Monday, September 16, 2013

Week of 09/16/2013

Microsoft’s Ending Era of Ballmer Blunders
– by David Matthews 2

So Microsoft strongman Steve Ballmer is heading out the door… eventually.

It hasn’t happened by the time of this article, and it probably won’t happen for a few more months, but he will be gone at some point in 2014.

Steve Ballmer took over the reins of the software giant from founder Bill Gates in 2006, even though he held the “title” of “Chief Executive Officer” as far back as 2000.  And since then, Microsoft has… well it’s floundered.

Oh, sure, the entity known as “Microsoft” is making money, but it’s really not the tech powerhouse that it was in the preceding decade.  They’ve expanded beyond just doing software and some PC-related devices.  Now they’re doing whole tablet computers and cellphones.  And yet people would rather buy an iPad or an iPhone or play with PlayStation than get anything with a Microsoft name attached to it.

Now, granted, the anti-Microsoft and the Cult of the Apple extremists (and they are legion) will have all sorts of things to say about the company that “The Better Bill” built, and none of them good.  That is to be expected.  But I’m not in that crowd.  I don’t buy the script that says “Microsoft stole everything from everyone and they’re nothing more than technological parasites”.  If that is your personal malfunction with the company, then so be it.

On the other hand, I’m not an MS Purist either.  I’m not one of those people that worship all things Microsoft.  I wouldn’t be writing this kind of article if that were the case.  Microsoft is a company, nothing more.  It is not a church, it is not the end-all-be-all deity behind the Internet, and it is far from being infallible.  They provide a decent operating system, an Office suite that sets the bar for everyone else, and every so often they come up with a pretty good game like Halo.

If anything, Ballmer’s run of Microsoft has been more treading water than trying to advance any kind of a vision of how Microsoft sees itself helping society.  And that exposes pretty much the fundamental difference between Ballmer and Gates.  With Gates you had some kind of vision, like the kind seen in his book “The Road Ahead”.  With Ballmer you just have… well, whatever Microsoft has at the time.

Ballmer thinks that his letdown was with Windows Vista, but… let’s get brutally honest here… that was just the tip of the iceberg concerning the Ballmer Blunders.  His failings are numerous.

But let’s start with that one.

Windows Vista: Where to begin with this?  The concept was good, but the “successor to XP” was clearly not ready for prime time when it was released.  Yes, that’s par for Windows, but you would think that these guys would have learned by now.

Then there are the multiple versions of Vista, including a version that was Vista in name only.  Why the hell would people want a Vista-lite system that is “Vista” in name only?  Granted, not all computers can handle the new toys, but that’s been par for years now.  It means you wait until you can get the faster computer that can handle the new operating system.  Why was that so hard to comprehend, Steve?

Then, instead of trying to get into the good graces and make it into a workable operating system that people would embrace, Ballmer and Microsoft simply write the whole operating system off and told people “Just wait until Windows 7!”

No!  Wrong!  You don’t convince people they need to embrace the new operating system and then throw it under the bus!

That brings us right to the next Ballmer Blunder, which made throwing Vista under the bus even more of an insult…

Throwing Windows XP Under The Bus: So not long after Vista came out, Ballmer decided it was time for PC users to stop using all of those previous operating systems and embrace the new shiny.  He wanted to kill Windows XP right then and there.  People had to switch and switch right then and there.

Of course the PC community revolted and they petitioned Ballmer to relent, so Ballmer gave the XP crowd six more years.  But they shouldn’t even have had to petition!  This was just a stupid idea from the get-go.  You don’t convince people to upgrade by forcing them to!

Speaking of the premature death of XP…

Recession? What Recession? Here’s a little tip for the folks in the tech world… when you are in a global recession; when your job, your bank account, and your home are all in danger, you are not going to be looking to buy new computers with all-new operating systems simply because the CEO of Microsoft says so.

Businesses that are afraid they won’t be around any longer will not spend money on new computers.  Department heads that are afraid they will be out of a job soon will not request money to get new computers.  Parents that may or may not have a roof over their heads will not spend money to get new computers.  Schools that discover their budgets are about to be slashed to the bone because houses are falling into foreclosure like dominos will not spend money to get new computers.  You are simply going to make do with what you have until you can afford to do otherwise.

If all of these things do not factor into your heads, then you fail basic economics.

