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back to article Steve Ballmer: Thanks to me, Microsoft screwed up a decade in phones

Steve Ballmer's greatest regret from his time at Microsoft is that he flubbed his company's attempts at smartphones and mobile computing. That's what he said on Tuesday during his first public appearance since stepping down as CEO of the software goliath. Speaking before an audience of graduate students, business owners, and the …

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sounds like

they're about to get blown out of the water on car audio/navigation systems too....whether it is Ford likely dropping windows or the new android/IOS stuff that is coming out.......

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Re: sounds like

Although the iOS for Autos sounds a bit of a sore thumb for the car makers. It only works with iPhone 5, 5s and 5c... No older iPhones and no smartphones from other manufacturers, from what I've heard.

That said, we have someone here still waiting for BMW to release a cradle for his iPhone 5s, he has had a 5 and a 5s, but still uses either a Galaxy SII or an iPhone 4 in the car...

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Re: sounds like.. still waiting for BMW to release a cradle

That would be covered by an Apple patent and cost more than the car no doubt.

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Re: sounds like @big_D

Ford at least were rumoured to be sticking with intelligence in the car but via QNX rather than the Microsoft product. I can understand the push towards devolving processing to the phone — apart from making it replaceable I think it also eases several regulatory hurdles since there's one testing standard for normal consumer electronics and another for electronics in cars — but betting on one or two specific handsets now when the car will probably still be in use by somebody in 15 years is silly.

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Re: sounds like.. still waiting for BMW to release a cradle

I don't know what BMW is up to with this. It's not as though it didn't have to license the details for the iPhone 4 cradle, is it ?

But the "BMW Apps" software and "iPod Integration" stuff is very poor. My iPod and the car audio fight at least once a week. It takes all sorts of voodoo to get it going again. And BMW refuses to acknowledge that there is any issue.

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Re: sounds like

Sounds more like Ballmer has no clue what he flubbed:

1) Not updating or even fixing widely reported problems on Windows CE for a decade, while they had north of 36% market share on a variety of portable devices, including some fairly nice HTC phones.

2) Allowing continuation of a moronic middle management structure, permitting mid managers to sideline each other's projects for office politics - like Microsoft's Messenger tablet, which pre dated Apple's iPhone by years.

3) Allowing Sinowski to manhandle Windows development, turning Windows 8 into a wanna-be dictator on your computer, rather than the obsequious butler an OS should be. More specifically, making the new touch interface the default only on touch devices, and leaving regular computer users to discover new features at their own leisure, rather than being forced by removal of everything they knew how to get their work done. Could have avoided the whole backlash.

4) following only Microsoft's new corporate tollbooths-everywhere strategy paired with complete disregard what would actually be useful to customers. Completely forgotten that Gates killed Lotus and Word Perfect with a razor sharp focus on what would make Word and Excel most useful to those users.

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Re: sounds like

I was thinking "Here", the Auto Mapping system was still owned by Nokia. It's a great mapper. What other things from MSFT does Ford use?

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Linux

The times where you had to pay...

To boot a computer are over.

The funny part is that they brought this over themselves.

It is said that sometimes one meets his fate on the path he took to avoid it.

This can not be more true of MS.

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The man is a priceless treasure

I can only hope that in his new role he provides as much entertainment as he has this last decade.

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Re: The man is a priceless treasure

The company he joined was a languages (interpreter & compilers) & tools company that had a nice shared operating system (Xenix). Sure they'd sold DOS to IBM, but that was just an upselling gimmick, like cheap beer in a Supermarket.

After 38 years with his leadership, the board decided the kind of CEO they needed was someone from a languages & tools background, with a nice shared operating system (Azure).

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Anonymous Coward

'We didn't put hardware and software together soon enough' he tells uni kids"

As Daniel Tosh would say; "And for that we thank you."

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Anonymous Coward

""The name of the company is Microsoft. Micro ... soft. It was a fundamental part of the founding principles: we were a software company," Ballmer said. "And yet, Xbox, then Surface, and now the phone, essentially we have a profile that will wind up being far more mixed in the future.""

I prefer to consider them a bug development company with an intricate specialty in frustrating the user experience.

"but said that the brand Apple has built for itself wouldn't be Microsoft's brand."

