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back to article Microsoft takes a $6.2bn bath with aQuantive web ads write-down

Microsoft has taken a $6.2bn hit by writing down the value of aQuantive - the mega acquisition Steve Ballmer boasted would transform his company into an online advertising biz. The Windows software giant suffered the financial blow in its fourth fiscal quarter, which closed at the end of June and the results of which are due to …

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WTF?

How the hell does Ballmer keep his job?

Seriously, the guy needs firing. He's leading MS into a deep, deep hole, regularly getting major strategies badly wrong. As much as I dislike MS, we need them around to provide competition.

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Anonymous Coward

What on earth are the MSFT board doing?

Has Ballmer actually done anything that has been notably successful in his time at the helm? I'll allow that somehow he's done something worthwhile that I've somehow missed, but does that offset the repeated multibillion dollar mistakes he has made?

Seems like he's failed to do his job, and the board have failed to do their job by letting him make the same stupid errors time and time again. If I was a MSFT shareholder I would be exceedingly unhappy. Heads badly need to roll; that huge pile of cash won't last forever.

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Meh

Re: What on earth are the MSFT board doing?

I'm pretty happy with my low-end Microsoft keyboard and mouse, and SQL server 2012 is no worse than 2008, so by Ballmer's standards they're successful. But I'm scraping the barrel a bit I guess.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: "Linux will take over from MS"

Who is this single, unified, borg-like 'Linux' I keep hearing people talk about?

Linux will not take over from MS. Google and Apple will take over from MS; they've already made serious inroads in that direction. A Google victory is only technically a Linux victory. Google do not want to you see beneath the UI; they'd like to Chrome the world, and the OS kernel becomes another anonymous component, and the userland is nothing but a webpage.

And seriously, do you really think a PC manufacturer can change the world now? Apple has rather pulled the rug out from under them, there.

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Re: What on earth are the MSFT board doing?

The most notable thing that Ballmer has done since he took over has been to drive the value of MSFT down 50%. Assuming he's working for Red Hat, I'd call that "successful." However, if he's really working for Microsoft, then his tenure has been an unmitigated disaster, with obvious roadsigns of the Apocalypse ahead.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: How the hell does Ballmer keep his job?

But he created a nice tablet? I'm sure when Win8 flops big time there will be even more people wanting him to go.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: "Linux will take over from MS"

Google's OS offerings are all Linux based.

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Facepalm

Re: "Linux will take over from MS"

"PC manufacturers can change the world - Samsung did it with Android."

<Takes out Android device. Confirms that it's still not a PC. Shakes head at monumental pile of arsehatted tripe above.>

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Anonymous Coward

Re: "Linux will take over from MS"

@Eadon: "Look at Netbooks. they sold a lot of Linux Netbooks until MS stepped in and told OEM's to put XP on them instead."

What a load of bollocks. If Microsoft tried to strongarm manufacturers that way, they'd be in deep trouble. The simple facts are that PC manufacturers can't give Linux away - the manufacturers demanded that Microsoft continue to make XP licenses available after Microsoft had intended to stop sales of XP, so that they could actually ship a netbook that punters would buy, and not return 3 days later because they couldn't figure out how to use it.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: "Linux will take over from MS"

"The only place Linux has not been successful is the desktop, where MS forces OEM's not to sell Linux boxes."

All the places you has listed Linux's dominance are places where it wins on the basis of its technical merits. The desktop is not about technical merits. Desktop environment win or lose based solely on the merits of their user interface... something at which the vast majority of open source developers do not exceed.

PC manufacturers are unlikely to change the world now, because PCs are increasingly uninteresting the consumer market. The margins are thin, the market segment is shrinking. Why would anyone invest?

Don't forget the role of Intel in the netbook's demise, whilst you're there grumbling about MS; Microsoft didn't want to lose ground to Linux, but Intel was afraid of cannibalising its own low-end laptop market and so crippled its Atom products effectively committing infanticide.

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Re: How the hell does Ballmer keep his job?

We certainly don't need microsoft and I hate to say anything good has happened while Ballmer was in charge but win 7 is arguably the best version of windows and he was in charge during their only successful attempt at console gaming.

Just remember Bill Gates is still the chairman too. If he thought Ballmer was that off the mark then he's free to do something about it. If he stays silent because he feels he owes Ballmer then obviously he's not that good of a leader.

Microsoft is just too big. Their one strong point (desktops) is stagnating and they've never really been good at anything else. It's not just Ballmer. Gates was in charge during all the previous windows mobile / wince cock-ups, their set top box failures, etc. They should just stick with what they're good at and tell investors to suck it if they don't like it.

