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Insiders blame Microsoft mobile failure on Windows 'cartel'

updated 11:30 am EDT, Sun April 3, 2011

Microsoft mobile failure pinned on Windows pride

An investigation into Microsoft's high-profile mobile failures has blamed much of the company's poor market share on an endemic culture that resists anything not part of Windows. CEO Steve Ballmer is said to be over-proud and overprotective of the Windows legacy he inherited from Bill Gates. The company's Windows and Office teams often get first say over anything, Forbes was told, and were likened earlier by James Whittaker to a Mafia that killed Courier, Kin, or any project that would threaten Windows' internal hegemony.

"[You have to] deal with the made men who run the relevant cartel," he said. "And if they don't like you or your idea, your innovation goes nowhere."

Former Microsoft programmer Rebecca Norlander helped largely confirm suspicions that Ballmer personally axed the Courier. The dual-screen tablet was regarded by its team as a "breakout product," but when the then leader of the Entertainment and Devices group Robbie Bach presented it to Ballmer, the CEO not only denied extra funding but killed the project outright since it threatened to outdo Windows. Any of the developments would be rolled into Windows 8, due in late 2012, or even Windows 9, which on Microsoft's usual three-year cycle might not ship until 2015.

It was implied, though not directly stated, that Ballmer was lying when he said Bach's exit from the company wasn't related to the Courier's death.

Much of the failure of the Kin phone line was already known and blamed on the Windows Mobile team's protectionism, where its head Andy Lees couldn't accept another mobile platform not based on Windows underpinnings. Senior software engineer Cid Halloway added new color by confirming beliefs that Microsoft's buyout of Danger to work on the Kin failed because it saw the team purely as an engineering hire and didn't actually learn any design lessons.

Some of the established Microsoft guard had open contempt for Danger and assumed it knew better how to handle mobile devices. "A few people openly said to us, 'We think you got lucky with Sidekick, so sit down, stop talking, and do what we hired you to do,'" Halloway said.

Until recently, Ballmer hasn't had to take non-Windows businesses seriously because of the sheer profitability of the core software. It earned over $5 billion in profit in the fall, owed primarily to Windows and Office. Most of the concern now centers both on getting Microsoft shares out of their decade-long rut as well as in making sure Microsoft still maintains relevance as computing shifts to mobile. Windows Phone 7 hasn't yet offset users abandoning Windows Mobile but has helped establish some credibility by introducing a modern, multi-touch OS that should gain significantly more market share through Nokia.

Signs nonetheless still exist that Microsoft is still protective of its traditional PC business. Chief research officer Craig Mundie just this past week waffled on tablets, saying he wasn't sure if they would last even after Apple shipped 14.8 million iPads last year and had a breakthrough iPad 2 introduction. His comments may partly be stalling tactics, however, as Windows 8 is expected to have a tablet-optimized UI with ARM processor support and may just not be ready in time for Microsoft to shift attention away from conventional computers.



By Electronista Staff
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Comments

  1. B9bot

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: Dec 2008

    +52

    Microsoft stuck in the past will die slowly

    Microsoft stuck in the past will die slowly as more innovation from other company's like Apple take over the market completely. If they won't change, MS will die eventually. Windows itself is still stuck with the same old programming under the hood which is making it slow and bulky with the same security issues that have made customers frustrated and switch to Macs.

  1. facebook_Pete

    Via Facebook

    Joined: Apr 2011

    +59

    Who's running Microsoft?

    Steve jobs: Apple had a monopoly on the graphical user interface for almost 10 years. That's a long time. And how are monopolies lost? Think about it. Some very good product people invent some very good products, and the company achieves a monopoly. But after that, the product people aren't the ones that drive the company forward anymore. It's the marketing guys or the ones who expand the business into Latin America or whatever. Because what's the point of focusing on making the product even better when the only company you can take business from is yourself? So a different group of people start to move up. And who usually ends up running the show? The sales guy... Then one day, the monopoly expires for whatever reason. But by then the best product people have left, or they're no longer listened to. And so the company goes through this tumultuous time, and it either survives or it doesn't.

    BusinessWeek: Is this common in the industry?
    Steve Jobs: Look at Microsoft -- who's running Microsoft?

    BusinessWeek: Steve Ballmer.
    Steve Jobs: Right, the sales guy. Case closed."

  1. phillymjs

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: Jun 2000

    +51

    I laugh so hard at Microsoft sometimes

    They tried for over a decade to make tablets the next big thing (and failed miserably). Do they think nobody remembers that? They must, since now that another company came along and showed them how to do tablets right, they're calling tablets a fad.