Of course not, the Microsoft brand is something no one wants or would pay a premium for.

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we were a software company

> we were a software company

Previously Bill Gates, Paul Allen and another ran 'Traf-o-data' which sold hardware to process traffic data.

In the early 80s the largest part of the revenue came from Z80 Softcards. Then there were mice, track balls and keyboards.

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almost magical

>"It was almost magical the way the PC came about with an operating system from us and hardware from IBM."

The OS was a clone of CP/M for 8086 written by SCP. What was 'magical' was the maneuvering and scheming. Selling it to IBM before buying it from SCP.

At the time that the IBM PC came out there were better PCs and better operating systems, including multi-user/multi-tasking ones that ran on Z80 (with memory management and 256Kb) and 8086.

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Re: almost magical

>"It was almost magical the way the PC came about ... and hardware from IBM."

Without the "IBM" label the PC probably wouldn't of been the success it became and Microsoft would most probably had been just another "zero-trick pony".

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Re: almost magical

Don't forget that the TI-99 was a 16 bit processor in a home computer even before the first 8 bit IBM PC

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"You're pretty genius in our business if..."

You're pretty idiot if you failed primary school English.

I note that there's no mention of "quality" anywhere. Plus ça change.

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Ballmer's "one trick" was to be put in charge after the shoals were passed and all was clear sailing ahead. All he had to do was pick a direction, and sail.

Instead, he was content for years to let MS drift on momentum, taking whatever came across the bow.

Then, when other ships appeared, sailing strongly toward their destinations, he grabbed the wheel and started yanking it this way and that trying to follow all of them at once, still getting nowhere.

Hopefully the new guy has a direction to steer and a port in mind somewhere this side of Never land.

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Meh

Career Milestones

Yes, Mr. Ballmer, history will remember your career milestones.

Hopefully there may, some day, be acknowledgment of all the careers you destroyed under your management, and the legions of those who limped away to seek their dreams elsewhere.

Cancer is not just a disease of the body. MS has come to represent all that is wrong with American corporate culture.

Slip away into the night, Mr. Ballmer. See if money equals fulfillment.

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Microsoft's future in under a bridge

Microsoft has done very well as a lock-in company. Now that the monopoly is broken, they can transition to being a legacy software maintainer - watch their prices soar. I am sure they will continue to throw money down the drain to enter the phone business. The carriers control that market, and will continue to exclude Microsoft. The new business where Microsoft has real strength is patent trolling.

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Anonymous Coward

Microsoft's "one trick"

Earning monopoly rent on highly derivative technology (often bought in, occasionally cloned in-house)

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Its always worth remembering

that those who are on the lecture circuit trying to make money from their 'achievements' are there because they are no longer achieving, if being in the right place at the right time can be described as achieving. Not that Balmer managed either.

Also hindsight is not very often 20/20.

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Twat

I didn't bother to read the article. I don't even trust the guy to understand what he actually got wrong, he's that stupid. Just sayin'.

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Re: Twat

Except he's a billionaire and you're, well, a twat.

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Happy

@csmac3144

Maybe he'd have been a trillionaire - but being a twat kept him down to mere billionaire status... ;-)

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Happy

Re: @csmac3144

"The fastest way to become a millionaire is to start as a billionaire and then buy an airline..."

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@csmac3144 Re: Twat

@csmac3144: You're right. On both counts! :-)

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Windows

My first PDA

was a Agenda VR3, back in 2001. I was impressed by the OS (it was Linux based, rock stable, lots of open source ports and synced OK with outlook) but disgusted with the mediocre hardware.

My second PDA was a ASUS A600. I was impressed by the hardware (lots of RAM, fast ARM processor, colour display), but not so much by the software. PocketPC 2002. What? No writing back data to the flash? All data lost, once the battery is empty? Outlook syncing only over "active sync", which had a nasty habit of messing up my contact list?

I thought Microsoft would surely catch up quickly, after all everything had been done before. Then came a row of PocketPC incarnations that had only one thing in common - they looked, felt and worked pretty much all the same and were unavailable for my poor not so old PDA, anyway. That they changed the name to "Windows Mobile", in case it was used as a telephone OS, didn't change much, either.