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Re: How the hell does Ballmer keep his job?

Given that a lot of MS stock is held by a few key individuals, I suspect that all Ballmer really needs is Bill Gates' silent support. Until Gates turns on Ballmer, his close buddy of many decades, Ballmer gets to continue making bad decisions. A shame... Ballmer clearly has no understanding at all of computing, or of Microsoft's role in the computing industry, or of his own customer base. He merely reacts with a panicky knee-jerk to whatever buzzwords the stock-market pundits are spouting this week.

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Joke

Re: How the hell does Ballmer keep his job?

Give the guy a break. He's dong fine in my book - let's hope he stays there for years.

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Re: How the hell does Ballmer keep his job?

I have no trouble finding someone who will sell me a box without an OEM Windows licence. They've been commonplace for years. Neither, to be honest, do I have any trouble finding an OS with a GUI that looks reasonably familiar, although bizarrely enough it looks like Microsoft might be opting out of that market next year. (Go figure, coz I certainly can't.)

No, the reason Linux hasn't taken over from MS is because Linux doesn't run any of the Win32 apps that people buy boxes for. Until someone writes that on a clue-by-four and beats it into the mushy pulp of the penguinistas brains, the year of Linux on the desktop will always be "next year".

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Re: "Linux will take over from MS"

> If Microsoft tried to strongarm manufacturers that way

Microsoft sells OEMs their products at a discount, and also has 'joint marketing' deals where MS provides money for advertising. These are only available to 'loyal' customers, ones that use Windows on all applicable products.

Netbooks were incapable of running Vista so technically OEMs were not being 'disloyal' for installing Linux. But MS revived the dead XP with limitations so that it could wave the 'disloyal' wand and have Linux disappear.

> they'd be in deep trouble

Microsoft are convicted monopolists in the US, but managed to get that waved away by a fairy godmother. In the EU they are up for huge fines, but they don't care, that is just the price of the business the way they run it.

> and not return 3 days later

It has been said that XP netbooks actually had a higher percentage of returns because of performance issues. This seems to have been mainly that users were trying to install software, such as games, that demanded much higher CPU and graphics performance than the machine was capable of, whereas the Linux users were happy with the software provided.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Competition?

Since when did predatory monopolies provide competition?

Microsoft's still-entrenched position grants it quite a lot of room and quite a lot of time before it runs out of steam --- but that end result is, and has been for a while, very much the thinkable.

I do wonder... what on earth ever was Ballmer's skill set, other than being a loud mouth? How on earth did Gates and co let him get where he is, and how long will they put up with him now?

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Re: "If Microsoft tried to strongarm"

Eat, beat and bully has long been Microsoft's business model. If you have failed to notice that, then I wonder if you work in this industry, or just chanced on this site on your day off.

Far from getting them into trouble, it has cemented their monopoly position. Ballmer's big feet though, seem likely to crack to the concrete.

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Re: "Linux will take over from MS"

> Desktop environment win or lose based solely on the merits of their user interface.

So you think that Windows 8/RT will fail then ?

> PCs are increasingly uninteresting the consumer market.

Consumer Desktops are primarily driven by the retail sector. Retailers stock what will make them the most revenue and the most profit. With Windows machines they not only make a margin (a small one) on the computer itself but also have a future of selling Office, games, upgrades, anti-virus and such which have better margins. They also have potential for servicing the machines regularly and selling a better one 2 to 3 years later.

If they sold a Linux machine they may not see that customer again for several years.

Windows 8/RT will break this. Metro will not be the familiar UI. Metro software will be sold only from MS's store. Microsoft will be opening competing stores. The incentives for retailers to concentrate on Windows machines will be gone.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: "Desktop environment win or lose"

Desktop environments win or loose on the basis of consumer/user demand. It was users that demanded windows PCs on the desktop in the first place. Many IT managers, especially of that period, like to fool themselves that it was their decision, but it was not. MS targeted their marketing at the users; the users demanded Windows in their offices.

Microsoft is still winning that game by control of the PC market. If they go on producing interfaces and software that users like to use, and if there continues to be perceived lack of viable alternative (nice try, Ubuntu: why did you then screw up so soon?) then they'll go on winning.

If any of that breaks down, then there will be yet another round of IT managers pretending it was their decision to have put the next big thing on everyone's desktops.

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Re: How the hell does Ballmer keep his job?

And nice phone (the Kin)

A lovely line of mp3 players (Zune)

And he's betting the farm on Metro!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: How the hell does Ballmer keep his job?