    And despite all their failures and Apple's success they have learned nothing. They're still trying to stuff a bloated, CPU- and power-hungry desktop OS with a bolted-on touch GUI into a tablet form factor-- presumably in the hopes that if they do this enough times sooner or later processor and battery technology will have advanced to the point where it will become a viable way to make a tablet.

    As long as the Windows and Office divisions are allowed to ruthlessly protect their empires, Microsoft is going to die slowly on the desktop and never a get much of a foothold in any of the emerging markets. And now they're going to be dragging Nokia down with them.

  1. SwissMac

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: Aug 2006

    +38

    Irrelevance comes quickly

    Microsoft won't die, they'll just become irrelevant.

  1. Gazoobee

    Forum Regular

    Joined: Feb 2009

    +21

    interestingly ...

    The strategy of windows everywhere would still actually work, if the guys doing the designing of the windows products actually had some taste, and were willing to evolve the product radically. All it would really take is a few good designers taking some serious risks with the main cash cow and they would have a competing product quite fast. The trouble is Windows is the holy cow and no one wants to ruin it.

    Even after they get rid of the sales guys, they have to have the nerve (and the design chops), to literally rip Windows open and tinker with the guts. They have to leave a lot of legacy c*** behind and have the courage to say no to some things. They have to stop letting the corporate customers tell them how to design the product and move forward.

    Over the last ten years they've been telling us over and over again that they were "re-inventing Windows," when in reality they were just slapping thicker and thicker coats of make-up on the Windows pig.

    If they really were re-inventing Windows, they could have squashed Apple's noted re-emergence. Apple is expanding, but expanding into a vacuum left by the abject failure of Windows. Many of Apple's new customers are switchers, but even more are people who previously never felt comfortable using computers at all, because they couldn't operate a "regular" (Windows) PC.

    Comment buried. Show
  1. JuanGuapo

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: Jan 2008

    -10

    Message to Microsoft

    ** STOP PLAYING BY APPLE'S AND GOOGLE'S RULES **

    Translation: Use/make your own rules, challenge them, and let the "market" decide (not Apple or Google).

    I have an iPhone and an iPad, I want to see new/interesting/compelling products from competitors--not alt-ran Xoom and Galaxy tablets. Thus far the only thing I've seen that gives me some pause is the ASUS eslate because it's a full-blown PC tablet with a full-blown OS--not a tablet with a tablet OS. I like iOS but being my own app store is a h*** of a lot more compelling....I hope they stay with that tactic.

    As for Redmond, I have no doubt that Microsoft has the "talent" to do a lot of things but Ballmer is thinking purely in sales #'s. I'm not saying he is wrong but here's what it comes down to: people are buying Mac computers, iOS and Android devices in sizeable numbers. Many of those same people who buy iOS and Android devices run Windows at home, too. When it comes time to buy a new computer, notebook, or tablet, it's going to come down to quality of integration. HP gets this loud and frickin' clear with it's webOS rollout that is coming next year.

    Viva Competition!

  1. michaele

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: Apr 2007

    +25

    How come ...

    How come Ballmer hasn't been fired yet? He has betrayed the share holders and is little more than a fat snake oil salesman. Despite its overly protective qualities, Apple is a product company and MS is ... well, what are they? The product company will win every time. Gates should be ashamed at leaving the company is Ballmer's hands and should have the guts to force him out.

  1. drandall

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: Aug 2010

    +53

    Lord, please keep Ballmer as CEO of Microsoft

    It's easy to hate Ballmer for being a narrow-minded, bombastic, dismissive prick whose only accomplishment in life was knowing to stick close to bill gates......yet lately i've learn to love the big walrus for singlehandedly keeping his company firmly planted in the past.

    his unique combination of insecurity and myopia will keep what is still a powerful and influential company safely examining its navel instead of having a real seat at the table where the future of computing is being explored and defined.

    Let apple and google work out the future of computing. You've got bigger fish to fry....like making sure that the courier project never sees the light of day.....

  1. climacs

    Forum Regular

    Joined: Sep 2001

    +44

    you're doing a fantastic job Ballmer

    keep it up!

  1. Jittery Jimmy

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: Jan 2006

    +21

    No monopoly

    Apple didn't have a monopoly on the GUI for 10 years.

    The Mac came out in 1984. The Lisa in 1983. Windows came out in... 1985.

    And it wasn't the only player in town either.

    Apple failed because its leadership saw the Mac like soda pop and MS-DOS - a product that was "done". The OS wasn't substantially upgraded for 15 years. A disconnected CEO simply can't be expected to make good business decisions.

    Re-enter Jobs. He clearly works over 16 hours a day, 7 days a week - even while on sick leave. He runs his company well because he is 100% committed to it. Ballmer? No way. He's more into his own ego than his own products. Jobs? Clearly, his products and his company are the most important things to him.

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