I wonder how it is possible to neglect a market for such a long time? It probably takes a very concious effort. I can imagine a bunch of clueless top managers sitting in a meeting room with meta-plan boards around them, filled with phrases like "minimalise efforts", "concentrate development on core business", "follow the vision", ...

That famous video of Ballmer, laughing off the IPhone tells one thing for certain. Microsoft thought smartphones are a low margin, commodity business. You know what - that might even be true for 90% of the market. He just didn't see these 10% that are willing to pay big money.

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Re: My first PDA

>That famous video of Ballmer, laughing off the IPhone tells one thing for certain. Microsoft thought smartphones are a low margin, commodity business.

I think MS basically failed to capitalise in any meaningful way on it's involvement in handheld devices (eg. PDA's and smartphones), which in some respects it largely had to itself from when it launched WinCE in 1996 up until Apple released the iPhone in 2007. (Aside: yes I know about Symbian and Palm et al, but MS were probably the player with the deepest pockets and a useful ecosystem largely populated by third-parties with a vested interest in Microsoft's success.)

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Re: My first PDA

Microsoft have a habit of reacting to competitors. Their Windows phones efforts could be seen a a reaction to Blackberry, and the customer base for both were business users whom everyone assumed would prioritise an efficient experience over a pleasant one. Apple, than Android, came along and opened up the customer base who weren't business users and who wanted an enjoyable experience - strangely, it turned out that customer base also included the business users.

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Re: My first PDA

They failed to understand what the PDA was all about, and tried to clone the MSWindows desktop experience onto it. I suppose most people didn't want to cart a desktop around everywhere with them.

I very much doubt they'll understand the current Smartphone experience either, much less be able to take it anywhere else. I know of only one case where Microsoft was capable of taking on a leader and replacing it: the Internet browser. But they've had over ten years to get used to the PDS/Smartphone/Mobile experience, and they're still flubbing it up.

PanAm is today's Microsoft.

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Re: My first PDA

>I think MS basically failed to capitalise in any meaningful way on it's involvement in handheld devices

I think MS basically failed to capitalise in any meaningful way on its involvement in Ballmer's missing brain.

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Re: My first PDA

> I know of only one case where Microsoft was capable of taking on a leader and replacing it: the Internet browser

IE was written by SpyGlass (it wasn't a version of Mosaic). MS killed Netscape by giving IE away for free (and thus depriving their share of the 'sales') and making it a compulsory install on Windows 98. They also 'paid' OEMs to _not_ install Netscape via an additional discount.

It certainly wasn't because IE was a better product.

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Re: Windows phones .... Blackberry

Eh? Win CE and Win Phone predated Blackberry.

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"laughing off the IPhone"

In his mind MS already "owned" that space and once MS owned a space they had it forever. At that point in history, Microsoft had never really been beaten back on anything.

I worked on many WinCE projects (from the drivers up) starting in the 1990s. Microsoft completely under resourced the effort and did not take it seriously. The market uptake was poor, mainly because MS did not listen to the market, but instead tried to tell the market what to do.

They put a lot of effort into marketing, but insufficient into development: net result was something that never lived up to its potential. THis disrupted the space, without providing a solution - all highly destructive.

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Boffin

PDA Space

The PDA market was mostly created by the Newton in the early 90's. It had even built up a thriving ecosystem up until Saint Jobs second coming got it killed overnight (his revenge against Sculley). But even by then, Palm had already entered the market and for years they were the leaders on the PDA business. MS was the ugly duckling there, mostly starting with their Handheld PCs (remember those?) then switched to the PocketPC format to compete with Palm. They had limited success with those, but the main problem was that MS just stuck the "Windows Experience" upon a PDA instead of doing something different. Hell, even Symbian was king during the early smartphone years, and that one's basically rebadged EPOC (we miss you Psion!).

Then there's the thing that MS loves to deprecate their stuff. Look, we have Windows CE! Oh no, now it's Windows Mobile! Oh no, scratch that, Windows Phone 7 is totally new and anything from WinMo won't work here! Eventually the developer base evaporated and went to platforms that didn't do the deprecation dance every 2 years. Oh yes… and MS is responsible for the death of the one platform that did survive the PDA to Smartphone transition: Symbian. :(

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IS MICROSOFT AN INNOVATOR?