Throwing Windows 7 Under The Bus: So we went from XP to Vista.  Vista was buggy, so Ballmer throws it under the bus and launches Windows 7.  Then, before anyone can get used to Windows 7, Ballmer launches Windows 8, which is so different from all of the previous operating systems that it makes the changes in Windows 7 from Vista trivial.

So if you want people to abandon XP, why shove a completely different operating system down our gullets, Steve?  Windows 7 was workable.  You get more people to play with it, you get more companies to develop software for it, and you get people to like it and they’ll stop playing with XP.

Then there is…

Throwing The Desktop Under The Bus: What is it with Steve and throwing things under the bus?  Every previous incarnation of Windows operated with a desktop and a “Start” button.  You turn on the computer and you’re greeted to a desktop with a nice wallpaper image and widgets and your favorite icons and a “Start” button to access the rest of the programs. 

Now, with Windows 8, you start inside the “Start” menu itself.  The “desktop” exists only as a novelty item.  Well isn’t that just mighty generous of Microsoft to do that for us “old timers”, huh?  All of those people that spent thirteen years or so designing wallpapers and desktop icons and desktop themes can still have their little nostalgia moments while the rest of the computer is made to work like an oversized cellphone!  I can’t even dignify it by comparing it to a “smartphone” because it would give the pretense of there being something “smart” about the decision!

Surface… and Surface? There are actually two computer systems named “Surface” that Microsoft came up with, but only one of them is actually good.

The first “Surface” system was a super-smart literal active desktop.  And I don’t mean “desktop” like in Windows XP.  I mean “desktop” as in an actual surface that you put stuff on top.  You put your digital camera on it, and it downloads the pictures from the camera so you can display them and stretch them and move them about.  You put your cellphone on it and you can share documents or contact lists or even make phone calls all without having to pick the phone back up.

This isn’t science fiction.  This is real!

And yet the only place where you see it right now are TV shows like “Hawaii Five-O”.

Then there is the other “Surface”.  The table laptop system with the stupid commercials.

That brings me to…

The Dancing Dumb@sses! Pop quiz: you’re promoting your first-ever actual hardware product and you’re wanting to out-do your competition that has been doing this since the 1980’s.  How do you showcase all of the new features in your new combination laptop and tablet computer?

If you’re Steve Ballmer, you hire a bunch of dancing dumb@sses to prance around to a techno-beat to show off the least-attractive feature… the “clickable” keyboard.

Seriously, Steve, were you even awake when the ad guys asked to go ahead with this?

Xbox and Blu-Ray: Okay, I know you guys bet on the wrong video format.  You bet the farm on the HD DVD format instead of Blu-Ray for your Xbox 360 game system, and you blew it.  But why didn’t you admit failure and come up with a Blu-Ray accessory?  Instead, you try to tell people that they would much rather download movies instead of playing them on a disc loaded with more than just movies.

Then there is…

Kinect: There is a basic rule that entertainment executives of all mediums apparently do not comprehend, and that is that some gimmicks are not universal.  Kinect is one of those gimmicks.  It’s a nice motion-and-voice-detection system, but that doesn’t mean you can translate every single game into one.  Some times you need a good old-fashioned joystick, not standing around pretending to have one.

DRM: This is a rip-off from birth. I understand that Ballmer hates open-source, but this obsession with Digital Rights Management really puts the screws to all Microsoft users.

For Office users, DRM means you don’t really “own” your copy of Microsoft Office like you did with earlier versions.  You are now leasing it with a year-to-year license.  It’s not even on your computer anymore.  It’s on the “cloud”, which means you have to be online to use it.  Sucks to be you if your Internet provider is bad.

It gets worse for the new Xbox One.  For a while you needed to be online all the time in order to use the system, but apparently Microsoft relented, or so they say.  It’s still a few months away from actual release, so we won’t know until then whether Microsoft will make the same mistakes as Diablo III and SimCity.  They’re certainly not winning any support with the gaming crowd.

All of these things are Ballmer Blunders, folks.  They are all part of the eventual transformation from a company that provided things to better the human condition to one that is simply fixated on making their profit margins.  From a company led by a man with a vision to one that is led by a man looking to make money and worrying about the future when it happens.

One can only hope that after Ballmer leaves, that Microsoft would be put in charge of someone with a vision again.  Someone that will see technology and not just wonder how they can monetize it to the extreme.  Maybe that’s asking too much in today’s pervasive and persistent parasitic philosophy of plunder, but if Microsoft wants to continue to survive, never mind regain its status as a tech titan, then it certainly needs someone that can dream instead of just someone that can count money.

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