The guys a bit of a Dinosaw, i wouldnt go as far as saying he is a complete idiot because whilst some things have been a complete mess others have ended up quite good, however what i hold him completely responsible for is the perception of MS.

I frankly couldnt care less what you anti MS lot think, the reality is, for some people many of the latest MS products have been great, however the launch, the marketing, the whole sorry PR side to any product (Surface looks like its on the ball tho!) HAS been a complete mess, and if i was on the board, i would be strongly voicing my objections to a leader that has spent all these years and a crap load of money on marketing which has achieved nothing but makes the image of MS worse then it should be.

so as i said, the guys a dinosaw, a relic of decedes gone by with little imagination and no concept of perception, he needs to go or share the top spot with someone else.

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Thumb Down

Re: How the hell does Ballmer keep his job?

He's managed to destroy 98.4% of the value of the company in 5 years, probably a record even for Microsoft. Although they may break it with Skpe; 2011 bought for $8.3bn, 2016 write down of $8.2bn.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: "Linux will take over from MS"

"So you think that Windows 8/RT will fail then ?"

Trying to shoehorn a small screen touch-oriented interface onto a laptop is likely to be a poor decision, and pushing it onto big desktop screens is likely to be a grave error. The Metro UI is nice enough when used appropriately and I'm sure it'll be fine on a tablet.

I don't see any sort of "manifest destiny" for linux on the desktops of the masses. That doesn't make me a blinkered fanboy for any commercial interest.

"No, the reason Linux hasn't taken over from MS is because Linux doesn't run any of the Win32 apps that people buy boxes for."

Sure it does. It is just awkward to get it to do so. Apple machines don't run the full gamut of win32 stuff either, and that hasn't slowed them down in recent years. A related topic for you to think about: Android tablets can do most of the things an iPad can do; why does everyone want an iPad?

"Until someone writes that on a clue-by-four and beats it into the mushy pulp of the penguinistas brains, the year of Linux on the desktop will always be "next year"."

What utter tosh. How about instead of trying to beat anything into anyone, you go ahead and pay someone to make software for you. No? Then why on earth should anyone give you what you want for free? Linux devs owe you nothing. The open source community owes you nothing. In return, they ask nothing of you. Microsoft and Apple want your money, Google wants you to click ads. In return, they have to give you something that you actually want or you'll stop giving them what they want.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: How the hell does Ballmer keep his job?

Im not defending him at all, his an arse, but i dont think its just to pin everything on him and im Not sure where you get 98.4%?

your saying that the company is only worth 1.4% of its value from 5 years ago?

the whole company, lock stock, is worth just now approx $200,000,000,000, (200B) if it lost 98% of its value that would mean the companys total value was worth $14,000,000,000,000 (14 Trillion) thats so laughable im not even sure where to start on that one.

Unless you talking about share price.....but hang on, thats nearly 3% up on 5 years ago

So perhaps your talking about its cash reserve? well yes that has dropped in recent years possibly because of mult million (billion) fines and actual investment, cash in the bank gets you interest but it doesnt do much good, that needs investing to get increase development. Im not saying your wrong with your 98% but im just interested in knowing what it is your measuring

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Anonymous Coward

"However, the Windows 8 giant"

Did this copy of the Register fall through a wormhole from another universe ?

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Trollface

Re: "However, the Windows 8 giant"

Name one other company making Windows 8...

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Facepalm

Look what I just bought

It looks like Emperor Ballmer spent a fortune on new clothes.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Curse of MS

wish they'd buy my wife.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Curse of MS

wish they'd buy my ex-wife.

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Re: Curse of MS

Wish they'd buy Monsanto.

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Anonymous Coward

clear your desk Ballmer, ...

"Microsoft has taken a $6.2bn hit by writing down the value of aQuantive - the mega acquisition Steve Ballmer boasted would transform his company into an online advertising biz."

... you cretin

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Anonymous Coward

Microsoft's descent started when Bill Gates left the helm.

For that to know, you only need to look back into the early days of the company. There's one incident I remember very well and it is indicative of the (business-)person Steve Ballmer was back then and still is today:

I don't know exactly when, but at some point in the late 1980's Ballmer was the go-to guy in their cooperation with IBM. Microsoft was at that point enthusiastically praising their combined effort with the computer giant to develop OS/2, a new generation of operating systems. When Bill Gates began to focus larger and larger parts of their work-force on their own creation called Windows, Ballmer wanted to stay with IBM and OS/2.