The innovation came from Steve Jobs ... or was it Xerox?

X-box followed the Sony Play Station.

Now they want to follow in the Smart phone market.

Microsofts strength came from its almost manopolistic position.

Exactly what innovation has come out of Microsoft?

Surprise us with a genuine home grown innovation!

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Re: IS MICROSOFT AN INNOVATOR?

Wasn't the key innovation to put 'good enough' affordable computing into the hands of the masses? A PC on every desk, a PC in most homes? A PC running Windows wasn't the technically best solution, or the most elegant, or most usable or stylish, but it was 'good enough'.

There are all sorts of reasons to not like Microsoft or their products, but to pretend that they weren't the driving force behind a massive and beneficial societal change is a little blinkered.

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Re: IS MICROSOFT AN INNOVATOR?

Sony PlayStation followed every previous console too, and was a result of Nintendo's falling out with Sony over building a SNES CD.

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Re: IS MICROSOFT AN INNOVATOR?

>There are all sorts of reasons to not like Microsoft or their products, but to pretend that they weren't the driving force behind a massive and beneficial societal change is a little blinkered.

But the change would have happened more quickly without Microsoft.

16-bit consumer computing with pre-emptive multitasking, graphics and sound was already available by the mid-80s in the Amiga. Other windowed GUIs were already available from DR (Gem) and Apple.

And what did MS give the market? DOS.

Without MS competition in both software and hardware would have accelerated, and it's likely the Internet would have happened 2-3 years earlier, the mobile/social thing would have happened 5 years earlier, and home computing would be doing interesting things with AI we haven't even got around to thinking about yet.

MS didn't create the PC market. What MS did was kill all competition and create a monopoly selling stupid, crippled, boring, computers designed for managers and secretaries to home users, who were then forced to think like office drones just to get the damn things to half work.

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Re: IS MICROSOFT AN INNOVATOR?

Well, because of file formats and binary compatibility, it's difficult to see how the pc market would have been anything other than one of os consolidation. Microsoft certainly did what it could to fend off all threats, using it's accidental success and leverage.

As to the internet, Microsoft missed it, which is good, because by the time they noticed it, it got too big for them to find the place to set up a tollbooth. HttpRequestObject was an innovation that changed the internet for the better, and that is a big feather in their cap.

It felt to me as though the driving force for change was hardware. It's why we upgraded software, cycled out machines every 2 to 3 years.

But, I don't want to take any thing away. Microsoft was in business to make money and so in some places it made rain and in some places it rode waves. As we all do.

From my point of view, where it went sour was Microsoft's response to the Internet, java, and Linux. Rather than having confidence in the quality of their products, they decided to focus all their guns on those threats and, if the customer experience was degraded, so what? Like the customers would go and get Macs or something? Well, not many did, to be sure. But a lot of the power users did, and that got the smart folks inside and outside of Apple thinking of how to abstract away Windows from getting interesting things done.

That's history. Doesn't really matter, here and now are still the same. If you like Windows, the great news is they're still at it.

Here's the thing about Ballmer. I know he's a smart guy, but he doesn't have a journalist's bone in his body. What do I mean? He can't see or express what's going on, if there's a dissonance between a trend and his loyalties.

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Re: IS MICROSOFT AN INNOVATOR?

" change would have happened more quickly without Microsoft."

That seems unlikely. For pretty much the first time in computing history the same OS ran on a range of hardware from a range of manufacturers and people could buy software knowing it would probably work. Windows95 was just good enough to bring in people who wouldn't otherwise have bought a computer.

"16-bit consumer computing with pre-emptive multitasking, graphics and sound was already available by the mid-80s in the Amiga. Other windowed GUIs were already available from DR (Gem) and Apple."

I had a number of Amigas and a Mac. Both were too expensive for mass market adoption. How much did an Amiga-1000 cost? How much was an Amiga4000 compared to a 486/100 running Windows 95? About three times as much money.

"And what did MS give the market? DOS."

Yes, and the market *chose* Microsoft.

