it. I want it to obey me and nobody else. I want it to let me do whatever I want regardless of the motivations of its vendor. If I can get that platform then what it can do for me is ultimately ANYTHING I want because if I have a desire then it's probably common enough to drive a market to serve it

But if it happens that Apple redefines the world so much that they kill or at least dimininsh the power of Microsoft, well that's one impediment to progress I won't miss. I want progress to resume and grow, as it did in the '80's. If that's what it takes to buy freedom from the prevention of progress that Microsoft means to me, I'll pay it and hope we can kill the new devil one day.

This post doesn't have a lot of Microsoft in it. I want to have something to say about their current mobile, tablet and CE products. But it's been two years since they promised them and they're not here. The remarkably innovative products announced this week do not promise to ship this year. Given that things change real fast in IT, it's best to assume they got nothin'. Their old strategy has been worked around. Maybe now they should try innovation: giving us what we want, rather than controlling what we can get. If they can't focus on empowering and enabling us to do the new and interesting things we want, of what use are they?

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"Believe it or not, people do want advertisements"

Sure we do!

> even if it's "Happy hours at taverns within one mile of my current location"

And I want to be geo-stalked and my buying habits collected so the ads can be 'laser-focused' to my needs. I am but a point of entropy in this consumerist world. Bring on the future!

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title

tl;dr

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Oh, yeah, and I almost forgot...

You make a good point about Jobs not wanting pr0n on the App Store, but what about his censorship of political cartoons?

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People want ads, do they?

Then, why do so many people -- including myself -- get up to take a piss or make a sandwich or get a beer when a commercial comes onto the TV, or use AdBlock, or FlashBlock, or NoScript?

Hell, if I want to find a bar with a happy hour within a mile of where I am, I can just walk a block or two and take a glance around with my own personal eyeballs. I don't need ads jumping up and sucking down bandwidth and data -- which I'm _paying_ for, mind you -- for that.

Still, I gave you an up-vote, because that really was an excellent post.

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Progress in the '80's

"I want progress to resume and grow, as it did in the '80's."

I think if you're trying to imply that there was no progress in the 90's, because Microsoft stopped it happening, I'd have to say that your medals are showing. if it wasn't for the success of Windows 95, the Web today would be a very different place. In some ways a better place, in some ways a far less interesting place, but the Web became what it is today because Microsoft made provided an operating system that made the notion of a computer in the home something that "normal" people wanted to have.

There's something about the culture at Microsoft that slows down a lot of projects (and there are exceptions, such as Silverlight, that highlight this), and as you pointed out, the world is too nimble for that.

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Gates Halo

Bad management

The sad thing is, I bet MS have some incredible talent that really want to take things to the next level, but you just feel it's all getting cut off at management level before it even gets a whiff of public exposure.

They need a major revamp of their management hierarchy, starting at the top. I'm sure Ballmer is good at what he does, but he always strikes me as a telesales team leader, not a visionary CEO of a major tech company. He just doesn't 'get it', simple as.

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Where's the vision thing

There's no sense of vision there. Everything is seen through the prism of the opposition, it's like Liverpool fans celebrating when they beat Man Utd but lose the league.

I don't much like Jobs but he has a vision and has his company working towards that vision. Microsoft products have some integration, but the only goal seems to be some corporate gobbledygook "we want to enable multifaceted synergistic enhancements to disparate information repositories". They're adrift at the moment.

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Anonymous Coward

@it's like Liverpool fans celebrating when

Yes, and winning the European Cup on penalties, having got to the final with a goal that almost certainly didn't cross the line, the Scouse twats.

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Funny

Funny how Ballmer said people can't afford 5 devices yet their tablet strategy is just that. Lots of smaller specialised tablets instead of one big one that does everything.

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Ballmer - technical skills ?

Am I right in thinking that unlike most IT pioneers Ballmer has never had any technical credentials ?

Gates, Jobbie, Linus, even the mad oracle guy have all actually been coders.

As far as I can see Ballmer has only ever been involved in the Business angle.

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Nope

"Am I right in thinking that unlike most IT pioneers Ballmer has never had any technical credentials ?"

Jobs was never a coder. He has vision, sure, but he's no techo

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