It's obvious in hindsight that Gates had the right of it. By abandoning their joint development of OS/2, he started the ascension of a piece of software that would conquer the world and help make his company the largest of the world, ahead of giants like General Electric or Exxon Mobile.

I wonder what would have become of Microsoft if Gates had listened to his friend Steve Ballmer back then.

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Re: Microsoft's descent started when Bill Gates left the helm.

Apparently the company motto was BOGUS -- Bend Over and Grease Up, Steve. Maybe this is his revenge on Microsoft.

Or maybe he's just a prat.

-A.

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Re: Microsoft's descent started when Bill Gates left the helm.

You could just as well say that Microsoft's decent started when Ballmer joined the company, At the corporate start.

Microsoft has only ever had one big win strategy and that was lock-in and it was never going to last forever. By playing every kind of game available both legal and not-so-legal they have managed to keep it going far longer than anyone thought possible however once the Windows-Office upgrade or die merry-go-round started to wobble the whole of Microsoft wobbled with it. The rest of the company history is one long search for another way of making the easy money they became accustomed to.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Microsoft's descent started when Bill Gates left the helm.

OS/2 would have been better. When OS/2 Warp came out it had proper pre-emptive multitasking and full 32-bit support. It was better than Win 3.11 by miles and even Windows 95.

Microsoft did their best to break compatibility though.

The REXX scripting language was really useful too, Commodore licenced it in exchange for some Amiga technology they supplied to IBM.

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Vic
Silver badge

Re: Microsoft's descent started when Bill Gates left the helm.

> OS/2 would have been better.

OS/2 would have been a better *product*.

Whether that would have meant more success for Microsoft or not is a rather different question...

Vic.

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Anonymous Coward

Jack of all trades master of none...

Microsoft are spreading themselves far too thin. They decided to copy the Google model by buying their way into the internet advertising business and the internet search business and stuff like bing maps and what not.

Now they are trying to force their way into the Apple business of a closed ecosystem and tight integration of hardware and software. It'll fail they need to go back to what they do best

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Anonymous Coward

"... they need go back to what they do best"

The problem is, the single thing they do well is negotiate with the beige (or black) box shifters sometimes (rather flatteringly) referred to as hardware manufacturers. And said shifters don't nowadays wield quite the influence they once did.

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Anonymous Coward

Big bets huh?

Apple, Microsoft, Google, etc. all started out as small disruptive companies. It seems logical that if you want to create new multi-billion dollar business divisions the way to do it is to fund many small projects and hope that a few catch on. (Much like Google's original 20% system.)

It's Microsoft group-think to assume that growing the business means making these sorts of "big bets" especially when your big bets seem to mostly be acquiring companies that are obviously about as successful as they are ever going to be (aQuantive, Skype, etc.).

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Pint

Re: Big bets huh?

You're absolutely spot on. Bill Gates grew his company from infancy that way.

They were once only Bill Allen and himself writing a programming language called Micro-Soft Basic for a number of computer systems years before the IBM-PC existed. With luck, fortitude and aggressive business practices, he conquered the most important markets. Those are the operating system (where Microsoft managed to build decisive influence with PC manufacturers, creating the first ever standard, beginning with IBM), the office tools (where they made their first step into the business market) and later on the servers and services (which offered them unprecedented influence over many businesses).

Now, one has to understand that Gates was a very driven person who wanted every computer in the world to run with his software. While he never quite managed that, it was much more successful than everybody would have believed three decades ago.

But - and that's the big question - after Gates had achieved everything he wanted by the start of the new millennium, what was left for him? Microsoft was at the top, they had been able to dominate the ever evolving computer market for a very long time and Gates was advancing in age.

I'm convinced that Microsoft could have been supremely successful in the last decade. With Ballmer as the CEO and Gates less and less involved in day-to-day business, the company morphed - what was once the king of the hill is now an old and infirm pack-animal. Instead of a hunter on top of the food chain, Microsoft keeps missing important developments and spends most of their time following in the footsteps of the new up-and-comers (be they a revived Apple, Google, Facebook or whatever).

Microsoft's problem isn't that it missed the boat. Gates did that too, but he always tried again until he found something that worked. Ballmer on the other hand keeps missing and now the company has to play the difficult catch-up in markets that have been emerging for years.

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Coat

Re: Big bets huh?

I suppose when you buy a company it's because you need the experts and perhaps the customers of that company. But I think some big companies, like Microsoft, very soon, let those "experts" understand they are now lucky to be among the expert experts and it's high time to learn how to think and behave.