Win3.11 drove homologation in the business world and Win95 did the same for consumers. Prior to Win3.11 my work environment had such an array of different machines and user experiences that anyone who didn't consider themselves a computer expert threw their hands up in despair. We had SunSparcs, a Mac Classic, a luggable Intel thing, IBM5250s for terminal access, a Merlin Tonto, heck even a BBC-B plugged into an EPROM programmer. Gradually we stopped using specific machines for specific things and began using whatever application we needed on a generic PC. It was a tremendous change.

"Without MS competition in both software and hardware would have accelerated, and it's likely the Internet would have happened 2-3 years earlier"

Windows led to an unprecedented acceleration in hardware design, leaving single manufacturer platforms dead in the water in a handful of years. That was possible *because* of a single mainstream O/S, not despite it. Consumer Internet became possible once 56K modems dropped into affordability and was largely enabled by large drops in the cost of telecommunications. I paid over £200 for a 2400bps modem in 1990 - how would the absence of Microsoft have removed that barrier to entry?

"What MS did was kill all competition and create a monopoly selling stupid, crippled, boring, computers"

That's your view. My view is that they enabled a dramatic increase in business productivity. They weren't amazing, mind-blowing machines, but they were just good enough and just cheap enough, and that's what the market demanded. If there was a better option on the table, that's what the market would have chosen. It didn't.

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Re: IS MICROSOFT AN INNOVATOR?

> For pretty much the first time in computing history the same OS ran on a range of hardware from a range of manufacturers and people could buy software knowing it would probably work.

Quite wrong. CP/M had done that half a decade before. Plus DRI also had compatible MP/M for multi-user/multi-tasking and networking. MS-DOS was just a poor clone of CP/M.

> Yes, and the market *chose* Microsoft.

Actually Microsoft made it almost impossible to choose anything else. With 'per box pricing', bundling and other illegal deals it was almost the only thing that could be bought.

What the market _actually_ chose was WordPerfect and Lotus123. MS-DOS was [barely] adequate for those.

> My view is that they enabled a dramatic increase in business productivity.

No. It was the _applications_ that did that: WP and 123. The reason that Windows 3.x on 386 became popular was that it could run 2 or 3 DOS sessions - something that other systems could do years before. WFW because it replaced 'sneakernet' - the swapping of floppies - years after other did that. Later there were Windows programs which entrenched it.

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Re: IS MICROSOFT AN INNOVATOR?

"16-bit consumer computing with pre-emptive multitasking, graphics and sound was already available by the mid-80s in the Amiga. Other windowed GUIs were already available from DR (Gem) and Apple.

And what did MS give the market? DOS."

So what you're saying is that the market had a choice between the Amiga and MS-DOS, and it picked MS-DOS.

MS didn't kill competition, there was massive competition between all sorts of companies fighting for their share of a market that was vastly bigger than it would have been if businesses had to choose between 7 or 8 different and incompatible systems.

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Linux

Re: IS MICROSOFT AN INNOVATOR?

"""So what you're saying is that the market had a choice between the Amiga and MS-DOS, and it picked MS-DOS."""

Not many people at the time understood what it mean to have a graphical environment, audio, multitasking and other things we take now for granted.

Commodore was the first one that did not understand this. The Amiga was way ahead at the time, but sadly in the wrong hands.

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Re: IS MICROSOFT AN INNOVATOR?

I would not like to say that Microsoft have not done well ... they have. But it has been on the back of others who have had the innovative ideas.

The PC was IBM.

Windows came from Apple who developed an idea from Xerox.

X-Box followed the pack Sony, Amega, etc.,.

The smart phone was Apple.

Bill Gates did a fine job by building his company but the innovative ideas came from elswhere. Sorry I may have missed something but it does appear to be fact.

Balmer did not even invent 'Rank and Yank' it came from GE.

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Re: IS MICROSOFT AN INNOVATOR?

Their innovation was to create the expectation that computers require lots of maintenance and are quite unreliable.

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Re: "to pretend that Microsoft weren't the driving force behind a massive"

"to pretend that Microsoft weren't the driving force behind a massive and beneficial societal change is a little blinkered."

If Microsoft hadn't been there, some other corporate arse would have been riding that wave instead.

It was simply the time for that change

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Anonymous Coward

Macrosoft

""The name of the company is Microsoft. Micro ... soft."

But ironically, there's nothing micro about their soft...ware.

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Re: Macrosoft

But there's plenty soft about their micro ... ware.

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