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Re: Big bets huh?

It's easy in hindsight to say that the Microsoft's success was all part of Bill Gates's strategy from the beginning. It is just as valid to say he took chances and rode his luck. He was in the right place at the right time when IBM wanted a choice of OS for their new PC and wanted them quick Gates had a reputation as whizz-kid, the right connections and a good legal background. Each of his competitors could only manage two out of three at best. I wonder how his Mother felt at the time when she found out he had sold her friends at IBM an OS that didn't exist.

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Re: Big bets huh?

That's exactly what I meant when I wrote "With luck, fortitude and aggressive business practices, he conquered the most important markets". Yes, Gates had quite a bit of luck in the early days, there's no denying that. He was either the luckiest man in the world or there was more to it. Thus it's undeniable to me that Microsoft wouldn't be where it is today without Gates at the helm. While he made decisions that would prove incredibly lucky in hindsight, he was also a ruthless business man and had many goals he wanted to achieve.

You're also wrong about another thing. Microsoft never sold an operating system it didn't have. If you want to know more about the early days of the software giant - including what really happened with the first IBM PC and its DOS operating system - then you should read the book "Hard Drive: Bill Gates and the Making of the Microsoft Empire" by James Wallace.

This book contains excerpts of interviews and quotes from multiple parties about what led to Microsoft's cooperation with IBM and how it ended. Here's the short of it: since the then standard CP/M operating system was only available in an 8bit version while the 16bit variant kept getting delayed, IBM asked Microsoft for their help. After some trouble with a referral to a developer, Microsoft ended up licensing and shortly afterwards even buying QDOS/86-DOS, a true quick and dirty operating system. This was Microsoft's first operating system and they hadn't even written it themselves.

There were certainly a number of (ideological) problems between Microsoft and IBM. The end of their cooperation only came years later when Microsoft started to focus on their own Windows OS instead of the shared development with IBM, while the latter looked to Apple for a continued development of OS/2.

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Mushroom

Chair?

But, without Steve Ballmer, who would throw the chairs?

Dave

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Chair?

The WinRT powered janitor robot

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seriously though...

..if you had 6.2 billion donuts to spare, would you waste it on some web advertising company with a stupid name, or build a spaceship? At least the second way you would have something to fun to keep in the garage when the whole crazy house of cards went tits up

Thanks for this though funniest story of the day : )

MS might as well just get free advice by grabbing a different civilian every day and forcing them to say "yes" or "no" at random to a series of business decisions. I'm sure they would be no worse off. Not that I really give a toss about the thieving gouging parasites, I won't let that Microsoft rubbish in the house....

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Anonymous Coward

"intensely committed" to maximising the "digital advertising opportunity fail"

There, fixed it for you.

Personally I'm fine with chief chair-thrower at the helm. Hoping for them to implode spectacularly was just too much to ask --too many (read: just about all of them) of the fortune 500 pumping gobs and gobs of money over to redmond for the privilege of preventing their computer-illiterate workforce to get serious work done also handily prevents that from happening-- so we'll just have to make do with them fading out and losing relevance over time. They're actually quite good at making boneheaded choices and squandering opportunities. Given the right environment, they will deliver. And they are delivering nicely.

The collateral damage (nokia, danger, u-prove, gobs of computer-illiterates with internet-connected and thoroughly infected cheap computing crap, demise of proper email writing skills, and so on) we'll just have to take in stride, or fix some other way.

No, "linux" won't take over. It just isn't that sort of beast and people, especially those pesky fanbois, should stop trying to make it something we don't need. Shit, go fix ifconfig already*. That senseless reinvention so common with the gn00 crowd is exactly what we hated so much in micros~1. Plus the lock-in of course, but that only takes an internet full of geeks to fix, and we've pretty much done that.

What we do need is tools to get things done. Tools for all people, from the (tool-writing original) hackers to granny so she can watch the photos-and-music-with-deep-insights presentations her friends insist on mailing her. We will also need tools to unstopper and free our work from dysfunctional but inexplicably still widely used "tools", preferrably in a way that makes getting out of dodge and leaving the crap behind easy as pie. "linux" can be that.

Chief chair-thrower is but one man. The internet full of geeks isn't outsmarting him. Go fix already.

* No, "ip" or whatever replacement is popular this week, plus a vague collection of all sorts of barely functional lower level "tools" like, oh "iw" and "iwconfig" and such, just doesn't cut it. ifconfig should work properly and incorporate all that functionality in a sensible manner. FreeBSD can do it, why can't you?

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